Under Silicon Valley’s Rough Turf, Tunnels of Women’s Networks Spread

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help women startup founders score their first financing rounds. These include big outfits such as Golden Seeds, Astia Angels, Pipeline Angels, Female Founders Fund, and Broadway Angels, as well as smaller regional networks like Sofia Fund in Minnesota.

Women make up a steadily increasing share of angel investors, says Marianne Hudson, executive director of Angel Capital Association, a professional organization for angel investors in the United States and Canada. The percentage of women attending the group’s annual conference has stair-stepped from 25 percent two years ago to 35 percent at this year’s event, which was attended by 650 participants, Hudson says. Half the speakers were women.

Hudson says the rising numbers of women entrepreneurs who have made good has yielded an increase in the numbers of female angel investors, and many of them are passionate about supporting women-led companies. Her association includes 15 angel groups focused on investing in companies headed by women. Big groups such as Astia and Golden Seeds have also drawn more women into angel investing by offering training programs, Hudson says.

These mission-driven angel groups often co-invest, and may also cobble together multiple financing rounds for the same startup, sometimes taking the fundraising total up to amounts in the range of Series A rounds, Hudson says.

As these angel investors’ groups develop relationships with venture capital firms, their portfolio companies should stand a better chance of drawing larger VC investments, Hudson says. Angel groups in her association are spread across all 50 states and Canada, and they form investing syndicates via conference calls.

Angel groups committed to helping women might be a safe harbor for female entrepreneurs, Broadway Angels member Yesil says. But drawing gender lines may not be necessary, she says. “Not every male-dominated venture firm is abusive.”

Iorns says newbie female founders could be more vulnerable to unwelcome sexual advances if they haven’t yet raised any financing from institutional investors.

But once women founders “go up the power chain” by advancing their companies and raising money, Yesil says, they have fewer problems with harassment.

“If you’ve got a hot, fast-growth company where your customers really love you, the power’s in your hands,” Yesil says. “That’s the best defense.”

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