Anu Duggal's new venture, Female Founders Fund, is a VC firm that only funds companies with at least one female founder. Here's how it could change the startup landscape.
Tech media constantly spits out statistics about the dearth of women in venture capital. We know it's bad. Women are hardly represented in the industry — they make up an incredibly small amount of the number of founders funded, and even less of the number of general partners at VC firms. Women too often face additional obstacles when pitching as entrepreneurs and many have experienced sexual harassment during the process.
So, yes, awareness is important. But what's better is actual change.
Enter Female Founders Fund — or F Cubed, as it's more commonly called. Based in New York City, F Cubed finished its first round of funds in September, and is currently wrapping up the last round. This new VC fund was started by Anu Duggal, an experienced entrepreneur and prominent investor. It only funds startups led by at least one woman, and Duggal started it because she saw the market opportunity for innovative women-led companies. More than that, though, F Cubed has an underlying mission of social change. If these portfolio companies succeed and breed more VC-backed, women-led businesses, the narrative of female entrepreneurs will start to shift.
"I had to show it's undercapitalized and when you provide these women with money and funding you'll get a great return. The number one goal was to kind of leverage these founders and help them build businesses," Duggal said. "The number two part of it was, if you prove you get a great return, the industry will take notice of that."
Duggal went to 612 investor meetings to raise money for the Female Founders Fund. There were many reasons for that high number: she had no experience in venture capital, no portfolio, not many investors to vouch for her credibility in the industry, and of course, she had a rare main qualifier — she was trying to create a fund to invest solely in female founders.
The business opportunity for female-led companies is the most important aspect for Duggal. She said F Cubed has a great group of investors, especially well-known men in the VC industry. Her main goal is to see her companies go from seed funding to a Series A round and she's had three in the last year do so, which is a fairly good metric compared to the industry standard, she said.
"I try not to focus too much on stats," Duggal said. "The goal is to be successful and to make money. Venture will change just the same way investment banking and consulting and all the other industries did. There's enough people talking about it."
F Cubed now has a portfolio of 11 companies "of amazing women founders with very different backgrounds," Duggal said.
One of those companies is Maven, a digital health clinic for women that will launch early next year. Kate Ryder is the founder and CEO, and she said she has flourished with F Cubed. She gives the majority of the credit to Duggal.
"Having been in VC and [worked with] a lot of investors — at both ends of the table — she is the best and highest quality investor I work with," Ryder said. "She's really fast when you need something, if you need an intro, she proactively gets that and manages that."
Duggal organizes a breakfast once a month, where the women get together and network. They also hear from one successful female CEO once a month to talk about founding and/or running a company.
"There's so many decisions to make, one of the most helpful things is to rely on other entrepreneurs," Ryder said.
Another one of Duggal's portfolio companies is Campus Job, which raised $1 million in seed funding in just two weeks in September. Liz Wessel is the co-founder of the startup, which is an online resource and database for college students to find part-time work and internships.
Wessel said having a community of women to turn to with F Cubed has really enhanced the experience of being an entrepreneur in New York, which is often lonely. And, contrary to what she originally thought, all the women are at different stages in their lives and careers. Because of that, they have created a strong bond and networking web.
Other VC funds that have hundreds of portfolio companies try to support an online community, but it's rarely more than an email list, Wessel said. Duggal's portfolio is small enough to put in the time and effort, but she added that the community atmosphere is primarily due to Duggal going out of her way to open doors for the founders.
"Anu has created way more. The fact that we are all women in the room is second to the fact that we have created a community of businesses," Wessel said.
The fact that all the portfolio company founders have been working together has been especially fulfilling for Duggal because that was her original thesis — that there is more value add to a group like this than just capital, and that value shines prominently when you invest in women.
"I'm seeing more and more that funds are trying to create some kind of sense of community between portfolio companies, give things to each other," Wessel said. "F Cubed is extremely progressive, more so than any other fund that I've heard of."
There's plenty of proof that investing in women-led companies reaps big benefits. According to research by Dow Jones VentureSource, venture-backed companies that have women has executives are more likely to succeed than ones with only men in charge. Research by the Kauffman Foundation showed that women-led high-tech startups were more capital-efficient and achieved a 35% higher ROI.
Though the first round of funding is about to close, Duggal is already starting to think about fund two. She has entrepreneurs approaching her and her investors, wanting to become involved with F Cubed, and she's trying to decide if she wants to bring on a partner or hire someone.
"The most significant social impact will happen if my companies are successful," Duggal said. "As much as I can help them raise further rounds of financing and show they're making solid businesses, that's what I'm really concerned about."