Category: Female Founders

Austin’s Women Entrepreneurs Task Force Wants to Make Austin the Best Place in the Galaxy to Launch and Grow a Business

Only one percent of VC capital invested in Austin goes to women founders.

Carla McDonald said that’s despite Austin being number six in the country regarding deal count and dollars invested.

“There is something very broken here,” said McDonald, who chairs Austin Mayor Kirk Watson’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs.

McDonald said that only 21 percent of all Small Business Administration loans go to female founders.

McDonald said the Austin Women Entrepreneurs Task Force’s primary focus is getting more funding for female founders. She spoke Sunday with other task force members at Capital Factory on a panel focused on the mission to make Austin the leader in female entrepreneurship.

Jennifer Cuello, partner with EisnerAmper, moderated the panel, which included Sara Brand, founding general partner of True Wealth Ventures; McDonald, founder of Dynabrand Ventures; Mellie Price, executive director of Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business; and Patricia Green, a professor with Babson College.

According to panel members, Austin seeks to become the best place for women to launch and grow their companies.

McDonald said the primary objectives of the Austin Women’s Task Force are to identify the community pillars that support female entrepreneurs, including education institutions, companies, nonprofit organizations, and more, and to make Austin the best city in the world to found and build companies.

“There is a real opportunity for Austin, which has entrepreneurship in its DNA,” she said.

The Austin Women’s Task Force comprises 21 women, including McDonald, and reflects the ethnic and racial diversity of the community. She said it comprises leaders in their field and pragmatic thinkers. The recommendations to the Mayor have to be workable and actionable.

“The final thing is that I wanted people with a long history of advocating for female entrepreneurs,” McDonald said.

Price, an entrepreneur who has been in Austin for 35 years, said local organizations have done great work to lay the foundation for female founders. She is also a co-founder of Capital Factory.

Another trailblazer is Brand, who founded True Wealth Ventures with Kerry Rupp in 2016. Two years later, they closed their first $20 million fund, which was the largest fund ever raised with a gender diversity focus, Brand said. Today, one-third of True Wealth Ventures’ investments are in Texas, with over $60 million worth of assets under management.

Entrepreneurship has also been the focus for Greene, who released one of the first reports on women in venture capital in 2004 with the Kauffman Foundation. She was also an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College, where she became the founding national academic director of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 small businesses. She also served as global academic director for 10,000 women, helping women in developing countries. She was the director of the Women’s Bureau for the U.S. Department of Labor, where she worked to build a platform for women entrepreneurs. Now, she’s back in Austin, investing in and advising startups.

Greene said that many small businesses led by women are working on a new product or service but don’t know where to go for help with innovation, prototypes, IP, and other related matters.

The Women’s Task Force is interested in promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, and economic development. McDonald said that if women entrepreneurs are supported in Austin, they will contribute an additional $6 billion to $12 billion in gross domestic product locally.

Price also said having the right funding structures available for the business is essential. Venture Capital is fantastic for the right company, at the right time, with the right objective.

McDonald said the Austin Women’s Task Force plans to get its report to Mayor Watson by March 25th. The report includes 12 pragmatic and actionable recommendations to address the needs of female founders, she said. Those needs include access to capital, access to a broader network, and access to affordable goods and services that help them build their businesses, she said

“Success looks like making a difference,” McDonald said. “This is a call to action for the entire community. Success would look like everyone leaning in and recognizing this is something everyone needs to solve. This is the right thing to do.”

Brand also believes that women should be investors. She says that getting more female general partners is the fastest way to change the dynamic of the two percent of all VC dollars invested annually going to female founders.

“When a woman is at a firm, they are twice as likely to invest in a female founder,” Brand said. “The way to get more female GPs is to have more female LPs. For our fund one, we found out that 80 percent of our LPs were women in Texas.”

Brand said that by 2050, women will control two-thirds of investible assets. She said it’s essential to get capital to women entrepreneurs, and the way to do that is to get more women investing in a fund.

McDonald sees a bright spot in Angel investors providing funding to female founders. She said Angel investors invested $23 billion in 2023, so it’s an essential part of the ecosystem.

According to the panelists, if investors were looking at the data, they would invest in women founders all day. Statistics show that women-led startups use less capital, exit faster, and provide good returns to investors.

Despite that, some conservative groups have targeted funds granting capital to black women founders. In particular, the American Alliance for Equal Rights has filed a lawsuit against the Fearless Fund, an early-stage venture capital firm that only funds Black women founders, accusing the fund of racial discrimination in its grant program.

In November 2023, America First Legal sued Hello Alice, a Houston-based company that helps small businesses get funding and services, over a program with Progressive Insurance Co. that gives grants to Black-owned commercial vehicle companies.

When asked about the backlash, McDonald said, “This is a wrong that needs to be righted.”

“It’s motivating and infuriating,” Brand said.

“It also makes the work we are doing all the more important,” McDonald said. The solutions are not one-offs; rather, they are woven into the fabric of this city, so no entity can attack it like they are doing with these funds.

“If we do this right, everybody wins,” she said.

During the Q&A, Barbara Jones Brown, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Free Returns, said she raised $5 million for her startup, 80 percent of which came from women and 70 percent from black women.

Resources for Female Founders

The stats for VC funding haven’t improved.

According to Pitchbook, in 2023, female-founded startups received 2 percent of all VC dollars invested nationwide, the lowest percentage since 2016.

And the number of deals done with female founders fell in 2023 to its lowest level in years, according to Pitchbook.

Pitchbook reports that in 2023, “Companies with at least one female founder raised about $32.7 billion in venture funding across 3,230 deals, while startups with exclusively female founders garnered $2.8 billion over 867 deals. “

For startups with a mixed founder base, including at least one female founder, their capital share grew at a “faster rate than startups founded exclusively by women. The share of female co-founded VC capital was the highest in 2023, at 20.7% of total US VC funding. The top categories for funded female-founded startups are business-to-business services, software, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. “

In 2024, Silicon Hills News launched a new page highlighting female founders to showcase their accomplishments. The page also includes funding sources, incubators, accelerators, and other resources and opportunities for female founders.

To kick it off, here are some organizations in Austin focused on helping female founders:

Austin Women in Technology is a nonprofit organization that aims to support and empower women in the technology sector. They provide networking events, mentorship programs, and educational resources.

Austin Chamber Women’s Business Council: It organizes events and programs to support women in business.

DivInc: is an accelerator program in Austin that supports underrepresented founders, including women and people of color. They provide mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities.

Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurship Leadership Institute at the University of Texas at Austin aims to help students at UT pursue entrepreneurial interests.

Funding Resources for Female Founders:

The Female Founders Fund is an investment firm that supports female-led startups. It provides funding and resources to women entrepreneurs in various industries.

37 Angels is an organization that provides funding, mentorship, and support for women entrepreneurs. They offer early-stage investment and aim to increase the number of female investors in the startup ecosystem.

The Amber Grant monthly grant program awards funding to women-owned businesses. A winner receives a grant each month and can compete for an additional annual grant.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an international program that supports women entrepreneurs worldwide. It offers funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities to female founders in the early stages of their businesses.

The Tory Burch Foundation offers a Fellows Program that provides women entrepreneurs with support, resources, and a $5,000 grant for business education. It aims to empower and promote the success of women-owned businesses.

The Halstead Grant is a jewelry grant for emerging female jewelry designers. It provides funding, recognition, and business development opportunities to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in the jewelry industry.

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) offers various scholarships and grants for women entrepreneurs. These awards are designed to support women pursuing education and business growth. is a comprehensive resource where you can search for various grants offered by federal agencies. While not specifically focused on women, some opportunities may be relevant to women-owned businesses.

Women’s Business Centers, supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), provide resources, training, and counseling for women entrepreneurs. While not grants per se, they can connect you with valuable information and potential funding opportunities.

Hearst is hosting Pitch HearstLab, its pitch competition focused exclusively on women-led startups in the U.S., on April 17th in New York. The winners will receive $100,000 in investment and three months of support from HearstLab. Applications are due on Sunday, February 4th. In the last year, Hearst has invested more than $3 million across 13 startups.

Advice for Female Founders from Nilima Achwal

In the latest Ideas to Invoices podcast episode, Nilima Achwal, founder of The Female Founders Lab, provides insights from her entrepreneurial journal.

Previously, Achwal founded Iesha Learning, a technology education platform to teach sexual education to junior high school students in India. She also launched and ran SEED, a social enterprise incubation program at Villgro Innovations Foundation in Chennai. In addition, she was a Kiva Fellow in Bolivia and wrote business case studies at the University of Michigan.

In this discussion, Achwal gives her views on entrepreneurship and her commitment to fostering a more inclusive and humanistic approach in the business world.

Some key takeaways from the podcast:

1. Inspiration for Female Founders Lab: Achwal moved to Austin about half a year ago to focus on expanding the coaching accelerator she founded in 2019. She was inspired by the city’s tech ecosystem, which she described as vibrant and collaborative. The atmosphere embraced her like a big hug.

2. Background in Impact Ventures: Achwal has spent 15 years in the impact venture space, working with startups focused on healthcare, education, food systems, media, the future of work, and sustainability. She spent six years in India and has experience in various aspects of the technology industry and startups.

3. Motivation behind Female Founders Lab: Achwal’s motivation to start Female Founders Lab stemmed from her challenges as a founder. She sought to create a more holistic and deep approach to accelerator programs that focused on founders’ whole selves and aligned their vision with tangible results.

4. Challenges Faced as a Female Founder: Achwal highlighted the challenges female founders face in finding mentors and role models. She discussed the importance of creating a space where female founders can be authentic and not feel compelled to conform to traditional, masculine business norms.

5. Importance of Diversity and Inclusion: Achwal emphasized the intrinsic value of diversity in reducing risk in business. She expressed concern about the “hijacking” of the diversity and inclusion narrative by political forces and stressed the importance of aiming for excellence rather than artificially creating diversity.

6. Advice for Women Starting Businesses: Achwal advised women not to get distracted by external noise and to focus on tuning into their vision and values. She highlighted the significance of authenticity and encouraged women to trust their intuition and feelings to gauge if they are on the right path.

7. Fundraising Strategies for Female Businesses: Achwal discussed female founders’ challenges in securing venture capital funding. She advocated for values-aligned investors at the early stages and suggested leveraging angel investors for initial funding.

Achwal also recalled a lesson from her experience as an entrepreneur. She faced huge challenges making inroads in the Indian education industry with her sex education product. She highlighted the importance of surrendering to a larger plan and releasing external pressures. Ultimately, she struck a deal to license her product to Tata, the largest IT company in India. Her perseverance led to a breakthrough, demonstrating the power of staying the course and trusting the process.

You can listen to the entire podcast below or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nilima Achwal, Founder of The Female Founders Lab

Nilma Achwal is the founder of The Female Founders Lab, a virtual accelerator and coaching service in Austin. Achwal moved to Austin about a year and half ago from Los Angeles. Before launching The Female Founders Lab, Achwal founded Iesha Learning, a technology education platform to teach sexual education to junior high school students in India.

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