I think it’s the right thing to say, which is why a lot of people say it.
This is a sad but true fact in life: people will say one thing and do another. Never has this been more prevalent than in today’s politically correct world, where the wrong word in a live interview or badly timed tweet can lead to internet crucifixion followed quickly by career death. The problem with this mindset is simple — rather than face the brunt of the internet’s wrath, it’s easier to say things that are widely accepted as being good and avoid public scrutiny, but then never have to act on this belief. This leads to actual good things, like “All people deserve to be treated with respect” and “Let’s stop the violence”, becoming empty and repetitive statements rather than a call to action that, indeed, changes people’s actions.
There is a topic involving women in tech that is not progressing, even though everyone agrees it should be, one revolving around women being backed by institutionalized money. According to TechCrunch, between 2010–2015 a total of $313 billion was globally invested. Of this amount, only $31.5 billion, or 10%, went towards companies with at least one female founder. And even while acknowledging the discrepancy between total amount of female-founded companies vs male-founded companies — roughly 30% of U.S. businesses are female owned — this is an enormous gap.
I don’t invest money in companies, mainly because I don’t have money and also because I know nothing about companies. The point being that this article, if it’s sole purpose is to convey my thoughts on financially backing female entrepreneurs, could easily drift through this barren wasteland of politically correct statements bouncing off deaf ears, a hamster wheel spinning endlessly for the remainder of time. This isn’t because my thoughts aren’t valuable (at least my pride tells me so) or because this isn’t a worthwhile topic to discuss in a thoughtful and explorative manner. It’s because saying and doing are two very different things — until that point is pounded home, the problem won’t change.
If you’re familiar with the Utah startup scene, you’re familiar with Ryan Westwood. He has started/sold multiple companies inside Utah’s borders and is an angel investor through JW Capital alongside business partner Travis Johnson. Ryan is also a person who believes in saying and doing, the main reason we spoke with him for this article. Of the five angel investments made by JW Capital in the last 18 months, three have been founded by women — Harvest Lane Honey (founded by Mindy Waite), EcoFlower (founded by Meagan Chapman), and LionHeart Innovations (founded by Tammy Bowers).
“We try to invest in the best person that is running the company and in three out of the last five companies, that person has been a female. We are very confident that our returns will be much stronger than the industry-average IRR (internal rate of return),” said Westwood.
According to Westwood, all three companies are performing at a rate any investor would covet. Harvest Lane Honey’s products are currently in TruValue and Cal Ranch, with a recently signed agreement to debut their products in Home Depot. They’ve grown to an employee base of 40+ with a 302% year-over-year growth. EcoFlower employs 35 people and is moving into a new 34,000 square foot warehouse, with year-over-year growth of 16566% (not a typo, by the way). And if you frequent Beehive Startups, you should be very familiar with the story of LionHeart, whose app recently went live on the app store.
“I think we need to do a better job encouraging females to start businesses,” said Westwood. “Some of the stuff we’ve done is just encouraging. With both Meagan and Tammy, Tammy was pre-revenue and Meagan had $6,000 in sales. Both of them were at the very beginning and we’ve just been cheerleaders for them.”
It’s unfortunate that JW Capital stands as more of an exception to the rule, willing to invest in female entrepreneurs while the vast majority of investors continue to do otherwise. The verbal uprising grows — “MORE FEMALES SHOULD BE GETTING FUNDED!” — while actual dollars and cents invested in women doesn’t.
“I think it’s the right thing to say, which is why a lot of people say it,” said Westwood.
Being an investor means finding the best entrepreneurs, period. Johnson notes, “Our focus has always been on the people and their strengths, and how we could help them grow the company. It doesn’t matter if they are a man or a woman, we invest in the person and their passion.” I get that. If this wasn’t the case, being an investor would be the easiest job in the world, throwing money at any clown who crosses your path and calling it a success. The actual process of quality investing is hard, time consuming, and anything but easy. But there’s a problem. People are screaming from the mountaintops that female entrepreneurs need to be funded at a higher rate, while statistics continue to show this is not happening. It defies all logic to think that for every $9 males accept from investors, females accept $1 — these are numbers that shouldn’t exist in a world where everyone is claiming to make a push towards backing more female entrepreneurs. Saying and doing are not the same thing.
“I would love to see more investments in female-led ventures in the future of Utah,” said Westwood.