Although more women are starting their own companies than ever before, they still face significant challenges, including raising capital. Consider these statistics: Women founded almost 50 percent of the 5.4 million new companies started in 2021, a marked increase from the 28 percent of companies founded by women in 2019, according to a report from the World Economic Forum. Despite this, companies founded solely by women received just 2.4 percent of venture funding in 2021, according to PitchBook.
Female Founder Collective, in partnership with Webex by Cisco, recently launched an online service that aims to support women entrepreneurs by connecting them with advisers on a wide range of issues, including fundraising.
The North, with the North Star as its namesake, is an online network designed by FFC that offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to book successful women for one-on-one mentoring sessions, with each adviser setting their own price.
Users can filter the platform’s advisers by 83 areas of expertise and 52 industries so far. More are expected.
“We wanted to create a scalable way to connect our founders to these expert women,” FFC co-founder and CEO Ali Wyatt tells Venture Capital Journal. “We also wanted to help condition women about valuing each other’s time and being willing to pay for it.”
FFC is a network of women-led businesses. It was co-founded by Wyatt, Rebecca Minkoff and Elisabeth Leonard, all of whom are founders in their own right. FFC has more than 17,000 members and provides founders a variety of benefits, including access to discounts on service providers, online and in-person programming, and access to other members for advice.
After being vetted through The North’s extensive questionnaire, advisers are required to donate two hours of their time before setting their hourly rate. The service was launched in late September and has already seen more than 150 matches between advisers and users. With 48 current advisers, and more asking to be added, there have been more than 100 hours of time donated and almost 1,000 booking requests for advisers’ time, said Wyatt.
“We knew there was demand because we’d seen it every single day within our community, but you never know until you launch a product whether or not you’re addressing it correctly,” Wyatt tells VCJ. “We’ve also had a lot of interest from advisers as well. We’ve had almost 100 advisers reach out since we launched about donating their time.”
Among the advisers is Jesse Draper, a fourth-generation venture capitalist and founding partner of Halogen Ventures. Her family is behind multiple well-known names in the VC world, including Sutter Hill Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Despite the family’s storied history in venture capital, Jesse Draper is the first woman in her family to go into the industry.
“This system in the US was set up for women to fail,” Draper says. “What FFC does is use their brand to push women forward. We need more platforms like this because I want the little girls of the future to see more women in these seats, and women need advisers who are women. For so long, I think, we tried to be men, and wear suits and do what men do, but we’re different, and it’s awesome. We’re different and we should embrace that.”
Seed investor First Round Capital conducted a study over the course of 10 years and found that companies in its portfolio with at least one female founder performed 63 percent better than companies with all-male founders.
Draper explained that, in her experience, reasons why women-led companies perform well include: they take more calculated risks, they are more likely to start companies that try to solve real-world problems and they take a more diverse range of views into account when making decisions.
The North does not just benefit founders, as participating advisers are paid for each session after they fulfill their commitment of donating two hours.
“This is a chance for the advisers to make incremental income and could be a chance to forge a long-term relationship and become an official adviser on their board, or connect them to an investor and get in on a really competitive round,” says Wyatt. “It’s giving these women who have the skillset that founders want the chance to get in on businesses opportunistically that they wouldn’t otherwise see.”
FFC takes a 20 percent cut of the adviser’s fee and in return ensures that both the adviser and founder are prepared for the meeting with relevant documents, questions and background information. The North is designed to help connect female founders to successful women, but the free-to-visit website is open to anyone and has already had at least one man book a session, says Wyatt.
“We really just need everybody. We need women, men, and we need to include diversity of age, race and gender,” says Draper. “I’m really excited for this platform because I think we’ll be able to have so many more women in leadership and guidance. I wish I’d had someone to call who was a female when I was getting started, and The North gives women access to mentors that think like them.”