VOL. 41 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 24, 2017
iFundWomen event spotlights female entrepreneurs
By Hollie Deese
Karen Cahn, former Google and YouTube executive, thought her timing was going to be perfect.
She launched iFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform for women-led businesses, in November with the idea that a female would soon be president.
Obviously, things didn’t go as planned, but Cahn says it didn’t slow the site’s momentum. In fact, during the site’s beta period in November and December, the 25 companies in the first cohort collectively raised $250,000.
“I think that absolutely fueled our growth even faster because people really banded together, men and women, to help women’s small businesses get off the ground,” Cahn points out.
Helping with the early success was Cahn’s idea of the importance of hyperlocal crowdfunding to keep people invested and pump funds into local economies. A Google search for the top 10 areas for female-run start-ups and small businesses led her to Nashville.
Mayor Megan Barry and Audra Ladd, manager of small business and creative economy in Nashville, watched Cahn on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” just weeks after the launch and reached out to her.
“When a majority of the population lacks access to adequate resources and capital to create new and innovative businesses, our economy suffers as a result,” Mayor Barry says. “iFundWomen is a great way of helping to bring more balance to our system of funding start-ups and entrepreneurs who may create the next great business concept that will create jobs and generate economic revenue.”
More than 200 Nashville-area women applied to be included in the local iFundWomen launch.
Along with attracting hyperlocal, women-led businesses, Cahn wanted to build a platform that was flexible and grew along with the companies that were using it. She allowed companies to change goals and rewards mid-campaign, and the platform has a pay-it-forward model, offering one-on-one crowdfunding coaching and video-production services to entrepreneurs.
Another aspect was getting people to give to more than one campaign per site visit, a very rare behavior for a crowdfunding user other than tech fans looking to always be tapped into the latest stuff.
Cahn also knew from being in the business community just how needed something geared to early-stage women entrepreneurs was.
“The funding gap is egregious,” Cahn points out. “Women in general receive 2-6 percent of venture dollars. It’s disgusting. I don’t even think people realize it, that that’s what we get. When we do get funding, we have 50 percent less working capital than our male counterparts, so women are at such a disadvantage, and frankly we’re going backwards.”
The ‘a-ha’ moment
Amy Cotta was in her attic one day and came across her Marine son’s old JROTC uniforms. Knowing she couldn’t fit into them she wondered if there was another way to wear them to feel close to him.
“I was missing my son,” Cotta says. “When I signed him over to the Marine Corps., when he was 17, I was desperately looking for something of his or something that would remind me of him to feel connected to him.”
She pulled out a patch her father had given her from his time in the Army, and she combined the two items to make a bracelet. Slipping it on her wrist, it became her own “a-ha” moment.
Cotta had already been running and competing in endurance events wearing combat boots as a way to honor the military through Medals of Honor. Now a 501c3 nonprofit that pairs runners with families of fallen military, then it was just a pet project bleeding money.
By selling these bracelets made from donated uniforms and patches, she could fund the charity. She took classes at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and ValorBands was born. It was also at the EC that she heard about the iFundWomen Nashville launch and was one of the first programs accepted.
Her goal with iFundWomen is to raise $15,000 to expand Medals of Honor to help veterans transitioning out of service or transitioning out of homelessness into transitional housing.
Proceeds from this crowdfunding campaign would go toward job training or school for two veterans.
Amy Cotta started Valorbands, a company producing bracelets from donated uniforms and patches. She hopes to raise $15,000 through iFundWomen. -- Submitted
The nonprofit would also provide the vets with a good sewing machine to take home so they can do contract work for ValorBands while they are in job training. At press time she had raised just under $2,000.
This is Cotta’s first experience with crowdfunding, though she has done plenty of fundraising. She says selling a product like ValorBands to support Medals of Honor is much easier to do than to ask for donated funding without some kind of tangible reward. Crowdfunding is just an extension of that as she offers merchandise rewards for sponsorships.
Still, asking for money is incredibly hard for Cotta. Being surrounded by other women business owners brave enough to ask for money too has been empowering.
“Everything that I do in my life is with purpose and intention, but it still doesn’t make it easier,” she says of asking for donations. “It was good to find out that all of us are stepping out in faith, into this unknown abyss of putting ourselves out there. It’s really good to have that support, and that ‘Go girl power.’”
In the first day of the launch 25 Nashville businesses raised close to $25,000, Cahn says.
Another one of them was Frisson Soft Serve Gelato Truck, owned by Caila Singleton and Elise Schempp. They hope to raise $12,500 to buy a second machine that will be devoted to just vegan offerings.
This is Singleton’s first experience crowdfunding though Schempp has had a positive experience before raising money for a family member’s personal cause. They had only raised $800 at press time but have found the support of other women to be incredibly positive.
“It’s really empowering women and sharing their ideas,” Singleton adds. “Everyone from the iFundWomen community has been amazing and are very helpful. They’re very supportive. Everyone is there, just to lift you up and make you feel better and help you out in any way they possibly can.”
Cotta says it’s almost the support more than the money that has helped her confidence in what she is doing with ValorBands and Medals of Honor.
“I think a lot of us are so grateful that this is happening because we’re all together as a team,” Cotta explains. “We’re all doing our own thing but at the end of the day we’re all in the same position of ‘Okay, we’re scared, but we’re going out there and doing it anyway.’
“I don’t know why it’s so much easier for men to get funded … if I could put my finger on what that is and how to fix it, we would write books and make an infomercial out of it, and we would all be millionaires.”
With the success of Nashville’s launch Cahn is excited to add more cities to the site.
“I think that women are now really realizing that we really need to stick together,” Cahn says.
“No matter what we choose to believe and no matter where we lie on the spectrum of politics, women need to be for women.”