Fund Athena… that’s the name of a new venture aimed at getting tens of millions of investment dollars in the hands of women business leaders with great ideas. It’s about time. For the most part women-lead businesses have been starved for capital. Only 2.7% of venture capital is invested in women-led or owned businesses. Yet, according to Dow Jones research, women entrepreneurs are twice as likely to be successful as men. With the failure rate of venture capital backed business now being an amazingly awful 75% it makes you wonder why the smart guys with all the money are investing in other guys who only sound smart but act dumb.
Only 2.7% of venture capital is invested in women-led or owned businesses.
You can get the full story of Fund Athena on their website. But the short story is that it’s a crowdsourcing investor site where everyday people can invest savings or 401(k) retirement funds in small companies with big growth prospects, owned and run by women. This is not Kickstarter… you don’t make donations… you make an investment in a business you believe in, with the expectation that the value of your investment will grow. This is a big deal. It took a change in the investment laws that made it possible for all of us to be venture capitalists.
So here’s why I am excited about Fund Athena.
The research on women-owned businesses indicates that most of them stay small. That’s a problem. We need them to grow. We need them to make a difference.
Sexist thinking has generated a story that women are only interested in small lifestyle businesses built around their work-life balance needs. While that’s an interesting theory there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Interviews with male venture capitalists reveal that they are mentally handicapped by their unconscious bias that successful entrepreneurs should primarily be aggressive, competitive and decisive, which they think are key success factors. Actually, these attributes have a very low correlation with business success. In fact, leadership factor analysis points to evidence that competitive aggression and decisiveness tends to generate high-risk, impulsive decision-making, stubbornness, excessive optimism, and arrogance. Furthermore, research reveals that male entrepreneurs are much more likely to demand excessive start-up salaries and much more apt to buy Ferrari’s than more modestly-minded women.
Nearly all micro-finance institutions make loans primarily to women.
Perhaps some of the most informative evidence to support the business value of female ownership comes from the micro loan world. These are tiny loans… usually less than $200… given to impoverished women in developing nations to start home businesses. Nearly all micro-finance institutions make loans primarily to women. That’s because they have found that men are much higher risk. Frequently, loans made to men are spent on drinking, gambling or prostitutes, which virtually never happen with female borrowers. Loan losses to women typically run only 2%. That means over 98% of loans to women are paid back. Now, with gender-based brain research we may suspect there is neurological reason why.
Women’s neuro-pathways to brain centers that focus on social responsibility, connection, and long-term consequences are far more active than most male brains.
Women’s neuro-pathways to brain centers that focus on social responsibility, connection, and long-term consequences are far more active than most male brains. Studies of women’s entrepreneurship show a higher level of stick-to-it-tive-ness and business model flexibility than male entrepreneurs. Men seem to link their egos to their business plans and focus on “being right” rather than being effective. Women are more apt to change their business strategy, and shift how their business makes money faster than males.
If you think I’m going overboard in my praise of women in business just consider this. A Dow Jones study of 20,194 venture-capital backed start-ups discovered that successful startups had twice the number of females in leadership then failed startups. Yet women have a far harder time borrowing money or raising capital than men do.
There are several university research studies in which identical business loan applications with a male named applicant and a female named applicant have been submitted to the same financial institution. And guess what? Applications with male names are typically approved significantly more often. Don’t you think it’s time for this nonsense to end? I know my daughters sure do. (For up-to-date research on gender discrimination for business financing see this Princeton University link.)
I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to learn that the co-founder of Fund Athena is an African-American woman serial entrepreneur named Kim Folsom. Over the course of her young life she has brought five separate businesses out of the ground using venture capital. She knows how finance works and she knows the extra difficulties women face in being taken seriously to start and grow significant businesses.
What particularly excites me about this new source of investment capital for women is that maybe they will finally have the chance to change the “game of business” into the serious work of harnessing business to create sustainable abundance.
When I worked with Stephen Covey we spent years helping companies craft lofty mission statements. After about a decade it became clear these mission statements weren’t worth brass plaques they were etched on. For obvious reasons business leaders became hypnotized by Jack Welch’s ridiculous commandment that the purpose of business was to create shareholder value. A glorified greed and short-term financial engineering to improve stock prices at the cost of virtually everything else.
After corporate mission statements failed to inspire leaders I got involved in the quality movement which evolved into Six Sigma, which should have brought about the synthesis of productivity and sustainability but disappointed me by mostly becoming a tool for layoffs. I then turned to Corporate Social Responsibility as a framework to help companies rethink their strategy to focus on creating prosperity through innovations that improve the future for everyone. Unfortunately this kind of thinking takes courage, imagination and a time horizon greater than the next fiscal quarter. The recession killed CSR… it seemed no one could afford to be responsible.
When executives ask me why I am so driven to promote women in leadership I look at them with wonder. The world we have today is the best that 10,000 years of hard power (male-based) leadership can produce. Sure, we have made technological progress but are we now not regressing? Do sky high stock prices and inventions like Twitter compensate for crazy wars, a degraded environment, dysfunctional education, a decaying infrastructure, bulging jails, downward economic mobility and a money-driven congress lead you to believe that the future for our children will be better? Is the status quo really the best we can do?
Do sky high stock prices and inventions like Twitter compensate for crazy wars, a degraded environment, dysfunctional education, a decaying infrastructure, bulging jails, downward economic mobility and a money-driven congress lead you to believe that the future for our children will be better? Is the status quo really the best we can do?
As for me, after 35 years of witnessing the downward spiral of moral inspiration in business leadership I am convinced the problems we face today of leadership arrogance, employee exhaustion and corporate stupidity cannot be solved from the inside.
We need a parallel economy. A better, smarter capitalism. One that’s based on a different set of principles than unlimited self-interest and negative innovation. I believe that the leaders of the new, true economy will be mostly women who are working well with SMART Power men in highly effective teams.
Before now, I was very concerned that women would be disadvantaged and limited by a lack of capital. But with innovations like Fund Athena it dawned on me that the people who will fund the revolution are you and me. This is just the beginning.
And I find that pretty damn exciting!
(Disclaimer: I am not an owner, nor a consultant to Fund Athena, nor does their management necessarily share my views of the limitations of male-based leadership.)