(Photo by Margaret Roth)
What does it take to build and support a “robust and inclusive entrepreneur ecosystem” in Baltimore?
As part of this year’s Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair, a group of over 70 female founders, builders and funders headed out on a bus from the Inner Harbor’s Baltimore Convention Center last Tuesday to convene for a conversation to find out.
Hosted by WBENC NextGen, Procter & Gamble, ETC Baltimore and Alice, the event highlighted leaders from across the DMV entrepreneur ecosystem to discuss what works and what doesn’t when it comes to growing companies and communities in “alternative” ecosystems “outside the Valley.”
When asked by audience members to share actionable advice for female founders, panelists Allyson Redpath, founder of Citrine Angels; Anna Pickren, director of partnerships at Alice; Deb Tillett, president and executive director ETC Baltimore; Pava LaPere, founder of EcoMap Technologies; and Sara Herald, director of venture at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, made no hesitation in offering crisp direction.
Here’s a collection of five key takeaways shared by the panelists:
Make what you “lack” your superpower.
You might lack the experience, be the youngest in the room, feel unsure how to connect with people, and be constantly asking how your experience measures up to that of others — but make those your superpowers. Being young and having a fresh perspective can be what you bring to the table that others don’t.
Know the business fundamentals of your company.
Very often, young founders — whether they are male, female or non-binary — are not comfortable with the business side of their work. If you don’t know how to run financials or what a cap table is, ask somebody. You have to shore that side up. Ask someone to help you.
When an investor asks,“How are you going to get $100 million in revenue?” when women are pitching their businesses, they’ll say, “I have this great business and great team, I’m still figuring out how it is going to work.” Conversely, guys come in and say, “I have a great idea and it’s going to be a billion dollar business next week!” Women have to think bigger, and come in with that confidence, and you’ll get the support you need to build it big.
Surround yourself with a cold circle.
If you only surround yourself with friends and family, all you’ll ever hear is how great you are, how good your idea is, how hard you are working. But you need somebody who’s going to tell you your baby is ugly. Make sure to collect mentors and peers who will give you real feedback.
When it comes to investors, listen first.
Think about who angel investors are and how can they help you. They are high-net-worth individuals who are usually entrepreneurs with successful exits, and now they have time on their hands. Go through LinkedIn, reach out to them, take them to coffee, and ask for their advice. Investors love to give advice, they think they know some good stuff that they want to share it.
And then when you get to coffee, just listen. Do not ask them about funding maybe “Sometime, oh you know in the future, might you be interested?” Just close with “Thank you. When we open our round I will be in touch.”
To wrap up the discussion, investors among the panelists and audience members were asked to step up and share intentional funding opportunities for female founders. Among those mentioned included Citrine Angels, Dingman Center Angels, Accelerate Baltimore, BCAN Founder Fellowship, SmartLogic’s SmartVentures, Awesome Foundation, Dorm Room Fund, Rough Draft Ventures and Contrary Capital.
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