By: Tammi Jantzen
Now, sitting on the other side of the table as a co-founder of a health information technology startup, I’m experiencing firsthand what every entrepreneur knows: Raising money is hard. Dealing with potential investors is hard.
And it should be. As a venture capitalist, I was successful because I did my homework. My job may have been to take financial risks, but I took those risks very carefully.
Now, as an entrepreneur, I’m asking investors to share my vision for revolutionizing nutrition care for pre-term infants. I’m asking them to put their money behind something utterly groundbreaking, to not only see value in what I’m doing but to help create value. That should be hard.
However, it should not be hard because I’m a woman. But, as we’ve seen from a summer full of revelations of VCs behaving badly, it often is.
It occurred to me that as we move forward, women in tech will need help to make sure this conversation doesn’t stop as the headlines fade.
Men behaving badly
I understand the complaints women have made because I have experienced some of the same issues when raising capital.
At a recent meeting with an all-male group of potential investors, the two other female members of ourleadership team and I were asked, “Do you have any men on your team?” In fact, we do. But, when the CEO has 15 years’ experience in the industry and an MBA, the chief scientific officer is a registered nurse with a PhD and over 10 years researching our product area, and the chief financial officer is a certified public accountant with extensive financial experience, should that matter? The question about our company’s testosterone level was followed by one about who would handle mergers and acquisitions negotiations for us. Those can get quite complicated, the potential investors helpfully informed us.
Our experience isn’t unique. In conversations with other female founders, I didn’t have to dig too deep before similar shocking stories surfaced. One was asked if she consulted her husband when making major business decisions; another fielded queries about how she would manage work and family.
Add to this the by now well-documented gender disparities and harassment in high tech, on both sides of the venture capital equation, and women may be tempted to throw up their collective hands and decide there’s no point trying to break into the club, either as venture capitalist or entrepreneur.
The response is understandable. It’s also the exact opposite of what women — and the startup world — need. We need to speak up, then shake it off and persevere.
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