Famous women chefs have products on shelves of major retailers, but men dominate the the multi-billion dollar fine dining industry. Of the 341 individual semifinalists for the coveted James Beard Foundation's 2016 Restaurant & Chef Awards, only 84 were women.
I reached out to Rohini Dey, Ph.D, founder and owner of Vermilion, an Indian-Latin restaurant in New York City and Chicago. Dey, a former World Bank economist and McKinsey management consultant, is now an award-winning restaurateur: Vermilion was featured on CNBC's hit show, Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business.
Dey also co-founded the James Beard Foundation Women in Culinary Leadership program, which focuses on two concepts?:
- Women in culinary leadership, which helps accelerate junior level women into ownership.
- Women in entrepreneurship, which assists women who are already restaurant owners build and grow to scale within the industry.
Dey told me the success of Vermilion has been a result of her commitment to securing external financing to launch her fusion concept. Here are her top six strategies for accelerating growth by raising capital for women entrepreneurs:
1. Think about ownership.
Women who aspire to build successful companies need to consider leadership and ownership very early in their careers to create competitive edges.
As a leadership consultant, I work with women leaders to construct narratives about ownership. The key to making the transition from a career to building a company is the awareness of unlimited potential within the market, while defining your niche.
I developed my first company over 10 years ago while learning valuable leadership skills at work. I labeled that two-year growth stage as my "9-to-9": I worked a traditional 9 to 5 job, then worked on my company from 5 P.M. to 9 P.M. daily.
2. Spend time learning your industry inside and out?.
Before approaching investors for capital, Dey took time to build credibility as an expert in her field. "I interviewed over 30 fine dining restaurant owners, tested with my consulting chefs, examined my numbers for accuracy," she said. "The focus stage took approximately four months, but I was assured that Vermilion was a viable concept."
This helps eliminate your pitch's choreographed tone. Know your research from every angle and be prepared to defend your facts.
Over the past three years, I've hosted investor round-tables for women. Choreographed presentations rarely made it to the second round. Women who were confident about their numbers and conversational advanced for a second interview.
3. Pitch to investors?.
Pitch multiple funding sources--not just one. "Many women tend to be under-capitalized because they rarely consider external financing, which limits their ability to scale," Dey says.
When founding Vermillion, Dey used her personal network and the Crains Business List of Chicago to connect with investors who had funded similar concepts. She approached over 100 angel investors to secure eight commitments for Vermilion Chicago.
You cannot stop at the first rejection. I pitched to over 40 investors and didn't get a "maybe" until my 30th pitch. Don't allow the first rejection to underestimate your value.
4. Become financially literate.
You need to understand your startup's numbers. "Even if you are a genius chef, you also need to know how to read a P&L (profit and loss statement), balance sheet statement and investor capital statement." Dey said, "These things are imperative to raise external capital."
Set the same standard for all members of your advisory board. That'll ensure financial transparency and help you gain feedback on other strategies for fiscal growth.
5. Find mentors.
Dey says you shouldn't pick mentors just because of their gender--pick mentors who will help you the most. "Most of the mentors within the leadership program are men, because they dominate the industry. We must be willing to learn from them, not just other women," she said.
Aligning yourself with mentors will give you access to valuable strategies on avoiding common entrepreneurial mistakes is crucial. In addition, you will require different mentors for every stage of growth in business.
6. Visit The Women's Business Center?.
The Women's Business Center is an SBA-sponsored support center for women entrepreneurs, with representation in all 50 states and most cities. "All of the women who work at my restaurant in Chicago have gone through their six-month program. You will learn how to build a business plan from scratch. As a result, we have launched so many entrepreneurs out of Vermilion," Dey said.
I visited the Charlotte, NC chapter earlier this year to learn more about their community outreach and educational programs. They focus on helping women entrepreneurs become "investor ready" and prime candidates for securing SBA loans. A great program, if you want the help.