Wall Street veteran Deborah Jackson left her robust career at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s; her focus was banking and healthcare. With a genuine passion for getting female investors off the sidelines, she decided to make this her full-time focus. Thus, Plum Alley was born. It's an investment firm designed to support early-stage  STEM companies founded by women, but it's also pioneering a new investing model that Jackson believes will be key to getting more women (and men) to invest in general.

After experimenting with a variety of business models including e-commerce, Jackson teamed up with Andrea Turner Moffitt, also hailing from Wall Street's investment banking and asset management world.  Moffitt's book Harness the Power of the Purse: Winning Women Investors is core to the firm's overall mission, vision and purpose. 

"We believe that venture capital is one of the best ways to have influence and impact in the world. And it's critical that a broader base of investors, especially women, have a seat at the table in directing capital to the companies driving innovation for our future and solving some of the most challenging problems of our time," Jackson says.

Plum Alley is not exactly a traditional VC firm. It's a membership-driven model for accredited investors that focuses its investments around three pillars:

  • late seed, series A, series B
  • a woman in the founding team
  • tech, emerging tech, and medical breakthroughs

Membership dues for participating investors range from $2,500 to $5,000 per year, which includes access to investment opportunities, salon-style events, and private dinners with game-changers from both the Fortune 500 and startup worlds. More than 350 women and men are members. Members have the choice to invest in the companies Plum selects to bring forward, in theory taking the pain and complexity out of the investing process.  Most of the members are investing in numerous companies and building a personal portfolio, Jackson says. Plum Alley invests on average between $500,000 and $1.5 million in each company.

In the past three years, Plum Alley has made 14 investments, with two more soon to close, Jackson explains. Recent investments include air quality data startup Aclima and Mammoth Biosciences, a tech platform for disease detection. Seven out of the 14 companies already have raised their next round. 

When Jackson considers founders to back, she looks for, among other things, founders with the fortitude to thrive in uncertainty and an aptitude for hiring really smart people and then giving them their own space to succeed. Founders need to "know [their] end goal and [be willing] to change strategy along the way," Jackson asserts. It's the same advice she tries to follow herself.

As she builds Plum Alley, Jackson admits her biggest challenge is learning to say no, and remaining diligent so that every expenditure is tied to generating revenue in some way.  The firm also faces the hurdle of trying to convince women to put their money into startups rather than more traditional investments like stocks, ETFs and mutual funds. Increasingly, investors are outsourcing more of their investing in general to robo-investing services that do all of the work for them.  But as Jackson concludes, "we deeply respect investors because we believe they have much to contribute beyond their dollars as consumers and stewards of our families and the planet."

Published on: Apr 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.