The Women's March was founded on pillars such as access to reproductive rights, immigration reform, and of course, voter registration. This year, the march in New York will tackle a new issue--women's financial empowerment--and it's tapping some noted entrepreneurs to do it. One of the speakers, Olivia Owens, the head of partnerships for crowdfunding site iFundWomen, will announce a new fundraising platform specifically for women entrepreneurs of color.
The money section of the program, called the Funding Block, will start with iFundWomen founder and CEO Karen Cahn and then Owens. They'll be followed by Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, an early-stage venture fund that invests specifically in women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders. Last will be Sallie Krawcheck, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Smith Barney who went on fund Ellevest, an investment platform specifically for women.
Since its launch in November 2016, iFundWomen has helped women entrepreneurs raise nearly $10 million, says founder and CEO Karen Cahn. Ethel's Club, a Brooklyn-based social club for people of color, got its start with $25,000 in crowdfunding plus a grant round raised via iFundWomen. Similarly, the Coven, a Minneapolis-based co-working space for women, used the platform to crowdfund $315,000 plus grants and then went on to raise a $1 million angel round. About 30 percent of the funding raised on iFundWomen has gone to founders of color. Women of color are starting an increasing share of new businesses, but have received only .06 percent of tech venture capital funding since 2009. Meanwhile, Cahn says she's seen "a hesitation to crowdfund" among their ranks.
"There were specific challenges that women of color founders were facing," says Owens, such as networking, marketing their campaigns, and coaching. IFundWomen of Color will offer free coaching to its founders and also help them connect with networks that might be willing to invest. Campaigns will be featured both on a website specifically for iFundWomen of Color site and on iFundWomen itself.
Applications for the new platform open January 18, the day of the march. Owens and Cahn want to accommodate as many entrepreneurs as possible, hopefully doubling the amount of funding that iFundWomen channels to women of color. Founders who don't immediately get accepted to the program will receive step-by-step feedback telling them how they can move their business forward. "In six months or a year, if you're still passionate about this thing, come back and reapply," says Cahn. "We'll be taking rolling applications from now until forever."
Krawcheck plans to use her time to address what she calls the investing gap: The fact that women, on average, invest about 40 percent less than men, and keep about 70 percent of their money in cash. "It starts with raising awareness of the issue," says Krawcheck. "The investing gap has cost women hundreds of thousands, in some cases millions, of dollars over their lifetimes." Krawcheck's Ellevest, of course, was founded to address exactly this problem. Ellevest won't disclose the number of clients it has, but Krawcheck says the number grew by double digits, monthly, throughout 2019. In March, Ellevest raised $34.5 million in venture capital, for a total of about $78 million.
Hamilton, will be speaking about a more general form of empowerment. "The idea is not to look at change as a huge mountain," she says, "and more like, what is a small step that I can take that helps catalyze change."
To that end, she says she'll ask her audience to do three things. First is to set a clear intention and goal for the next five years. Next, practice the answer to the question, "How can I help you?" Often, says Hamilton, we know that we need help, but when we finally find the person who could help, we can't articulate exactly what we need. "Every few weeks I make sure I know exactly how someone can help me if I'm asked that question," says Hamilton. Last, ask another woman how you can be helpful to them. Says Hamilton: "Anyone with any background can be someone else's ally and hero."