Whether it's due to unconscious bias, generations of structural inequality, or good old-fashioned social conditioning, the fact is that in 2017, women-led companies were on the receiving end of just 2.2 percent of venture capital in the U.S. And that's not because they don't have great ideas.
On the contrary, companies founded by women are actually twice as likely to produce a higher return on an investment as male-founded startups -- an average of 78 cents on the dollar, compared with just 31 cents. That's a much better bet for financial backers, and good reason for women entrepreneurs to keep putting the ideas forward. If women can get past the pitch, they are on track for success.
A hostile environment for women entrepreneurs
So, why are investors missing such a great opportunity in failing to back women's projects? Well, it seems that both investors and pitchers tend to enter the meeting room prepared for the pitch to fail.
Women often encounter far more challenges and pushback than men when they pitch their ideas to prospective backers. They are asked to prove basic knowledge, while more confidence is shown that men have answers to technical questions.
When women are questioned and faced with negative critiques, they are more likely to accept unhelpful and demotivating feedback without comment. Meanwhile, men can actually be overly confident in their pitch, making bold promises that sound attractive but aren't as viable as women's more conservative projections.
There's also the challenge of differing values and interests when it comes to products and services marketed by and for women. Many women-led ventures are informed by personal experiences, and it can be a struggle to convince men of their need and value.
Overcoming the gender investment gap
Here are some considerations for women who want their pitch to land.
Listen only to constructive feedback. Don't let irrelevant and negative feedback drag you down, and make a point of asking questions -- the more specific the better, to identify areas for improvement.
Be selective in whom you pitch to. Take your time during your research stage to find investors whose business values and goals are a good fit with your venture.
Schedule top-tier meetings last. Practice makes perfect, but there's nothing like actual pitching experience to really find out what works. Save your highest-priority investors until later on, when you've honed your skills.
Own your value. Don't be shy to take the time and space allotted to you, and be unapologetic and proud of your pitch. If you know that you'll be fine whether or not the pitch lands this time, your confidence will shine.
Keep your cool. Practice breathing exercises to stay calm, and use a clear, strong voice.
Make a human connection. Embrace the value of empathetic storytelling. Make your pitch an engaging narrative that gives your idea relevance and aligns it with investors' hopes and values.
And a tip for investors: Check your bias. Bias is natural, but it's an issue, and can be overcome only if you acknowledge and address it. Look for realistic projections over bold and fancy claims, and make sure women are involved in investment decisions.
To offer encouragement for women founders, the startup finance experts at BusinessFinancing.co.uk did a study to support the idea that it can be very profitable to invest in women entrepreneurs. They created accompanying maps to show the top female founder in every country, as well as every U.S. state. Here are three from their list who know a thing or two about pitching a winning idea.
1. Jennifer Parke, co-founder, Fair
Attaining a huge $2.1 billion investment in her car-leasing service startup, Fair, Jennifer Parke likes to reach for, and achieve ambitious goals. With a background in art direction and design, and years of experience creating advertising platforms for global brands such as Apple and Cisco, she certainly knows something about selling ideas.
2. Amy Tseng, president and CEO, TissueTech
Amy Tseng heads up the biotech company TissueTech, which received $110 million in funding. Her background is in business and finance, and she has a keen eye for a profitable opportunity. She likes to keep R&D pipelines fully loaded to identify new markets for "leveraging our core technology."
3. Marian Joh, co-founder and president, Spaceflight Industries
Marian Joh leads Spaceflight Industries, whose mission is to open spaceflight for "everyone." Joh received $203 million in support from investors. A whiz at strategic planning, she has extensive experience working in various major companies, including Kistler Aerospace, where she successfully negotiated contracts worth more than $500 million and raised $300 million in private investment -- an astronomical sum to pitch for and win.
Take a look at the full list of top women founders around the world.