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Pitching is a critical skill for entrepreneurs. It’s an opportunity to persuade angel and venture capital investors of your company’s investment potential. However, the truth is that no matter how good your idea, it is the entrepreneur that the investor is investing in.
⦁ Like it or not, men are more likely to invest in companies pitched by men than women. It’s called homophily. ⦁ People of the same gender, race and/or ethnic group tend to associate and bond with each other. Homophily isn’t the only reason ⦁ men get more funding than women. Behavior also plays into the likelihood of a female founder receiving equity funding.
⦁ Investors are biased against expressions of femininity during a pitch by either a man or a woman, according to research by Lakshmi Balachandra and Candida Brush of Babson College, Anthony R. Briggs of Alberta School of Business, and Kimberly Eddleston of Northeastern University. Women face a doubly hard challenge: If they act too aggressive, investors can also turn off.
⦁ No surprise that ⦁ Babson, which has been researching the impact of gender on a founder's’ ability to raise equity financing for decades and has one of the best entrepreneurial education programs, would create a program specifically to address the challenges female founders face.
Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab created by Babson’s ⦁ Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) is an eight-month, one-evening a week, accelerator program in ⦁ Boston and most recently ⦁ Miami for very early-stage, female-founded companies. Each cohort consists of 20 to 25 diverse female founders. Founders aren’t just racially and ethnically diverse, they are from every walk of life — moms, PhDs, undergraduates — and include women of all ages.
The program certainly teaches the science of the pitch, which is ⦁ formulaic. However, the program's real value is the art of portraying confidence and competence when women entrepreneurs pitch. When you face a society that says you can’t do it as well as our own inner voice, much more than a formula is needed.
“Going into our Senior Year at Babson, Maria [co-founder of Mighty Well] and I were looking for a program that would allow us to have a network of strong and influential women who would push us to think big and would celebrate (and console!) with us through the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship!,” said Emily Levy of CEO and co-founder of ⦁ Mighty Well and Boston class of 2016.
Competence breeds confidence
The program provides an opportunity for female founders to:
Master the skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.
Understand the importance of persistence and grit.
Network with and learn from female role models who have succeeded.
Build a community of peers who support you in good times and bad as well as hold you accountable.
Learn how to benefit from failure.
Strengthen founders’ belief that they can do this.
Learn how to test the viability of the product in the market.
It’s also an exploration of who you want of be as an entrepreneurs. The kickoff event is a three-day retreat in which founders develop their vision and learn how to be visionary, says Heatherjean MacNeil, Co-Founder & Global Director.
“I was drawn to the WIN Lab by the opportunity to connect with successful women entrepreneurs from several industries and to work with other female Babson students, like-minded people and to move the idea of launching Orora from an academic effort to inception,” said Savitha Sridhran, CEO and founder of Orora Global.She was part of WIN’s first cohort in 2013. Having role models that show you the way and a community that supports you is critical.
Confidence breeds competence
Founders who express passion and confidence will appear more competent and are more likely to attract an investor. Investors favor the overly confident. But women don’t need to express confidence with the same bravado that men do.
Women do have to express confidence in a way that is authentic to them. You don’t need to be braggadocious. However, to capture the wallets of investors, you need to capture their imagination with how your product or service is a ‘must have’ for the market.
Connecting competence with confidence
Investors judge a company by its founder. You need to convey your business expertise, showing your competence. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. You need to look the part of a leader. Your ability to interest an investor can be stopped in its tracks if you don’t look, sound and act like a leader.
Looking the part doesn’t mean you need to wear a hoody. If you’re a funky company, dressing like Cyndi Lauper may work, but for most women entrepreneurs, her look won’t do. Be intentional about the impression you want to make and be consistent with the company’s brand.
The program gives women the courage and confidence to act like leaders. The program also helps women create a tactical plan to scale their companies, which investors also expect.
Over the past four years the four Boston cohorts have raised a total of $5.5 million dollars. This includes Emily Levy. Last fall, she won a $250,000 investment from the first-ever Babson Breakaway Challenge – the largest purse ever awarded in a female-focused pitch contest.
“During our time at the WIN Lab, we rebranded from PICCPerfect (now the name of our first product), into Mighty Well” said Levy. “We expanded our mission into turning Sickness Into Strength, versus focusing on growing a company around one product. Our focus is now to be the go-to brand for patients and their networks.”
Her product demonstrates her knowledge of the market. And she exudes the confidence needed to reach that market.
How will you gain the competence and confidence to ensure you receive funding?