Women have made huge strides in business, but female founders still lag behind their male counterparts in terms of venture capital dollars. Several organizations and platforms aim to elevate female founders, arming them with the capital and connections their businesses need to thrive.
iFundWomen is among them. The crowdfunding ecosystem for female entrepreneurs offers coaching and a crowdfunding platform for women-founded businesses. In honor of Women’s History Month, we caught up with Sarah Sommers, iFundWomen’s co-founder and marketing director, to discuss the rise of women entrepreneurs, the challenges they face and more.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
StartupNation: What are some of the challenges that women entrepreneurs face? How does iFundWomen address those issues?
Sarah Sommers: There are 111 million female entrepreneurs out there globally, and approximately 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. alone. Female founders are starting businesses at 4.8 times the national average. Somehow, there’s still this lack of funding and lack of funding options that are out there for early stage female entrepreneurs, with women only receiving around 2 percent of venture dollars.
It’s not just about the funding. Women are also facing barriers that contribute to the confidence gap, as well. Data shows that almost half of all women cite lack of mentors, while 31 percent cite a lack of support system as hurdles to running a successful business.
With all of these obstacles in mind, we created iFundWomen, which is the only crowdfunding ecosystem that’s specifically designed for early-stage female entrepreneurs. We drive funding to startups and small businesses through a flexible crowdfunding platform and a pay-it-forward model, in which we reinvest 20 percent of our own fees back into live projects on the site. We also have expert startup coaching, professional creative services, such as video production and page design, and a private community for our entrepreneurs.
StartupNation: When was iFundWomen founded?
Sarah Sommers: My co-founders, Karen Cahn, Kate Anderson, and I launched our beta platform in November of 2016 as a solution to the massive funding incompetence problem female founders continue to face. Having crowdfunded before, we experienced first-hand the benefits of rewards-based crowdfunding as an alternative funding option that really allows you to assess demand for your product or service before you invest in supply. It also became clear to us that this funding vehicle prevents you from going into debt funding those early phases of your startup.
Having to take out a loan where you’re forced to put your own personal assets on the line or maxing out credit cards that you may not be able to pay back or you’re accruing tons of interest on aren’t great options. Reward-based crowdfunding allows you to bring your product or service to market and raise small increments of money from lots of people that you know.
Through iFundWomen, entrepreneurs are raising five times more than the crowdfunding industry average. For those that lean into our proprietary coaching services, like the iFundWomen method, those entrepreneurs are raising 4.5 times more than that.
StartupNation: Any notable success stories so far?
Sarah Sommers: One example that I love to share is the Coven. This is a community and coworking space for women and non-binary folks out of Minneapolis. These four co-founders came to our platform with the goal of using crowdfunding as a sales and marketing tactic and selling founding memberships to their coworking space as rewards through their campaign prior to opening.
As a result of their dedication to the marketing, they went on to raise more than $314,000 over a six-week period, far exceeding their original $100,000 goal. They wound up with over 250 backers, most of whom were buying the charter membership to their space. They did what we love to see our entrepreneurs do, which is set fixed goals and reach those campaign goals prior to the end of their campaign timeline.
One of the co-founders of the Coven has now moved up to become a certified coach with iFundWomen, running our crowdfunding master class, which is a six-week program that helps our entrepreneurs prepare everything from the marketing, pitching and rewards system that is involved in launching and running a successful crowdfunding campaign.
I also wanted to mention geeRemit. Dr. Sandra K. Johnson is the first African American woman to receive her PhD in Electrical Engineering. The book and movie, “Hidden Figures,” was based on her life. She is a real hidden figure, as one of the women who put John Glenn into space. As part of the iFundWomen Raleigh cohort, Dr. Johnson raised $12,000 through her crowdfunding campaign to finish the programming of her blockchain fintech app, a remittance app serving Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another great project is SheFly’s campaign, which is currently live. These three co-founders came to us through our iFundWomen Vermont cohort. They are utilizing patent-pending SheFly Zipper Technology, with an emphasis on a comfortable fit, to make outdoor pants that work with women’s anatomies to help them safely and easily relieve themselves outdoors with privacy and comfort. Within just the first seven days of their campaign, they reached their iFundWomen crowdfunding goal and will now go on to reach stretch goals for the remaining days left in their campaign, making the first line of SheFly hiking pants a reality.
StartupNation: What kinds of projects are a good fit for iFundWomens’ crowdfunding platform?
Sarah Sommers: We are topic agnostic on iFundWomen. We have everything from to film to coworking spaces to clothing lines. We have entrepreneurs who come to our platform at many different stages of their business. Say you have an established business and you are looking to launch a new line or you are pivoting. You need to make sure that your loyal following, your audience and your customers, are willing to go there with you. Why not go and raise the capital you need to do the thing you need to do, but also market this new idea to your existing customers at the same time?
People come to iFundWomen to finish their prototype for their app or whatever it may be. We have a lot of fashion entrepreneurs who come to us who need to raise the necessary capital to meet that minimum quantity with their manufacturer. Building funds and awareness is also a huge reason that people come to iFundWomen. It’s all about storytelling. To have this new story to tell about what you are doing with your business through the crowdfunding platform is an amazing opportunity to reach out and really spread the word.
Crowdfunding is a great way to raise capital without the risk of going into debt funding those early days of your startup. Entrepreneurs can come to us to really exist for nothing and to also know that if they are going to fail, they want to fail fast and cheap. They don’t want to be paying back interest for the rest of their lives.
StartupNation: What do you think differentiates the projects that reach their goal from those that don’t?
Sarah Sommers: What it really comes down to is the prep work. If you come to iFundWomen or any crowdfunding platform and you are a believer in the myth that there is this magical mist out there waiting to sprinkle money onto your campaign, the platform doesn’t matter. You have to do the work prior to launching your campaign.
We developed a crowdfunding coaching framework that we call the iFundWomen Method. The coaching program really distinguishes iFundWomen from anything else on the market. This is where we hone your pitch, build your network mass, and create your rewards strategy. Then you move on to our creative studio, where our production team will produce video for you and social assets for you to tell your story. Being able to tell your story is critical.
From there, you continue to work with us and the iFundWomen community to make this connection that you will need to raise your funding round. At that point, that is when you are ready to crowdfund.
StartupNation: What do you think the startup ecosystem could do to be more inclusive of founders who aren’t cisgender men?
Sarah Sommers: My thinking is all about creating intentional platforms and resources that empower women who not only want to grow their businesses, but also increase access to female-owned products and services. There are networks like that out there, like the Female Founder Collective. The FFC is a network of businesses led by women supporting women and their mission is really to enable and empower female owned and led businesses to positively impact our community. That’s the perfect example of one of the many movements at the moment that are changing the landscape for women-owned businesses to launch and thrive.
Feature image (L-R) Sarah Sommers (Co-founder and marketing director), Karen Cahn (Founder and CEO), Kate Anderson (Co-founder and operations director), Olivia Owens (marketing manager)
Image courtesy of Maria Karas, Styling: MM.LaFleur