It’s not easy raising venture capital if you’re a female founder. The percentage of female-founded startups backed by venture funding has only increased by a few decimal points in the past few years to 16.8 percent in 2016. Then there are the harrowing stories of sexual harassment and discrimination within the VC industry that have recently emerged. It doesn’t help that only about 7 percent of partners at VC firms are women.
So how does one solve the funding gap for female entrepreneurs?
For Flybridge Capital Partners, one answer is to start a venture fund completely dedicated to female founders that is led by an all-female investment team. On Wednesday, the VC firm announced the launch of XFactor Ventures, which closed a $3 million seed and pre-seed investment fund for female founders earlier this week. The firm plans to back 30 startups total with $100,000 investments, and the hope is to galvanize interest from other firms to build momentum.
Behind the new firm at Flybridge is Kate Castle and Chip Hazard, but what makes XFactor rather unique is that the investment team is made up of entrepreneurs spanning Boston, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Boston will be represented by Anna Palmer, the CEO and co-founder of stealthy commerce startup Wondermile who helped come up with the idea for XFactor and previously founded Fashion Project, which shut down last year. The other investment team members are Danielle Morrill of Mattermark, Erica Brescia of Bitnami, Jessica Mah of inDinero, Aubrie Pagano of Bow & Drape, Kathryn Minshew of The Muse and Liz Whitman of Manicube. Together they have raised over $100 million in capital and hired thousands of employees.
While the timing of XFactor’s launch makes it seem like a reaction to the series of recent stories about VCs harassing and discriminating against female founders, it’s actually been in the works since February. Palmer told BostInno the idea came up in conversations with Castle, and the two of them, along with Hazard, realized it could be a better way to address the female funding gap and find the next billion-dollar companies, which is the ultimate goal.
“I’m very excited to see a female founder build the next unicorn company and hopefully be part of that journey,” Palmer said.
Regardless, the recent stories of sexual harassment and discrimination within the VC industry highlight the fact that raising capital still has its challenges for female founders, Palmer said. She recalled in her first pitch meeting with a VC firm, an investor sitting across from her called out her lack of experience in finance but then added that she was “pretty to look at.”
“I think we all have stories like that,” she said.
In the six months Flybridge has been working on XFactor, Hazard said the number of startups with female founders that meet with Flybridge for sourcing meetings has increased from 10 percent to 45 percent. The firm has already made investment commitments to four startups, he added, though none of those deals have closed yet.
Hazard said initiatives like XFactor can help break the “Catch-22” cycle of the VC industry, where a majority of partners are men because many were previously successful founders and executives who were backed by — you guessed it — male investors. “That will change,” he said.