Women Investing in Women

In 2016, there were 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. generating more than $1.6 trillion in revenues. Yet women-owned businesses received only 2.19 percent of venture capital funding in 2016, according to venture capital database PitchBook. So how do women gain access to the resources and funding needed to scale?

“If we really want to see change, we have to support each other,” says Heather Wentler, executive director and co-founder of Doyenne Group, a Madison, Wisconsin-based nonprofit committed to investing in the power and potential of women entrepreneurs. “By joining organizations like Doyenne you’re finding your tribe of sister entrepreneurs who are going to lift you up, grow your horizons, and move you forward in ways you never thought possible.”

In honor of National Women’s Small Business Month, we asked Wentler to describe how women entrepreneurs can band together, raise capital, and grow.

You co-founded Doyenne because you understand what it’s like to build a business while wearing many hats. How can women be a financial force for other women?

Women can be a financial force for other women business owners by mentoring fellow entrepreneurs, teaching them how they did it and coaching them through the process, and also putting their personal wealth into fellow entrepreneurs through various ways of support.

What are some examples of support?

Look for opportunities to mentor, coach, or speak to women entrepreneurs within your communities. Locally in Wisconsin, we have Forward Fest (Madison) and Launch Wisconsin (Green Bay). On a national level, some organizations and conferences that are already laying down tracks to support women include SpringBoard Enterprises, Women 2.0, SXSW, The Texas Conference for Women, and ifundwomen.com. All of the Wisconsin events that I’ve listed are ways Doyenne engages in the Wisconsin ecosystem to provide opportunities for women entrepreneurs to tell their stories and share their knowledge.

If women-owned companies contact Doyenne for funding opportunities, what type of programs and investment capital can they expect to learn about?

The Doyenne Evergreen Fund has a yearlong accelerator program built into it, which means all companies receiving money are required to be part of the accelerator program and to participate in the programming and coaching. We don’t expect founders to drop everything and come spend 6-11 weeks working strictly in their businesses. Instead, there are touch points throughout the year with different programming aspects taking place once a quarter and ongoing coaching sessions happening through the entire process.

How much funding is available?

The Evergreen Fund will be awarding grants, loans and equity investments to Wisconsin-based women- and people of color-led businesses. This means the business must be incorporated within Wisconsin and the majority of ownership shares need to be made up of women and/or people of color. Companies can apply for all three types of funding, but the maximum amount awarded to each company will be $50,000. Our grants will be for $5,000, loans will have a maximum amount of $25,000, and equity investments will also have a maximum award of $25,000.

Why is it important for women to seek out these opportunities?

Entrepreneurs wear their game face 24/7 wondering how they are going to make it through the day. They need a space where they are encouraged and celebrated for their successes and know that even if something blows up in their face, there are people who will help them overcome the hurdles.

October is National Women’s Small Business Month. Which women-owned businesses are you particularly impressed with these days?

If we’re talking about small businesses that have a brick and mortar location, Flavor Temptations and Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier have a great story with high impact results starting as a small, owner-operated enterprise to now regional and national recognition of their products.

When it comes to offering advice for women entrepreneurs who are ready to scale, Wentler says business owners must believe they are capable of moving to the next level, and deserving of the money it takes to get there. “It’s cliché, but unless you believe in yourself and are willing to admit where you need help, you’re never going to be able to move forward and scale to the full potential of your business.”


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