A call-to-action for female entrepreneurs and investors to help spur economic growth and recovery.
By Melissa Tinitigan (Founder, Event Digerati)
Last Thursday, I attended the 7th annual Keiretsu Forum Summer Solstice held in downtown San Francisco. For all you founders (or aspiring founders) who don’t know, Keiretsu Forum is the world’s largest angel investment network with over 850 angel investors around the world.
This particular event was a “call-to-action for female entrepreneurs and investors to help spur economic growth and recovery at a local, national, and global level.” Six early-stage female-led companies were selected to present and pitch their ideas to the members of the Keiretsu Forum and its Women Investing in and Supporting Entrepreneurship (WISE) committee.
Clearly, there are not enough female investors out there. According to Randy Williams, founder of Keiretsu Forum, the Kauffman Foundation reported in 2006 that, “women own half of this country’s wealth… [yet they] make up no more than eight percent of angel investors”, triggering the birth of Keiretsu Forum’s WISE committee.
The all-women panel was comprised of Shirley Gee (Angel Investor), Judith Iglehart (President for International Chapter Development & Operations of Keiretsu Forum and Chief-of-Staff of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates), Teresa Pahl (Partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP), Shelley Alger (Angel Investor & Co-Founder of ClearGrape), and Brett Laffel (Startup Evangelist at Microsoft).
When the panel was asked what defining moment led them to become angel investors, Iglehart answered that it was when her late husband passed away.
“It was particularly difficult… Afterward, I thought, ‘now I’m in charge’, and it’s going to happen to most of you too. Women live longer than men. I had to learn to be a better investor… women are going to end up living longer [than their spouses], and you’ll be responsible for your families,” Iglehart said.
Each presentation included a two-minute pitch, followed by four minutes of Q&A, with the last four minutes dedicated to feedback from the esteemed panel. Whew!
All the women did remarkably well, and I wanted to highlight just a few of the companies:
Founded by Stanford graduate Molly Morse, PhD, her team at Mango Materials produces biodegradable plastics from waste biogas (methane) that are economically competitive with conventional oil-based plastics.
Morse says, “If you had a thin, credit-card size of our material, and it ended up at a waste water treatment plant, it would biodegrade completely in less than a week. It doesn’t just fragmentize; it ends up as carbon dioxide.”
The Good Bean
Founded by Sarah Wallace and Suzanne Slatcher, The Good Bean produces All-Natural Roasted Chickpea Snacks and The Good Bean Fruit & No-Nut Bar. Their products are an excellent alternative to unhealthy or high fat snacks such as chips, nuts, pretzels and popcorn. Apart from being very tasty, they are also gluten-free, nut-free, high protein, high fiber, and low in fat. Their bar also has 40-60% less fat than the competition.
“The defining ingredient of our company is the magical chickpea. We discovered that when we slow-roast chickpeas, they turn nutty, crunchy, and really addictive – a great analog to nuts and grains. [Our product differentiation is that] we are the only chickpea brand that is distributed around the country. The bean industry is a growing trend; however, chickpea has yet to reach that… These healthy snacks can be found in Whole Foods, Wegmans, Ralph’s supermarket, and we just got approved to be distributed at all Peet’s Coffee stores,” Wallace exclaimed.
Founded by sophomore college student Vanessa Gabriel, aSociete is a unique social commerce platform for college students to discover, buy, sell, and learn about all things fashion. Think Gilt City but for a college student’s budget and style. Since Gabriel started the site last year, the 20-year-old has created a user base of 30,000 members – all of whom are registered college students.
It was an exhilarating experience to be in a roomful of female entrepreneurs and female investors. It’s through the initiative of organizations like Keiretsu Forums’ WISE that women can learn to invest in their own gender, empower themselves, and create a strong network of like-minded, intelligent women.
And Keiretsu Forum is delivering on that promise. One of the innovative companies that Keiretsu Forum is currently working with is EcoTensil, an eco-friendly paperboard utensil that is biodegradable, recyclable, and uses less material than other plastics.
Founder Peggy Cross describes her experience with the Keiretsu Forum: “It’s been an amazing process with Keiretsu. When I look back to the company we were 3 months ago… to where we are now: we are much more structured and have more confidence now because we were asked tough questions by really smart people. We really had to get our ducks in a row. We are much stronger.”
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Melissa Tinitigan is Founder of Event Digerati. She is a freelance event manager for tech and startup conferences in San Francisco. Her portfolio of events include the SF MusicTech Summit, Future of Money & Technology Summit, War For Talent conference, and the upcoming FailCon. She volunteers as one of Women 2.0′s SF Founder Friday organizers. Prior to working on events, Melissa handled advertising and operations for media and tech companies. Follow her on Twitter at @eventdigerati.