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XXcelerate Fund Executive Director Robin Klemm. (Photo by Kathryn Elsesser)

This female founders’ story starts in a kitchen — but the women weren’t there to cook.

Portland business leaders Mara Zepeda, Paige Hendrix Buckner, and Genevieve LeMarchal were sitting around the kitchen table discussing a familiar topic. They met regularly to talk about sales strategies for growing their companies. The conversation always came back to funding and how a lack of access often prevented women from becoming entrepreneurs. Despite their success in business, women kept facing rejection from venture capital firms and lenders.

“The women decided that they could do something about it,” said Robin Klemm, a longtime angel investor and technology consultant.

Shortly after that meeting in the kitchen, the entrepreneurs approached Klemm with their idea: They wanted to start a fund that would help women get access to critical debt financing and they wanted Klemm to be executive director.

Together, with fellow entrepreneurs Astrid Scholz and Jill Nelson, they launched XXcelerate Fund to help female founders access the capital they need to get their businesses off the ground.

“Women receive only 3 percent of venture capital and 5 percent of small business loans,” said Klemm. “Yet, this gap in access to capital is happening at a time when we see continuing proof points of the ­effectiveness of women business leaders. Men continue to have loads of options when starting a business. It is time to extend equal opportunities to capital for women entrepreneurs.”

XXcelerate is currently seeking capital in the form of loan funds and grants through government entities, foundations, businesses, and individuals. The fund has already secured capacity-building cash from the Portland Development Commission. Once the fund reaches its initial goal of $500,000, XXcelerate will name its first recipient.

XXcelerate will also help recipients of its loans with financial education, sales guidance, mentorship, and peer support.

The fund is now accepting applications from Oregon businesses, led by women, with a demonstrated market fit and established customer base.

“The XXcelerate Fund board imagines a world where funding women entrepreneurs is the norm, not the exception, and where more women-owned businesses are bankable, investable, or independent,” said Klemm. “We have to start somewhere and a fund dedicated to women is a good place to focus.”

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