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After nearly a decade of friendship, Martinique Grigg, left and Clara Veniard launched search fund Grant Peak Capital. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

The visibility of International Women’s Day and the Women’s March movement has the tech community asking a familiar question: Why aren’t there more female entrepreneurs?

The answer is complicated. Women often identify as more risk-averse than men, they can face higher expectations for domestic work, and they typically earn less than men, making it more likely that they will be the partner to leave the workforce when children come into the mix.

It’s a tough problem, but two Seattle women, who have balanced high-powered careers and parenthood, may have found a solution.

Clara Veniard and Martinique Grigg, two former Amazon employees who have held a variety of leadership roles, are joining forces to launch a new search fund, Grant Peak Capital. They believe a search fund — a vehicle for people with business experience to raise capital and acquire one or more small companies — is a great way for women to take the entrepreneurial plunge.

“I think this is a common situation for women of our age,” Grigg said. “We’ve amassed this experience, we may have other priorities in our life, and we’re looking for a way to have some more control and really take advantage of the experience that we’ve earned over the years and … reap the rewards of that hard work by having an ownership position in the company. That was really appealing to me.”

Their search fund is named for a peak on Washington’s Mount Baker where Grigg and Veniard finally met after years of walking remarkably similar paths. Both women attended Dartmouth College for undergrad and Harvard Business School without ever meeting. They moved to Seattle independently and random chance brought them together on Mount Baker. Veniard recognized Grigg’s husband, a fellow Dartmouth alumni, and the rest was history.

“She worked at the Gates Foundation and then went on to work at Amazon for six years and I had worked at Amazon,” Grigg told GeekWire. “You keep following me!”

“You set the path. I shall follow,” Veniard teased.

Grigg and Veniard have spent the past 14 months actively searching for their first company to buy. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

A little over a year ago, when Veniard was on maternity leave from Amazon, she approached Grigg with the idea for Grant Peak. Grigg, just coming off a six-year stint as CEO of The Mountaineers, was excited about the opportunity.

Since then, the duo has been actively searching for the right company. They’re focused on Pacific Northwest businesses with a valuation between $5 million and $20 million. So far they’ve been looking at companies in consumer goods, business software, and software as a service. They’re planning to contribute a substantial amount of personal equity, supplemented with investments of around $100,000 each from up to 20 “soft-pledged” backers.

“Frankly, we feel a little oversubscribed in terms of interest,” Veniard said.

Veniard and Grigg are a bit unique as female founders of a search fund with extensive leadership experience. They feel like that’s an advantage both for raising capital and closing an acquisition deal.

“There are some questions around why more women don’t do this, don’t seek to buy small businesses and one hypothesis is, people typically want to sell a business to people that look like them,” Veniard said.

But women own 28 percent of all businesses nationwide, according to census data. That number appears to be growing, especially among small businesses in the U.S.

“So we have time and time again come across businesses that are owned by women that are so excited to meet women that are going to buy their business, that they feel like are going to understand how they approach their business, understand the culture of their company, that just look like them,” Veniard said. “So they are much more willing to do a deal with us, versus someone who might have a slightly better offer but it’s an all-male team and they just don’t have that same camaraderie with.”

Grant Peak’s founders hope their story can inspire other women to take ownership and leadership roles in small businesses.

“This is like the best-kept secret out there,” Grigg said. “And guys are doing this all the time!”

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