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Startup entrepreneur Leslie Feinzaig, Female Founders Alliance CEO and founder, left, at a recent event held in Seattle by the organization to connect its members with media representatives. (Female Founders Alliance Photo)

Female Founders Alliance is launching a program to help women entrepreneurs land early-stage startup investments, using input from female founders to design a new effort to close the gender gap in angel and venture financing.

The program, called Ready Set Raise, is a month-long pitching and fundraising initiative slated for September, consisting of three weeks of remote virtual workshops, followed by a full week in Seattle, building up to a Demo Day with participation from dozens of angel investors and venture capitalists. The program will accept up to 12 startups from across North America.

Ready Set Raise will “match founders with champions, live pitch clinics, legal counseling, communications coaching, negotiations prep, and more,” writes Seattle entrepreneur Leslie Feinzaig, the founder and CEO of Female Founders Alliance, in a post announcing the program and opening applications Wednesday morning. “This way, you don’t have to uproot your family for three whole months like you would in traditional accelerator programs. Instead, just think of it as going to the best (and funnest!) camp for female startup founders.”

In another departure from the traditional model, Feinzaig wrote that Female Founders Alliance won’t take equity from companies participating in the program. However, she tells prospective applicants in the post, it will request “an option to participate in your Ready Set Raise fundraising success.”

Specifically, Female Founders Alliance plans to ask for a warrant to invest in each company. Warrants traditionally give the holder the right to buy stock at a fixed price. Feinzaig declined to provide further information but said details will be shared with companies selected for the program.

The application fee for the program is $200, discounted to $150 initially. Those selected will be charged program fees of $750 per attendee, or up to $1,500 if they need accommodations while in Seattle. Up to two people from each company can participate. One needs to be a female founder.

Feinzaig said there are no immediate plans by Female Founders Alliance to raise a fund. “Our current model is membership,” she explained via email. “As with any business, we regularly assess opportunities that make sense for the organization and its members.”

Another twist is childcare. Female Founders Alliance will work with partners to provide childcare for one child per company during business hours for the week in Seattle, and subsidized childcare for additional kids and investors.

With the new initiative, Female Founders Alliance joins a growing list of accelerators, incubators and boot camps designed to help women land startup investments. Other programs designed to help female-led startups include Women’s Startup Lab and Female Founders Fund and the Seattle-based Sybilla Masters Fund.

Based in Seattle, Female Founders Alliance is a social purpose corporation, aiming to help women succeed in launching and running startups. Female Founders Alliance has grown to more than 250 members since launching last year. Of the 94 members who joined the program in 2017, 36 closed a funding round, eight secured alternative financing, and 15 were admitted to accelerators, Feinzaig said.

“Our focus is to empower female founders to be more successful, faster,” she said via email. “We’ve learned from member data that female founders are routinely offered advice, but what they really need is action-based help like referrals, deals, investment, and media coverage.”

Ready Set Raise is an outgrowth of Female Founders Alliance, born from Feinzaig and her members’ experiences seeking to raise investment capital. Less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars went to all-women founding teams last year. Feinzaig previously founded Venture Kits, a Seattle-based company selling entrepreneurial educational toys.

“In designing Ready Set Raise, we drew inspiration from what works best across the board — things like pitch prep, high-powered mentor-matching and an investor-packed demo day — while also really listening to our members to understand what does and doesn’t work for female-founders specifically,” Feinzaig said.

Demo Day is set for Thursday, Sept. 27, at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and will be open to the public, with tickets to be made available via the Female Founders Alliance newsletter. Feinzaig writes in the post that Demo Day will start with “a level-setting session” to address unconscious bias among investors. The plan is to “share insights and lead a conversation to help turn those implicit biases into explicit — therefore addressable — ones.”

The program has commitments from Seattle-based angel investors such as Sarah Imbach, Serena Glover and Dennis Joyce; in addition to venture capitalists including Julie Sandler of Pioneer Square Labs, Jason Stoffer of Maveron, and Maria Karaivanova of Madrona Venture Group, Feinzaig said. It’s also securing participation from investors elsewhere including New York-based Chloe Capital, Portland-based Women’s Venture Capital Fund, and Silicon-Valley based Urban Innovation Fund, she said. It plans to announce more over the next two months.

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