Female Founders Alliance started as an online community for women CEOs and startup leaders just 18 months ago. But it has turned into something much more, and that evolution was on full display Thursday evening during the first-ever Demo Night for Ready Set Raise, its new accelerator program for early-stage women-led startups.
Eight female founders from across the country presented their startups to a crowd in Seattle after spending one month honing their pitches and getting feedback on what it takes to grow their companies. Ready Set Raise is a unique accelerator that included three weeks of remote virtual workshops, followed by a full week in Seattle, building up to Demo Night on Thursday at the Pacific Science Center IMAX Theater.
The program was designed to help women land funding in an environment that saw less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars go to women founding teams last year.
“It’s our mission to change those numbers,” said Leslie Feinzaig, founder and CEO of Female Founders Alliance, in her remarks on stage.
Aspects such as remote participation and free childcare for a week were designed to make it easier for a female founder to participate in an accelerator. To qualify, each company needed at least one C-level female founder. Feinzaig said female founders present a lucrative business opportunity for investors, noting on Thursday that 97 percent of funding going to 50 percent of the population is “not just a gender gap” but rather “a market inefficiency.”
What happened in Washington D.C. earlier Thursday at the Ford and Kavanaugh hearings was not lost at the Ready Set Raise event.
“No matter what your allegiance, women’s voices need to be raised,” said Monique Ming Laven, a KIRO-TV anchor who MC’d the event. “We need to raise them and we need to support them as well, in all arenas — political, business, social, legal, everything. We don’t have to agree with each other, but we do have to support and fight for the idea that those voices are essential everywhere, including among ambitious creative entrepreneurs like all of you.”
Based in Seattle, Female Founders Alliance is a social purpose corporation that has grown to 300 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 in July.
For the Ready Set Raise accelerator program, it partnered with Bellevue, Wash.-based venture capital firm Trilogy Equity Partners, which is subsidized program fees for participating companies.
Feinzaig told GeekWire that Ready Set Raise was “subtly powerful in everything that it revealed, from the very real biases that women face, to the emerging leadership of VCs like Trilogy Equity Partners, who are opening their eyes and checkbooks to female founders.”
“In these trying times for women’s rights, the support for and success of Ready Set Raise gives me hope for my daughter’s future,” she said after Demo Night.
Feinzaig has said Female Founders Alliance won’t take equity from the companies as a requirement for participating in the program. However, FFA did plan to ask for a warrant to invest in each company. Warrants traditionally give the holder the right to buy stock at a fixed price.
Here’s a rundown of the participating Ready Set Raise companies, in order of their pitches on Thursday evening.
Future Sight AR (Houston, TX): Augmented reality for engineering, procurement, and construction companies.
Lori-Lee Elliott co-founded Future Sight AR after working on projects in the construction industry with energy giants including Shell, Jacobs, and Bechtel. She aims to replace paper and pen with a smartphone and augmented reality technology, using an app to help workers with installations and quality checks. The startup is targeting 400 medium-size U.S.-based enterprises in an oil and gas construction market that Elliot said was worth $12 trillion.
Pandere Shoes (Anchorage, AK): Expandable shoes for people with foot and health challenges.
Laura Oden has lymphedema, which causes swelling in her feet and prevents her from fitting into regular shoes. As a long-time entrepreneur, she decided to create a more comfortable solution for herself and the 43 million people who also suffer from the same problem. The result is Pandere, which makes shoes that expand in toebox, midfoot and around the ankles. The company has pre-sold 250 pairs and has another 10,000 interested customers in its product, which is made in Portugal.
geeRemit (Raleigh, NC): Leverages blockchain to power remittances to Africa.
Sandra K. Johnson found her startup idea after traveling to 22 different countries across Africa. The former IBM executive wants to let people send money to their family and friends in sub-Saharan Africa with her app, geeRemit, that leverages blockchain to enable mobile-to-mobile financial transactions. The startup aims to lower fees and improve security of mobile remittance.
MoxieReader (New York, NY): Improves child literacy through technology.
MoxieReader aims to help U.S. students improve their performance at school by encouraging them read more. The startup developed software that incentivizes kids to read and gives teachers and parents oversight into reading habits. Founder and CEO Mim Ingvarson, an education technology expert, said MoxieReader is already being used in 300 classrooms after launching this past January.
Zeta Help (San Francisco, CA): A financial support platform for millennial couples.
Aditi Shekar had the best pitch of the night, using humor and a personal story to highlight the value of her company’s app that is designed to help couples manage their finances. Zeta Help is focused on millenials, providing them with a tool to track various spending accounts across individual and shared pools. Shekar, who spent 12 years at two venture-backed startups, said the company aims to generate $128 million in annual recurring revenue.
Chanlogic (Seattle, WA): Global SaaS product for eCommerce channel managers.
It’s not easy for e-commerce businesses to track their sales activity across multiple channels — and that’s where Chanlogic comes in. The startup provides online retailers with a single dashboard interface that gives users visibility into their sales performance. It also helps optimize product listings and ad campaigns while managing orders and inventory. Chanlogic co-founder and CEO Elaine Kwon previously worked at Amazon and Convoy.
Esq.Me Inc. (New York, NY): A document marketplace for lawyers, by lawyers.
Somya Kaushik helped launch Esq.Me after becoming a lawyer and recognizing the need for a legal document marketplace. The startup lets solo practitioners and small firms buy and sell legal documents. It takes a 7 percent transaction fee for each document sale. There are more than seven million cases on the marketplace, which launched four years ago.
Magic AI (Seattle, WA): Artificial intelligence for livestock care.
Magic AI CEO Alexa Anthony gave one of the strongest pitches on Thursday. Anthony was inspired to launch Magic AI after her own 8-year-old horse, Magic, passed away. The death would have been prevented with Magic AI’s technology that uses video cameras and machine learning to provide a 24-hour monitoring and alert system for horses. Anthony said there is a $7 billion addressable market for monitoring of domesticated animals, with $1.2 billion of that in the equine industry.