The fight for equal pay rages on (as it should), but there is another money and gender issue flying under the radar—equal opportunity for investment.
Though women-led companies on the rise (female-led companies made up 4.94% of all venture capital deals in 2016—the highest percentage in the past decade), they are still being massively underinvested. Venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in male-founded companies last year, whereas women received just $1.46 billion.
That’s a 56.74 BILLION dollar difference, guys.
Ashley Dombkowski, Ph.D, didn’t let the numbers scare her. After working in predominantly male-dominated industries for nearly 20 years, including venture capital, the mom had an idea that would let her be her own boss—and save children from developing potentially fatal allergies. She developed Before Brands, a consumer-focused platform focused on preventing children from developing (potentially fatal) allergies.
To say that the company was a major success would be an understatement. The business closed the largest Series B on record for a company with a female CEO in the healthy living category.
We tapped Ashley for her advice on making it big and what to do in a male-dominated industry.
Ashley Dombkowski formerly worked at the massively popular DNA-kit company 23andMe, where she met an influential mentor: CEO Anne Wojcicki. “I really admire Anne as an example of a boss lady," says Dombkowski. "One of my takeaways from her, is she found a principle that she really believed in in her product and then has stuck with that principle and that’s guided her.”
When Dombkowski had the idea for Before Brands, she was working in venture capital as the managing director for Bay City Capital. Despite the job security (not to mention, serious bank), she decided to leave the company in favor for her own idea. “I remember after I told my partners that I really wanted to do this, they were super supportive but I got in the car and I was driving back home and I called a startup lawyer, and I said, ‘Listen, I just quit my job. There’s this intellectual property that I want to license. I have no money.’ That was in December of 2015. By May of 2016, we’d closed the Series A, and raised $13.1 million.”
3. Have Confidence in Your Brand (and Yourself)
“I was nervous about [starting Before Brands] because when you’re setting off on a new thing like that, there’s a lot of responsibility,” says Dombkowski. “At the same time, it wasn’t scary at all. I had confidence that I knew the network, write the business model, make the case, and then bring all the people in to do it.”
4. Don’t Let Anyone Get in Your Way
"When I started, I sat down with one potential investor and he said to me, ‘I think it’s great, but I think men don’t really think about preventing a food allergy in their kids. That’s the kind of thing women think about more. You should really go pitch to a woman.’ I found that moment really deflating because the issue is not a woman problem, it’s a society problem," says Dombkowski. "The second thing I felt in that moment, fortunate for me as someone who’s come out of the investment industry, is I know a lot of investors. If I had been a different entrepreneur who had come into that meeting and someone had said, ‘Why don’t you just go find a woman partner at a venture fund and then that’s your path?’ I would have thought, well first of all, there aren’t that many.”
5. Pick Investors Not Just for the $
“When you sit down to talk with investors, it needs to be a two-way discussion. That is so key because on the one hand, you need to do a good job pitching your idea both the passion and the execution," says Dombkowski. “It’s not just about capital, that’s only one type of resource. Having expertise, perspective, a network, or something as simple as encouragement, just feeling like they’ve got your back. All of those things really matter.”
6. Collaborate and Bring in Others
“The myth of the lone ranger is something that’s something pervasive in the Silicon Valley," admits Dombkowski. "First of all, it’s a myth. It’s never just a single person or two or whatever. It’s always, a lot of things have to come together. I think finding ways to connect and build that web so that you can bring everything together is really key.”
7. Keep Dreaming Big
Both in terms of your business, and the future of women in the workplace. “We still have a long way to go. I mean, that goes without saying," says Dombkowski. "I love my posse of all these other female CEOs. So, seeing all of these great women, those who are more successful than me and those who are just coming up, I think it’s neat as a mom of daughters—to think about how those role models becoming something they can look to and emulate. Frankly, the boys in their class can see the same and see that a CEO can be a woman.”
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Megan DiTrolio is the editor of features and special projects at Marie Claire, where she oversees all career coverage and writes and edits stories on women’s issues, politics, cultural trends, and more. In addition to editing feature stories, she programs Marie Claire’s annual Power Trip conference and Marie Claire’s Getting Down To Business Instagram Live franchise.
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