How You Can Support Female Founders

Article originally published in Refinery 29 on 9.19.18

Article originally published in Refinery 29 on 9.19.18

About a year ago, Erika Szychowski, the founder of a protein snack company called Good Zebra, had a startling realization about what it means to be a female founder. Szychowski had reached out to a network of other founders and unearthed a disturbing finding: Most of the women she spoke with said they would never have been able to secure funding if they hadn't had support from a man.

“They’d say, ‘I would never have raised funding if I hadn’t taken my husband into the room or made my brother my co-founder,’” Szychowski told Refinery29. These findings planted a seed in Szychowski’s mind, and she started researching and trying to understand what better funding for women entrepreneurs and founders looked like.I thought, I don’t have any of that [support from men]! And I didn’t think it was necessary.”

Erika Szychowski spent three years bootstrapping her high-protein animal cracker startup, Good Zebra, before she decided to start raising capital to grow the enterprise and keep up with demand. She mapped out her ask, pulled together a pitch deck and reached out to every entrepreneur she knew.

“Regardless of sector, gender or whether they had raised before, I just wanted to hear about their experience,” she says. “And I got significantly different answers from female founders than male founders.”

Szychowski anticipated some discrepancy -- she was well aware that fundraising is harder for female founders. “But there were all these other raw stories I didn’t expect,” she says. “People that faked a male co-founder to get money, or who had to take their husband to a pitch meeting. Or women who felt their only option was to move in with a boyfriend they weren’t ready to commit to just so they could lower their overhead and keep bootstrapping.”

Szychowski went down a rabbit hole of research, and realized the funding facts and figures were even worse than she thought: “There’s so little investment money going to female founders in America, that there are more dollars on the sidelines.”

Around the same time, Phyllis Deally was in the process of bootstrapping her second self-funded brand agency, Reinvent the World, and feeling equally frustrated as a woman in business. The two long-time acquaintances got together for coffee, and saw the power in their shared experiences. “We needed a platform to make a difference,” Deally says. “And that’s what the F Project is.”

The F Project is the brainchild of Deally and Szychowski, and is a new social experiment and collaborative commerce platform that aims to harness the collective power of female entrepreneurs to promote their company’s products and activate a consumer who may be interested in supporting women-led operations.

“We’ve got 100 committed female founders of product-based businesses,” says Szychowski. “There are a lot of VC funds for women and networking groups, but we don’t want to spout facts and figures -- we want to share origin stories and exciting things about these founders with the people who might buy their products.”

Starting on September 24, each of the 100 founders -- including the brains behind such high-profile brands as Rebecca Minkoff and ThirdLove -- will take a pledge to seek out and support female-founded brands, sharing the message on social media and asking their customers and fans to do the same. In the weeks that follow, the F Project’s army of founders will promote other members’ stories on their own platforms.

“We want our founders to introduce her consumers to another female founder’s products,” says Deally. “That’s what we want to find out here: can we create a bigger pool, aggregate intent, and make sure these women are having more economic success and eventually getting the funding they need to grow their businesses at the rate that they could if they had that support.”

Szychowski echoes: “Females are known for speaking in the ‘we’ -- we’re very collaborative, even though most of us have built these companies on our own,” she says. “So we, as founders, can talk about each other in a way that an individual might not feel comfortable talking about herself.”

The F Project will collect data and analytics as it grows, hoping to identify consumers that are motivated to purchase female-founded brands. The evolution of the F project will eventually include customer giveaways and eventually, a commerce platform. “We 100 percent believe it can evolve into a marketplace,” says Szychowski. “We can also do events with activations, pop-up shops. This isn’t about founders hanging out at a private club. It’s about making sure that everything we do includes consumers.”

We are the cofounders of Solemates.  We naturally have always supported other women in all walks of life - entrepreneurs, creators, inventors, doctors, teachers, bankers, mothers, daughters and more.  When Erika & Phyllis approached us to be founding members of The F Project , the first network of its kind to activate women supporting other women in business, we jumped at it.