I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

President Obama: We need Title Nine for funding women’s startups

Photo via OttoInFocus.com

Photo via OttoInFocus.com

I’ve just spent a week with an accomplished athlete.

She is my mom’s sister, Sally Chaney.  Her sport was fast-pitch softball.  Aunt Sally anchored left field in a summer travel team that won the Michigan state championships 13 out of 16 years during the late ’60′s and into the early ’80′s.   Her college did not have a decent softball team, so she never even tried out.  She would have made it; she was a walk-on to the varsity tennis and field hockey teams of her large state university.

Though highly skilled, competitive, and driven,  Aunt Sally was born at the wrong time.  She was not lucky enough to benefit from the 1972 Title IX legislation.   Instead she spent her summers recruiting sponsors to fund her kick-ass softball team, come hook or by crook.

Although too late for Aunt Sally, thankfully, somewhere along the way in the 1960′s we decided that sports, competition, and teamwork were an important part of life.  We decided that barring girls from fair access to athletics was wrong and that it would handicap women for life.  We fixed that problem and it would be hard to find a person to argue the merits of that correction.

Survey results before enacting Title Nine, from news archives of NBC/WSJ

Survey results before enacting Title Nine, from news archives of NBC/WSJ

We need to have the same wake-up call about venture funding.  If sports are an important training ground, why do we effectively bar women from competing at high levels in the most powerful playing field of life:  starting companies.   Starting high stakes companies depends on having access to capital.  Like sports, you can’t train, compete, or win without meaningful infrastructure.  With only 4-9% of venture funding going to women, the damning lack of infrastructure is obvious.

Proponents of Title IX heard arguments that women did not come out for sports at the same levels at men.  They were told that women had other priorities.  That women could not compete.  Oddly, I hear those same arguments about why women are not getting venture funding.

We need to correct this.  It will be hard.  Just as it deeply affected structural norms in the athletic departments at high schools and colleges, a huge range of public and private investment institutions will be affected.  The good news is women stand ready with legions of investment-worthy companies.  The track record of female founders even shows superior investment returns compared to male founders.  Therefore, I would suggest that the government role could be simple:  remove the lucrative carried interest tax loophole from any venture firms that do not fund women’s businesses proportionate to men’s. 

I am not debating the merits of carried interest to reward VC’s and private equity partners.  There is an argument that this incentive creates better access to capital for entrepreneurs.  I am arguing that having the general population fund that access to capital to men only (through favorable tax treatment for investors who invest only in male founders) is untenable.  The problem would be fixed in a handful of years. What are we waiting for?

Please help me spread this idea…and get it in front of President Obama.  He has daughters.  He would never tolerate their exclusion from sports.  He is telling them that the world is their oyster.  It is not.  But it could be quickly better, with a simple piece of legislation.

Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP

Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP

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8 Responses to “President Obama: We need Title Nine for funding women’s startups”

  1. shoelady2

    I wrote the comment below… then hand wrestled with wordpress over what my acceptable username and pw would be. I have 4 wordpress accounts, thought I only had 3. But even going to source, it still wouldn’t accept the result. So wordpress 1, bt 0 but here is the post anyway:

    You are being asked to login because*barbara@designershoes.com* is used by an account you are not logged into now. By logging in you’ll post the following comment to *President Obama: We need Title Nine for funding women’s startups*:

    I started looking for investors for the ecommerce company I founded in 1998 and discovered the true meaning of “cold shoulder”. Maybe it was New England. Maybe it was the product (I was told that New England investors just did “pipes and wires”). Maybe it was the vehicle (ecommerce was considered frivolous and with no clear future). Maybe it was my gender. I watched my concept get funded 3 years later and grow to companies worth over $800MM. 15 years later I’m ploughing forward with sweat equity and working hard. But I would wish for the next generation a more level playing field to even out those invisible barriers of attitude and expectation. So many of my customers are products of Title IX. When given the opportunity to get into action on the playing field in the early 1970′s, it changed roles and opportunities for women. And one of the outcomes: women’s feet grew from an average of size 7 to an average of size 9 today. Not to stretch this metaphor too far, but I suspect that as women’s footprints have grown because of the earlier Title IX, the success of the companies the try to start would also grow with these invisible barriers removed.

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

    Reply
    • Angela

      Hey Barbara good piece you are lucky to have gotten the funding. Lucky you who is in the US the story is pretty much grim in Africa slim chance to get funding for a woman start up. Sourcing for the atartup in Agribusiness and no such luck :)

      Reply
  2. julespieri

    Hey Barbara…you got it posted despite the user/pw maze. And glad you did. Good point on how Title IX indirectly enabled your business!

    Reply
  3. Sindhya

    Thank you for writing this article, Jules. It’s brilliantly written. I’m sharing on every social media medium I use.
    While there are some women’s startup organizations/incubators/accelerators, they offer a negligible amount of funding if any at all. There’s definitely a dearth of funding and adequate support.

    Reply
  4. Sindhya

    The bar for traction required by VCs is demanding for female founders. For men, often there isn’t any. VCs will fund 1st-time male founders without traction or demonstration of domain understanding or domain expertise. I wrote about this in an article for PandoDaily.

    Among new consumer brands that have launched recently, there are only a few that are primed to be global leaders and even US market leaders: Julep, Nasty Gal, Spanx, and Happy Family. Interestingly, all of these companies have female founders who struggled to get venture funding – even after demonstrating significant traction. Happy Family, an organic baby, toddler and children’s food, is poised to be the next Gerber. Happy Family’s Founder Shazi Visram won the Ernst & Young ”Entrepreneur of the Year” award and the “American Dream Award” in 2012. Happy Family is distributed in 17,000 stores and 30 countries, and it is the leading, premium organic kids food brand in the US.

    In a series of very candid articles titled Fundraising Saga of a Desperate Entrepreneur in Inc. Magazine, Shazi said, “Of course, the process would have gone a lot faster if we had been able to leverage a VC relationship. Even as our business started to boom, there was an evening when I got to the subway with nothing in my wallet but maxed out credit cards and no way to pay for my ride home.”I’ve been in this situation. Most entrepreneurs would’ve given up at this point. Shazi didn’t. Happy Family’s revenue nearly quadrupled in two years to $64 million as of February 2013, and it was recently acquired by Danone because of its rapid growth and innovative products. It shouldn’t be this hard for talented female founders to get funding.

    Reply
  5. FedUp WithEqualTalk

    How about women step up to the plate just like men have to, with no assistance based on gender.
    I hate seeing crap like this, not because it’s for a woman, but because it’s always assumed that women are less advantaged. Btw, evidently by the headline, this woman is a CEO…
    Effing political morons.

    Reply

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