A depressing but real statistic: Despite starting businesses at twice the rate of men, female entrepreneurs receive just 3 percent of venture capital and under 5 percent of Small Business Administration loans.
Founded by four experienced women entrepreneurs, the XXcelerate Fund is working to change that. The goal of the year-long educational and mentoring program is simply to give more women-owned businesses the financial support they need, by helping bridge the gap between small business loans (comparatively small amounts of money) and venture capital (large sums of cash).
Two dozen women from across the business spectrum—past participants have included a chai company founder, makers of high-end rugs, and producers of specialty clothing to wear while giving birth—meet once a month with the XXcelerate leadership team, who share business advice and resources as they scale up over the course of a year. And, of course, the leaders help them find money when they need it.
XXcelerate cofounder and executive director Robin Klemm—the first female to teach management at the Wharton School of Business, with four decades of experience helping grow small businesses—knows all about doing work in a sea of men.
“I thought we would be further along by now," she says. "No glass ceilings, no glass cliffs. It was absolute isolation, and the reason why I have been supporting woman-owned businesses since. I don’t want them to have to go what I went through.”
“We see this as beta testing," adds XXcelerate's deputy director Renee Shade, who has an MBA from Presidio Graduate School and worked in the New York finance world. "In 2019 we want to expand to Washington and Idaho. Then we want to see this program go national. We help all these women succeed, and then they can become investors for [other] women.”
And with that idea, they could level the playing field. It seems like good business, too. As Klemm says, “Woman-owned start-ups do better than male start-ups. It’s a fact.”
Applications are open through May 16 for the incubator's second cohort. This year's program will cover everything from angel investing vs. loans to streamlining systems and processes, and will feature a speaking appearance by US Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.