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March 2018 marks the start of Booz Allen’s partnership with The Vinetta Project—a national organization increasing women’s access to networks, investors, and partners. We spoke with Vanessa Dawson, founder and CEO, about the challenges women entrepreneurs face, her vision for progress, and what’s next for the organization’s vibrant DC chapter. Learn more about the partnership here.
What are some of the challenges women face in accessing funding? A lot of it boils down to cognitive and network bias. In early stage companies, decisions often get made based on who you know and “gut feeling.” But today’s investment pool consists of about 98 percent male decision makers, who generally source deals from their trusted networks and naturally select opportunities and founders who they can relate to and see themselves in. Unfortunately, many women aren’t connected to these networks.
Why did you found Vinetta? A few years ago, I was a founder trying to raise capital in New York, pitching to men, and realized that many women are overlooked and underestimated. But if you look at the data, women are actually 20 percent more likely to found a revenue-generating company, and they return 35 percent more return on investment to investors. I started the organization to surround myself with ambitious female founders who are going big and playing a role to promote diversity in business for social and economic reasons.
How is Vinetta different from business accelerators or advocacy groups? Vinetta’s mission is to drive bottom-line results through strategic relationships—the cornerstone of fundraising and business development. Vinetta sources and vets top companies, investors and partners who want to get involved with early-stage tech companies and pairs them strategically.
Unlike most accelerators, Vinetta doesn’t have a set curriculum. The programming is based on what the founders need at each moment—like targeted workshops and mentoring early on, and later-stage forums for pitching to investors. And unlike advocacy groups, we’re not primarily raising awareness. But we each play a role in building a diverse founder ecosystem.
This year’s national theme for International Women’s Day is #pressforprogress. What does that mean for you? These social battles aren’t new, but for me, #pressforprogress is the beginning of a stronger movement and we all need to act. In 2017 when real dialogue was starting about bias in funding circles, the number of investment dollars that went to women actually went down—from 4 percent to 2 percent. We need to move from “I want to help” to “Here’s what can I do.”
Booz Allen is thrilled to partner with Vinetta’s DC community. What is your vision for this growing chapter? It’s a great test hub for pilot initiatives. In the near term, my hope is to start a structured mentorship program for high-potential founders in DC. But for all of our chapters, I’d like this year to be about defining more targeted goals like the number of founders engaged, the amount of capital closed, and the amount of revenue generated. We see the results every day, and I’d be excited to see the impact on a much larger scale.