More women in Kansas City are realizing the valuable opportunities offered by early-stage investing — and it’s translating into significant growth for the Women’s Capital Connection.
The regional investment network has grown not only its number of member investors by about 40 percent in the past three years, but also has more than doubled the volume of dollars it’s invested, said Kelly Sievers, managing director at the WCC.
Since its launch in 2008, the WCC and its members have injected more than $4 million in startups — more than half of which has been invested since 2015, Sievers added. It’s also grown from about 33 members to now an average of 46 investor members.
Several factors contribute to the WCC’s growth, but chief among them has been Kansas City’s focus on cultivating its entrepreneurial ecosystem, Sievers said. Through workshops and meetups offered by such programs as the WCC, the Mid-America Angels, Enterprise Center in Johnson County, and Digital Sandbox KC, entrepreneurs and investors are better learning how to work together and speak a common language.
“There weren’t (always) a lot of these accelerators and programs around to get entrepreneurs down the road a little bit and make progress,” Sievers said. “There’s been great progress on helping entrepreneurs understand there’s money available and programs available to get them ready to pitch to investors.”
Similar to other angel investor networks, the WCC accepts entrepreneur applicants seeking funding, conducts screenings of prospective deals, and then conducts due diligence to vet a prospect. In contrast to other funds, the network focuses on investing in women-led firms in the Midwest. Each member decides individually whether to invest in a particular deal.
Through the years, the WCC has invested in 14 firms, including Rawxies, TomboyX, Salsa and Portfolia. It’s also scored some significant returns with such deals as Aratana, which fetched about $35 million in its 2013 initial public offering, and EyeVerify, which sold to Alibaba for more than $100 million.
Making money off such deals has also helped the organization grow, said Sherry Turner, a co-founder of the WCC and OneKC for Women.
“They’re there to not only learn about this asset class but to actually earn a return on investment on their money,” she said. “Of course, we want to help women, but we’re here to make money. It complements both sides of the equation (entrepreneurs and investors).”
Investors in the program say they’ve sharpened their skills, including Victoria Barnard, another co-founder of the Women’s Capital Connection. It’s also provided a new perspective on what to look for in founders who Barnard might be backing, she said.
“One of my favorite quotes from a recent panel discussion is ‘The startup world is full of great ideas. What is in short supply is great execution,’” Barnard recalled. “In other words, founders and teams are key to the success of the business, even more key than the business idea. Teams who can execute are more scarce than good ideas.”
A supportive WCC community and network is another valuable component, said Aviva Ajmera, a co-founder of consulting firm SoLVE KC and the chair of the WCC executive committee. The high-caliber and successful group of women offered not only opportunities to fuel her firm’s growth, but also to cultivate friendships, she said.
“Being a part of WCC has connected me to entirely new group of women and friends that I never otherwise would have met,” Ajmera said. “It’s inspiring to spend a few hours a month with other women in varied industries, all of whom are successful in their own fields and, frankly, are badasses.”