I recently wrote about the importance of building a close relationship with a champion of your company.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, notes that “women have twice as many mentors as men, but half as many sponsors.” A mentor can provide advice and perspective, but a sponsor or champion can endorse a company’s performance, connect the founder to influential people and be an advocate for fundraising and business opportunities.
I asked several women founders: Do you have a champion? Here are three perspectives on the value of having a champion, and the challenges of finding one.
Mover and Shaker
Callie England, founder of vegan snack manufacturer Rawxies, was proactive when it came to fundraising for her business. She sought out and cultivated a champion with strong connections to local investors. “You have to be serious about finding a mover and shaker, and building an open, honest business relationship with them,” England said.
Jennifer Taylor is the founder of The Swapping Company, an online platform that enables fashion resellers to access and post on multiple fashion resale marketplaces. A recent participant in the Sprint mentor network, Taylor worked with a mentor who became a champion. “He didn’t know fashion, but it didn’t matter,” Taylor said. “He introduced us to so many people it was mind-blowing.” She plans to stay in touch with her Sprint mentor-champion. “Now, if we could find a woman with online fashion experience, we would be on cloud nine.”
Needle in a Haystack
Laura Steward, the successful business executive-turned-founder of mobile app Videofizz, feels fortunate to have had many advisors and mentors. She sees cultivating a champion as the next development in her company’s advisory relationships. “What I am now actively searching for is the right needle in the haystack of mentors. Who believes in our vision?” Half-jokingly, she adds: “Where is the Ashton Kutcher of the prairie?” (Note: Actor Ashton Kutcher formed A Grade Investments in 2011. Since its founding, the venture capital fund has made 54 investments in 46 tech startups.)
The research of author and urban theorist Richard Florida seems to validate what these local founders are experiencing: population density not only drives innovation but also impacts the local availability of champions and investors. Florida’s recently published report, the Rise of the Global Startup Cities, suggests a link between startup innovation and a city’s density, diversity and venture capital investment on a per capita basis.
Cultivating a champion who can advocate, introduce potential investors and foster revenue-generating opportunities is a challenge, but if there’s anything these three women know, it’s that persistence pays off. As Steward puts it, “I will keep looking for that “Champion,” and I have no doubt we will find her … or him.”
Elizabeth Usovicz is topline revenue strategist and principal of WhiteSpace Consulting, and General Manager of Transaction Commons. Her career includes leadership roles in corporate, start-up and consulting environments. Connect with Elizabeth at email@example.com or @eusovicz on Twitter.
In July of 2015, Startland News collaborated with WhiteSpace Consulting to conduct a whiteboard conversation with women entrepreneurs in the Kansas City region. Women entrepreneurs shared their perceptions about launching and leading companies and identified topics for ongoing discussion. As a result of this conversation, Startland News and WhiteSpace Consulting have developed (S)heStarts, a blog series that explores the entrepreneurial experience that women and men share, as well as perspectives on how their experiences are unique.