Kickstarter + incubator center + community + women + local. Put all of those things into a blender and what do you get? iFundWomen. Launched by Karen Cahn in November of 2016, the iFundWomen platform is providing the best of everything just mentioned, specifically for women who have companies that meet the high standards needed to be spotlighted on this new crowdfunding platform.
How iFundWomen Works
First of all, for anyone not familiar with crowdfunding, it is typically an online platform featuring compelling projects that anyone can invest in. In return for your investment level (usually starting at $10-$30), you are rewarded with an item or experience and the emotional connection of watching the company grow and succeed. Crowdfunding allows businesses to raise money, and these businesses often fall outside of the typical ones that qualify to receive bank loans or large investment capital. Kickstarter and GoFundMe are well-known brands often associated with this type of platform.
We will get to how iFundWomen can intersect with “local” later, but first, why support iFundWomen at all? You’ll discover incredible new products ranging from beauty to tech and everything in-between. And, just like other crowdfunding programs, you can purchase different levels for added benefits with the thrill of both discovering a possible new big brand as well as helping out women-owned businesses.
Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, iFundWomen takes the approach that they want to vet the featured products/businesses and thus create a more curated portal to fabulous goods and services. This better equips each company showcased to succeed and invites a different experience for the person browsing online, giving a reason to click around and not just fund/purchase one product, but discover many new ones.
You can read stories about these passionate women, why they started their companies and why they believe the world needs their product. You’ll laugh, you’ll be inspired and, with some of the stories, you’ll likely tear up. You’ll find all sorts of items — jewelry, stationery, apps and more, which is just plain fun — the thrill of discovery!
How Nashville localized iFundWomen (and thus gave a blueprint for any other city wishing to do so!)
When iFundWomen launched, there were 27 companies featured on the platform. The day it launched it was featured on CNBC’s Squawk Box. Shortly after, it was also featured in the online newsletter from EllevateNetwork.com, a subscription-based digital publication for professional women. Audra Ladd, Manager of Small Business and Creative Economy for Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry, read the feature and saw an opportunity to localize iFundWomen, thereby giving Nashville’s economy a boost while supporting local women-owned businesses. “It’s sometimes difficult to find companies in which to invest when you’re looking for social impact investing or investing in women … is the woman the face of the company or is the company actually owned by the woman? Knowing that iFundWomen showcased only women-owned businesses drew me in,” Audra says. “And I liked the intensive screening process where they actually walk you through what a campaign is like — which is a reality check for most people. They are there for you throughout the campaign, giving you both encouragement or correction. Let’s be frank, lots of entrepreneurship is happening because of women … and women of color are opening lots of businesses. But, when you look at bank loans for businesses, women are underrepresented. Gender still plays a huge issue, as does race, your first language … iFundWomen acknowledges this and helps to fill in the gaps.”
iFundWomen: Nashville was launched in March of 2017 to great success, with 50 vetted startups and small businesses seeking funding. Nashville’s goal was to have 50 businesses apply and have 10 be strong enough to make it onto the platform. It was eye-opening to everyone involved how many great businesses needed investment.
In addition to the online platform for iFundWomen: Nashville, there was also a physical launch party where you could see the products up close and meet the women seeking funding, which is typically not part of any crowdfunding process. Locals were invited to attend the party, meet these women-run business owners and, if they believed in the vision, buy the product or contribute through the crowdfunding portal. This provided each business a real-time pitch opportunity as well. Many who came helped fund several businesses, and they received unique experiences and products in return. Well over $100,000 was raised for Nashville businesses through this event and overall partnership, thanks in large part to Audra Ladd’s vision and the support of the Mayor’s office, with Mayor Barry staying at the launch event for over an hour, checking out each business and visiting with the owners. iFundWomen: Nashville also had the support of Pathway Women’s Business Center, Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance, Entrepreneurial Center (EC) and Nashville Fashion Alliance, to further add momentum.
It’s events like these where the spirit of the community becomes tangible. Melody Bowers, cofounder of Her Data Method, which was fully funded thanks to the event, says, “Shannon [her business partner] and I work, work, work ALL. THE. TIME, and the iFundWomen ‘sisterhood’ was a shot in the arm to keep going. The other part that is especially fantastic is that Audra Ladd in the Mayor’s office and Mayor Barry herself just flat get it. Women are already changing the world. Give them a supportive community and some funds, and get out of the way!”
If another city would like to launch a similar program, contact iFundWomen here.
Besides the woman angle and coaching, what makes iFundWomen different?
Have you noticed the amount of crowdfunding campaigns that fail? It’s usually because the businesses seeking funding simply weren’t prepared or adequately supported. iFundWomen not only provides a beautiful platform, but they vet the companies and will coach them on how to be successful. This is a full-service platform with an a la carte menu of options for expertise, giving you the foundation to succeed.
But, it goes further than that.
One of the biggest differentiators behind who succeeds and who fails, across all crowdfunding sites, is the person’s personal network. It’s simply more challenging for someone to succeed who does not have a family, friends and a social network that can afford to help them out — no matter how good of a product it is. iFundWomen knows this and helps to level the playing field through their Accelerator Pool. According to CEO Karen Cahn, “The iFundWomen Accelerator Pool is a fund that supplements the crowdfunding efforts of select entrepreneurs on the platform. A successful crowdfunding campaign is largely dependent upon entrepreneurs having an engaged and generous extended network of family, friends, colleagues and followers investing in the idea. This pool encourages donations of all amounts to help equalize the playing field for those with low-income networks who are struggling to meet their fundraising goals.”
When asked how they decide who receives the extra funding, Karen explains, “We carefully review the progress of all live campaigns on the platform, from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Campaigns that reach 30% of their goal within the first 20% of the campaign timeline qualify for this additional funding. We then factor in how much the entrepreneurs proactively support their campaigns with social media, press, community impact, visibility and more.”
The mission behind iFundWomen supports and connects women to each other through a curated platform, coaching for success and through the innovative Accelerator Pool, understanding that great ideas sometimes need a little extra wind in their sails, especially when personal resources are lower. We are excited to see this program grow and expand both online as well as in StyleBlueprint cities and beyond!
For questions, more information and to learn how you can create a local market for iFundWomen, visit ifundwomen.com.
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