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4 key business lessons from venture-backed women founders

In the current fundraising environment, valuations are suppressed, and the cost of capital remains high.¹ However, companies founded by women have shown particular resilience through a focus on business fundamentals.

In brief
  • Companies founded by women have shown resilience in attracting capital and offer lessons for startups.
  • Investors are looking for well-thought-out product ideas and effective storytelling around market potential, revenue and profit.
  • Building a genuine network and operating a well-managed business can help in the quest for investment dollars.

This article was co-authored by Jeff Grabow, EY US Venture Capital Leader and Gabriela Isturiz, General Partner at The Fund XX, an early-stage venture capital fund investing in women-led businesses.
In 2023, the percentage of capital invested year-to-date into female founded and cofounded companies has risen slightly compared to 2022.² This resilience is underscored by data³ suggesting that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, female entrepreneurs bolstered their workforces, sharpened their strategy and strengthened their companies. Additionally, while overall funding⁴ in the US declined by 37% in 2022, funding for women decreased by only 28%.

Of course, this positive news is tempered by the fact that founders who identify as female receive minuscule investment overall — just 2.1% of total capital deployed in 2022.⁵ The pie is even smaller for women of color. According to a report⁶ by Digitalundivided, the combined share for these founders’ venture capital in 2021 was just over 1% — 0.64% for Latina and 0.41% for Black female founders.


The obstacles faced by female founders in raising funds are well documented, from a dearth of women decision-makers at private equity and venture capital firms, to lack of networks, to flat-out gender bias. Founder Lindsay Jurist-Rosner is a good example. When she launched Wellthy in 2014 to help caregivers navigate the logistics of care, it was a market opportunity that many male investors could not appreciate. Since then, thanks to her dedicated effort, the company has raised $77 million. Today, Wellthy is making a significant impact in the nearly $6 trillion care economy⁷ and recently closed on a $25 million round in funding.


But even in today’s environment, skeptical investors can be won over by founders with proven unit economics, realistic growth trajectories and large addressable markets filled with customers they understand. In fact, exceptional female founders such as Lindsay offer lessons for entrepreneurs everywhere.


Here are some tips from our experience — Jeff as EY US Venture Capital Leader and Gaby as a Latina founder, serial entrepreneur and investor in early-stage, women-led businesses — on attracting investors and keeping their attention.

1. Socialize your product idea early in the development process, then learn and iterate.

The bar for fundraising is rising. Investors are making fewer deals, and they are on investor-friendly terms with longer closes. Customers are re-evaluating spend, and a strong product-market fit is vital for VCs. Socializing your product idea and business plan early in the development process can help gain much-needed viewpoints on your product and business plan.

Reach out to valued members of your network and talk to potential customers. Gaby sees female founders sometimes playing it too safe — they don’t want to discuss their product until it’s perfect. However, feedback will help you develop a better and ultimately more fundable pitch.

From there, take the input, learn, iterate and evolve your product and plan. Wellthy launched as a direct-to-consumer product, but the price point to deliver quality service proved cost-prohibitive for most Americans. After about two years, Wellthy pivoted to working with employers to provide its services as an employee benefit. This move put the company on a stronger growth trajectory, but its earlier iteration did not go to waste. It allowed Wellthy “to understand the needs of families first and foremost,” Lindsay says.

2. Tell your story effectively and be receptive to feedback.

When a company has very little history, investors back entrepreneurs because they believe in their vision and ability to execute. You need to articulate your ideal customer inside and out, while clearly explaining your offering, its market potential and how you will generate revenue and profit. For companies in newer markets, founders also need to advocate for why their industry deserves innovation and investment. In Wellthy’s case, Lindsay had to explain how caregiving is critical because it supports workers in every other industry.

Lindsay notes that articulating the track record of your KPIs and milestones as your business grows can help secure your next funding round. “When you execute as planned, you get to just show up to these investor meetings and talk about metrics,” she says. “They don’t have to believe any story.”

Once you’re in those meetings, be receptive to feedback. Don’t litigate it. Every conversation has the potential to lead you somewhere — improvements on your idea, actual funding or to a potential funder that is a better match. Gaby looks for founders who appreciate being made aware of blind spots.

3. Your network is your net worth, so ask for what you need.

When it comes to fundraising, your network matters. Before joining The Fund XX, Gaby had founded two successful SaaS legal technology businesses. Their rapid growth required equity raises, which is when she realized she was ill-networked. Gaby worked with investment bankers to bridge the gap and leveraged that experience nurturing her network into how she raises funds from limited partners today.

Developing your network requires building genuine relationships and being clear about how your contacts can help. When you’re meeting with investors, don’t be intimidated during your pitch to ask for everything you need. And never take shortcuts that jeopardize your integrity or the trust you’ve built within your network.

4. Keep tight reins on your business.

Startup costs are always subject to creep, and investors are no longer funding growth at all costs. Entrepreneurs must develop a sound value proposition with a viable path to profitability and a long-term plan for growth.

Make sure you have a tight operating plan based on detailed cash flow models that underpin your capital needs. Show investors that your business is capital efficient. In challenging times, investors want to see how well business leaders can use the resources at their disposal and be profitable.

Founders should be highly focused on what their company does best and not waste time or resources on product developments or partnerships that may not be fruitful. At the same time, be sure to maintain the proper level of investment for key initiatives that set your company up for the next round of funding.

With the pressure on to deliver top-line revenue and operate a tightly managed business, founders who can effectively convey a story of operational excellence, disciplined investments and tangible business impact are more likely to garner the attention and support of investors.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.
Gabriela Isturiz is a General Partner at The Fund XX, an early-stage VC fund investing in women-led businesses.
Jeff Grabow is the EY US Venture Capital Leader at Ernst & Young LLP.


Focusing on the fundamentals of your business are key to attracting investors, say women founders. Tips include socializing the product idea, effective storytelling, being receptive to feedback, and leveraging networks. Startups should have a tight operating plan and demonstrate operational excellence to gain investor support.

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