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‘Thank God You Exist.’ These Female VCs Have $27 Million to Invest in Women’s Ideas

Anu Duggal and Sutian Dong’s tiny co-working office is stacked high with 100 swanky gift bags. Every item stuffed inside the black and cream weekend duffles is trendy and coveted by the New York Millennial set — S’well water bottles, Sustain Natural organic tampons, Google Home minis. One product has extra appeal to Duggal and Dong: the newest lip balm from Instagrammable beauty brand Winky Lux, the creation of which was made possible by the women loading the loot into each bag.

They are the partners of the Female Founders Fund, a venture capital firm dedicated to funding new tech-related companies created by women. And on one late-July morning, they were preparing for their August CEO Summit, a day-long event that would bring newly minted chief executives into conversations with established leaders like Marissa Mayer, Cecile Richards and Danny Meyer. It’s just one of 40-50 events Duggal and Dong host for the founders in their portfolio each year. They run an ambitious calendar of gatherings to help advance the businesses they’ve had a hand in launching — everything from off-the-record press dinners and breakfasts with uber-successful CEOs to office hours at Instagram.

Duggal, an entrepreneur herself, launched the fund solo in 2014, bringing on experienced investor Dong as a partner in 2016. Their mission to support women entrepreneurs comes in part from a place of wanting to see women succeed — but it also makes good business sense. Studies have shown that diversity only helps the bottom line; McKinsey & Company found in 2015 that businesses in the top quartiles for racial and ethic diversity and gender diversity are 35% and 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.

“When you think about the face of entrepreneurship 10 to 20 years ago, it looked very different than what it does today,” says Dong. For investors who look for patterns in past successes to recreate, female founders rarely fit the model, she says, but that’s where she and Duggal see profit potential. The biggest challenge has been convincing others that female founders will make big returns, Duggal says, but she and Dong have taken massive strides toward overcoming it: F3 announced in May that it has raised an impressive $27 million from investors like Melinda Gates, Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lakeand Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani. “We’re paving the way and opening up the path for so many other female investors to take that leap,” Dong says.

The roadblocks facing women in the startup world are not limited to access to funding. When Susan Fowler published a blog post in February 2017 about the discrimination she faced as an engineer at Uber, she blew open a national conversation about sexism in tech. A year and a half later, Dong nods to Fowler’s impact. “The generation right now is really committed to changing permanently how people interact and how people treat each other,” she says. F3 is part of the movement to reimagine an industry that offered only 2% of venture capital dollars to women entrepreneurs last year. “We’re talking about looking forward and building something new that we want to see, versus existing in a system and a construct that’s designed for people that don’t look like us,” she says.

Duggal was born in India; Dong in China. Dong says she’s seen fellow women of color in her industry struggle with moments of internal doubt following rejection: “Is that because of what I look like, or did that happen because of how they were feeling?” she describes people wondering. “That unknown piece is hard.” The women who come to Dong and Duggal with business ideas often enter with a sense of relief, as if to say, Thank God you exist, Duggal says. “We’re saying to the world that you can have a fund that’s 100% female founders and compete with everybody else in the market.”

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