Excuse me. Is this a business pitch or an OB/GYN appointment?

Fortune Small Business explores the successes (and travails) of women entrepreneurs.


Katharine Mieszkowski
April 8, 2006 2:35AM (UTC)

Imagine you're a venture capitalist being pitched by two women entrepreneurs who are trying to raise millions for their start-up venture. When they wind up their big presentation, what's the first question you ask?

A) "Do you really expect me to believe that you'll gross that much in your very first year?"

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B) "Do you have an outsourcing strategy?"

C) "So, Janet. I see Kathy's married. I'm just curious. What are you going to do when Kathy gets pregnant?"

The correct answer is C.

At least that was what two Stanford MBAs heard when they were looking for money to start Circles, a concierge services firm. They went on to raise $26 million, but unsurprisingly, not from the guy who asked that question. That anecdote is part of a nice profile of Janet Kraus and Kathy Sherbrooke by David Whitford in the current issue of Fortune Small Business, which focuses on women entrepreneurs.

Read Whitford's story to hear Kraus' great quick comeback to the pregnancy question. (No, she did not mention the OB/GYN.)

For all the well-documented growth in women-owned businesses in recent years, such firms aren't exactly raking in the venture capital. Of course, there's much debate about whether women entrepreneurs aren't getting the V.C. money because there are barriers to their doing so, or if many women simply don't want to give up controlling interest to outside funders in hopes of getting big fast.

Whitford follows the Circles team's path to the big time, and finds that it is harder for women to raise money from venture capitalists. Yet, at least one of the subjects of his article didn't really think of her experience securing that all-important first round of funding in those terms.

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"I don't think it was a glass ceiling," Sherbrooke tells Whitford. "I think it was a barrier you have to break through, which I think every entrepreneur has to face in some way. You're just sitting there with an idea, you've proven nothing, you're just asking for money. It's just this very awkward odd time."

Whitford concludes: "She's right, of course. It's hard for everyone. But it's harder for women. If she can't see that, even now, that's interesting. Maybe not seeing yourself as a victim is exactly what it takes."


Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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