Raising capital is one of the hardest challenges that an entrepreneur — regardless of their gender — will face when building their startup. For women, this part of growing their business can present its own unique set of challenges due to the biases that prevail in the typically male dominant world of investors. 

In a study conducted by wX Insights 2020, one of the main barriers to gaining access to funding among women STEMpreneurs was the lack of a professional network. About 51% of the women STEMpreneurs interviewed lacked the appropriate network to access key investors. 

Multiple studies have shown that having more women in an investment team brings more investment opportunities and female founders in the dealflow. According to female investors that participated in the wX Insights study, women STEMpreneurs approached them through other women in their network, particularly other female investors.

In this third article of the series, three female investors share their insights on their experiences investing in Latin America and provide advice to female founders on how to approach raising capital.

First, Marta Cruz (NXTP Ventures) explains why it’s more challenging for women to fundraise. Then, learn about Claire Diaz-Ortiz’ (Magma Partners) trajectory from social entrepreneur in Africa to venture partner in Latin America. And finally, Antonia Rojas (ALLVP) talks about how diversity in investment teams can transform the way of doing business in Latin America.

Marta Cruz, finding certainty in the metrics

Marta Cruz is co-founder and Managing Partner at NXTP Ventures, a venture capital firm that backs early-stage tech startups in Latin America. She is recognized for her efforts in promoting entrepreneurship throughout the region.

In supporting and investing in startups, Marta considers she is sustaining the values her parents taught her from a young age. The entrepreneurial spirit comes from her mother, while the drive to excel at everything she sets her mind on and to make sure to have a positive impact on society is a reflection of her father. 

Before becoming an investor, Marta had worked for several large corporations including SIEMENS, and PNUD, and served as an Interpublic Executive Director for nine years. She had also been an entrepreneur for many years, creating and leading several innovative companies, and like any entrepreneur, also failing at a few. However, it was through the digital marketing agency that she founded that she discovered a new opportunity. 

“We had entrepreneurs that would teem around our employees to learn about how to develop campaigns to monetize or try out their business models,” explained Marta.

Recognizing that there was a need for entrepreneurs to have access to this type of knowledge, Marta and her team realized that something needed to be done. They decided to create a spin-off of the agency that would be an early-stage fund with an accelerator program for tech startups focused on Latin America.

“We had come across Techstars and YCombinator, and said we wanted to do the same from Argentina for the region,” said Marta. 

Harvard professor Josh Lerner selected NXTP Labs as an innovative case for investment and acceleration. With the launch of their second fund, NXTP Labs became NXTP Ventures, and they started to invest from $500K up to $2M with follow-on investments in segments such as B2B. 

Marta recalls that when they had started investing in 2011, Latin America’s startup ecosystem painted an interesting landscape. From a sociological standpoint, each country had its own set of challenges that influenced the perspectives of its entrepreneurs. 

Teams in Mexico would have their eyes set on producing products and services for the U.S. market. Meanwhile in Colombia and Ecuador, founders would be focused on creating solutions for their countries, going so far as to limit their scope to just a city. This was a particularly strong issue for Colombia, which had been affected by the closure of its borders. Marta explains that they had to ‘evangelize’ entrepreneurs to look beyond their borders and the mountain that surrounded them and think of more regional projects. In Chile, there was a lot of traction from foreign entrepreneurs who wanted to develop solutions for the country. Then Argentina had its own macroeconomic and political issues, which forced entrepreneurs to always strive to develop startups that would have a global reach.

Latin America’s startup ecosystem painted an interesting landscape. From a sociological standpoint, each country had its own set of challenges that influenced the perspectives of its entrepreneurs. 

Throughout her experience, Marta believes that investing in early-stage tech startups in Latin America has the potential to improve the lives of many individuals, creating opportunities for financial and educational inclusion. 

“Helping SMEs become competitive at a global level through digital transformations means that I’m creating the impact that my father always talked about,” reflected Marta.

As a female investor, that impact goes both ways. Having a diverse investment team means having all the perspectives present at the table when making important decisions. Marta says women can have all of the hard skills that men stereotypically do, while also bringing soft skills to the investment fund when choosing and supporting entrepreneurs. According to Marta, evaluating a founding team based on more human qualities can have great results in the long term.

Over the past 10 years, Marta has been promoting high-impact female founders through different organizations, such as WeXchange. She also led the initiative to create Women Entrepreneur Day in Latin America and the Caribbean. Even so, Marta recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done for more women to have the courage to start companies in the STEM fields.

In reference to a study conducted by Dana Kanze, Marta explains that investors tend to ask women questions regarding preventative measures for company losses, whereas men usually get asked about how they will double outcomes and promote the business.

The reason why this tends to happen is that fund managers are mostly male. In 2019, together with Susana Garcia-Robles, Marta founded WeInvest. The community was created for women investors across the world to focus on our region to share their experiences, transfer knowledge, and inspire other women to become investors.

“Having women on the other side of the table when there is a female in a founding team that is delivering a pitch can create an engagement similar to that between two men,” explained Marta.

She advises other entrepreneurs to create their own personal brand as a founder. Generally, women tend to be hidden, making sure things run smoothly on the operational side, and as a result, do not get the exposure they deserve. Marta also stresses on the importance of participating in events where they can build a network with other women entrepreneurs and investors.

“And above all, understand that raising capital is a sales process. As if you were selling a product […] study your investor, their investments, whether they invested in the competition, and try to get a warm intro,” said Marta.

When meeting an investor, metrics are key. Marta considers that women tend to give loose approximations of their companies’ performance with phrases like ‘We will more or less sell’, ‘It will take us more or less X amount of time’.

“No, you must go with robust answers. If you get asked about something that you haven’t prepared on your deck –even if you don’t have the exact number– you confidently give a number. You can always say that you will check it afterward for preciseness,” stated Marta.

Questions regarding metrics that are answered with uncertainty can make a founder seem insecure and lacking in knowledge of their own business. Other questions to consider in preparation for a meeting are:

  • What is the long term vision of the company?
  • Do you want to have an exit? If so, what’s your strategy?
  • What happens if you don’t raise the funds you need for this round?
  • What do you expect from our fund in addition to capital?

Marta says that these are just a few examples. She recommends that each time a founder meets an investor, he or she take note of the questions that are asked to become even better at answering them in the next meeting. Although Marta says that she wouldn’t want an investor on her cap table that asked about her personal life regarding her marital status or whether she has plans to have children, it’s still important to have honest answers to these questions and not hide your intentions to have a family if that is the case.

“What we need to be clear on is that it is possible to create a great company at the same time as one creates a great family. There are many examples of this in LatAm, Nubank being one of the most recent cases,” added Marta.

Following up is also extremely important. Marta explains that it can be a simple thank you for the meeting and the feedback received, but it can also be regular updates about how your startup is progressing if they decided not to invest for the time being. Creating a long-term relationship opens up the possibility of them changing their mind in the future, she noted.

Claire Díaz-Ortiz, supporting the underrepresented

Claire Díaz-Ortiz is Partner at Magma Partners where she leads Brava, a new initiative that seeks to invest in more Latin American female founders. She is also the founder of a non-profit organization called Hope Runs and was one of Twitter’s early employees.

From her early days starting a nonprofit organization in an orphanage in Kenya to now leading an initiative focused on female founders in Latin America, Claire has always been passionate about supporting the underrepresented. 

After her experience as a social entrepreneur in East Africa, she decided to go to business school and ended up joining Twitter when the company had a mere 50 employees among its staff. She fell in love with the dynamics of the startup world and after leaving the company became interested in investing as an angel investor, eventually making the transition into venture capital. 

“I just loved working with founders and seeing what amazing ideas people came up with, and finding a way to amplify their success,” explained Claire.

Although she is a new investor in Latin America, with only a couple of years of experience investing in the region, she is amazed by the grit and resilience she’s seen in the entrepreneurs.

“I’ve lived a lot in emerging markets so it does not surprise me. But it is very impressive to see the differences between entrepreneurs that have had to face constant flux versus one who has been privileged to be starting a company in a place like Silicon Valley,” said Claire.

Through her research, Claire has built a strong business case for investing in women and for having female investors in an investment team. 

Raising capital is an extremely challenging process for any entrepreneur, and there are countless stories about female founders being discriminated against in the fundraising process.

“The reality is that many founders don’t understand what the world of fundraising is like so it’s important to find a mentor and champion. Sometimes that mentor and champion is your first investor and sometimes it’s someone who is supporting you along the way. But getting that advice from a female investor or a male ally investor is really essential to helping you succeed,” advised Claire. 

Claire explains that globally only 2% of VC dollars go towards all-female teams, even though there is a wealth of data showing that female founders and mixed teams do better than all-male teams in terms of revenue, profits, exits, and valuations.

She adds that studies show female investors invest in women up to three times as often as male investors. The evidence is clear that bringing more female investors into the investing team generates greater returns. As Magma Partners newest Partner, Claire is committed to investing in at least 20 female-founded Latin American startups with the Brava initiative.

Antonia Rojas, using technology as a powerful catalyst

Antonia Rojas is Partner at ALLVP, an early-stage venture capital fund based in Mexico. She was the youngest female to make Partner in one of Latin America’s leading VC firms.

Antonia discovered how technology could be leveraged to solve a variety of problems in society on her return to Chile after working in a real estate bank in Germany. She continued to work in the real estate sector in her home country, but also got involved in several social impact projects in parallel. Curious and restless from a young age, she found that through these endeavors she could connect people through technology in ways she had never imagined and decided she wanted to dive deeper into the world of entrepreneurship. 

In order to solve some of the bigger problems in society, Antonia realized that entrepreneurs would need a strong financial network and a fertile ecosystem to be successful. She wanted to contribute to that development and in 2017 joined Manutara Ventures to invest in startups. Then, earlier this year, she joined ALLVP as Partner and is supporting incredible teams that are transforming the region through technology.

Antonia considers that the region is at a turning point. On one hand there’s a lack of access to basic services like health and education, but on the other hand, Latin America is undergoing an unprecedented digital transformation. 

“With a population that is double the size of the United States, and an economy that has been extremely impacted by the pandemic, I think we’re going to see a lot more startups than ever before. Now is the moment when we expect to see innovative solutions that seek to solve some of the region’s most pressing problems and that will use technology as a powerful catalyst,” stated Antonia.

For the region to progress, Antonia considers that teams need to deeply understand an issue, be in touch with the Latin American reality, and the dynamics of their target market, but to also be connected with the latest technological developments and how these can be applied to the region. 

Just as founding teams need to evolve, so do investing teams. Antonia explains the importance of incorporating new perspectives in the business world.

“Historically women have had very little representation in finance, even though they make most of the buying decisions for their family. This generally translates to bias in the products and services that are being created, so now we are actively looking for ways to eliminate that structural bias,” explained Antonia.

Diversity in investment teams allows investors to have a better understanding of what a society needs and therefore make better investment decisions, according to Antonia.

When meeting with an investor, she explains that impressions are a two-way street. It’s just as important for the entrepreneur to convince the investors that he or she is the right person to go forward with a startup idea, as it is for the investors to convince the entrepreneurs that they are the right people to support them and their company.

Diversity in investment teams allows investors to have a better understanding of what a society needs and therefore make better investment decisions, according to Antonia.

In a founder, Antonia looks for a balance between the soft skills involved in building and leading a team, and the hard skills needed to make data driven decisions, as well as to and manage a company. Additionally, she also considers that consistency and perseverance are key traits in a founder’s character. 

“This act of mutually convincing one another can be understood on many levels, among which the ones that stand out are having a profound understanding of the market, the problem, and the need for the solution,” said Antonia.

A founder must be able to transmit the urgency of the solution to the problem and why it is the right timing for it to be introduced to the market, she added.

WeXchange is an initiative powered by the IDB Lab, the innovation laboratory of the Inter-American Development Bank that connects women entrepreneurs in the STEM fields from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) with a strong network of mentors and investors. 

Every year, WeXchange organizes forums and initiatives like the Women STEMpreneurs Competition to help unlock the tremendous potential women have to transform the entrepreneurial landscape in LAC. In line with their mission, this is the third article in a series that intends to give visibility to the stories and voices of women STEMpreneurs in LAC. 

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