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How The Capital Network’s Demo Day Promoted Female Founders

The gender pay gap is difficult to overcome. Founders also see a gap, both in funding and what they pay themselves. March 24 was Equal Pay Day, and The Capital Network (TCN) marked the occasion with direct action. For the nonprofit’s first Demo Day, more than 50 investors and advocates gathered to connect with fourteen female founders and provide them with crucial funds. “It’s time to get them paid,” said TCN president and executive director Marie Meslin.

A different kind of demo day

Accelerator “demo” days are a well-established concept, but TCN took a new path. On a typical demo day, startups present live pitches for review. For this event, TCN wanted to take a different approach.

“[Most demo days] are usually events that focus on performance, bravado and your speaking or entertaining skills,” said Meslin. “Many of us aren’t born to be public speakers. That doesn’t mean that we are not great leaders or founders.”

To accommodate this, TCN worked with Scroobious, a video platform meant to connect investors with underrepresented companies. Founders pre-recorded introductions for review before the event.

“This demo day was different,” said Scroobious founder and CEO Allison Byers. “The design allowed the founders to shine. It catalyzed actual connections with potential investors. By providing compelling pitch videos ahead of the event, investors already knew the businesses and got a sense of the founders’ characters.”

Connecting with founders

Marie Meslin

Investors and participants reviewed the pitch videos before the event to simplify the process and provide time for deeper dives into each company. Every founder came “on stage” to talk with a personal champion and answer a few questions. These sessions provided an opportunity to hear more about the founder’s driving motivation or where they saw the company in a few years.

Meslin explained, “We wanted to bring in that champion to support and introduce the founder. Not only to have someone there with them but also to show investors why this champion believes in the business and the founder so much.”

Byers re-emphasized that point. “Having a champion introduce each founder at the event established an incredibly positive tone and an immediate point of credibility. As a founder, I was energized and have new investor relationships. As a partner, I am incredibly proud of what we produced.”

The founders featured during TCN's demo day

Featured female founders during Demo Day:

Fighting resource challenges

At three different intervals, the event organizers paused the Q&As to directly speak to the investors in the audience. They displayed the founders’ contact information and asked everyone to reach out, connect and provide support. Whether by direct message or LinkedIn connection, TCN wanted the investors to take action.

“You are here because you are committed to changing data and giving women more access to social capital. Right now, use this time to contact founders,” urged Meslin. “If it’s not you, someone in your network can support these companies.”

Current success and future goals

TCN’s first demo day received glowing reports. Founders loved having a champion by their side, and many of them reported multiple connections with investors. Investors appreciated the convenience of pre-recorded videos to review at any time, rather than a live pitch. Meslin indicated that, with a few adjustments, TCN plans to repeat the event at least once a year to help more female founders.

In the meantime, Meslin was thrilled to announce the 2021 Fellowship For Female Founders cohort. The program lasts half a year and supports women founders looking for access to capital.

On the new batch of fellowship members, Meslin reiterated the driving force behind TCN: “We’re excited to welcome the next batch of 2021 fellows and help them ‘own their raise!’”

About the author

Laura Grant

As Managing Editor of Lioness, Laura Grant works with the editorial team and a slew of freelancers and regular contributors to produce a publication that offers equal parts inspiration and information. Laura is a graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Communications. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day. Before joining Lioness full-time, Laura was a freelancer herself and wrote many stories for the magazine.

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