Hot Topic Q&A With Industry Expert Ellen Weber

June 18, 2019 //

Hot Topic Q&A illustrationWhile the concept has existed since the mid-2000s, gender lens investing is experiencing a popularity boom in recent years. Gender lens investing is the practice of investing for financial return with a dual goal of benefitting women through improving economic opportunities and social well-being.

The reason for the rise of this business trend has been attributed to various factors including #MeToo and the release of data that no longer made the wage gap a subjective topic. For example, a 2017 study by Babson College showed that companies where the CEO is a woman only received 3 percent of the total venture capital dollars from 2011-2013 or $1.5 billion out of the total of $50.8 billion invested.

To dive a little deeper into this topic, Fox Focus met with Ellen Weber, assistant professor in Strategic Management and executive director of Temple University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI) and Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures. Weber is an expert on topics including funding early-stage companies, entrepreneurial ecosystems and women’s entrepreneurship.

Q: Why do you think gender lens investing has become so important in today’s modern business environment?

A: When entrepreneurs sell their companies, many want to invest in startups in order to give back, and this results in a virtuous cycle. When that pool of exited entrepreneurs mostly consists of white men, males typically receive most of the funding, resulting in gaps in funding for women-funded companies. It is only in recent years that we are seeing successful women founders who have money to invest in startups. These days there are many more women entrepreneurs looking for funding and the number of investors has increased.

Q: What impact has this evolution had in improving and shaping global business practices?

A: There is newfound importance placed on the need to measure behaviors in order to change them. For example, in 2015, venture firm First Round Capital ran the data on its portfolio and found that companies with a female founder performed 63% better than investments with all-male founding teams. The cause for the better performance is attributed to diversity of thought and experience perspective.

Q: What is the impact of gender lens investing on culture?

A: Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They seek to solve problems that they understand and experience. So, women entrepreneurs are often solving problems that men would not necessarily see.

In the Fox School community alone, there are dozens of examples of this. Emily Kight, the 2018 Social Impact winner of IEI’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB®), a business plan competition, developed an in-home, non-invasive urine test that screens for ovarian cancer. In 2017, she was awarded second place for bioengineering a leave-in conditioner to lessen the effects of trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder. She was also awarded funding by the Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund.

The Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund supports women in entrepreneurship. The Fund provides seed funding ranging from $500-$10,000. Funds are provided with the purpose of supporting companies in proving their concept, and where the money will have a significant impact on the company’s ability to progress.

Q: How is Temple University helping to support women’s entrepreneurship?

A: One of the most exciting things is the ability to offer students and alumni the opportunity to flex their entrepreneurial muscles in a supportive environment with competitions and calls for submission, like the Lori Bush Seed Fund, the BYOBB®, and the Innovative Idea Competition.

There are also a host of women’s organizations for students to get involved in at the Fox School, including Women’s Work, Women Presidents’ Organization, Women’s Village and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Organization.

On a personal level and in classes like Empowering Women Through Entrepreneurship, I place an emphasis on what makes entrepreneurs more powerful. One of the ways to do that is to bring in entrepreneurs who are representative Temple’s student body. I want to show my female students that if they can see it, they can be it.

If you are a student who would like to get involved in entrepreneurship or women in business, feel free to contact iei@temple.edu.

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

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