Posted on March 05 2021
International Women's Day is here and we are thrilled to bring on a powerhouse of a woman, Karen Cahn, Founder of IFundWomen. IFundWomen is the go-to funding marketplace for women-owned businesses. Find out more about Karen and her organization in our 1-on-1 interview with her. Plus if you want more, you can join us on Instagram Live on March 10th at 12 Noon EST.
Ally Shoes: Tell us more about your background and how it eventually led you to become the Founder of IFundWomen.
Karen: I began my career at Google back in 2001 and worked there for 10 amazing years. 6 years on search and 4 years on YouTube. When I was at YouTube, it was my job to monetize the creators who had scale with anything other than pre-roll or banners, so a rogue team of product folks and I started selling “product placements,” which were actually the first native video ads on the web. We were pioneers. The deal sizes we were able to put together between big brands and big creators were enormous, yet all of the deals I was closing were to the benefit of young, male creators, whom, at the time back in 2006, were the endemic YouTube audience. It was at that pivotal moment in my career when I knew I wanted to focus on creating economic opportunities for female creators, so when I was ready to leave the golden handcuffs of the Google behind—after a few pit stops—I founded IFundWomen, which is a funding marketplace for women-owned SMBs, to do just that. Our goal is to create economic opportunities and drive funding to all sectors of women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
Ally Shoes: IFundWomen is changing the funding landscape for women entrepreneurs. Women need access to capital more than ever right now, and we love that you are stepping up to make a difference. Can you share some of your most memorable crowdfunding projects you’ve helped launch?
Karen: There are so many, so I’ll just pick two to highlight. One of those is ChildNEXUS, a two-sided marketplace for parents of children with learning disabilities and neuropsych issues to connect with psychological, behavioral, educational, medical and legal professionals in their local area to help their children reach their highest potential, founded by Dr. Karen Wilson. Dr. Wilson came to IFundWomen to raise $17,000 and ended up raising $42,000. The reason why Dr. Wilson raised far over her goal was because her marketplace is so badly needed by these parents, and I can completely relate because I was one of those parents. I personally struggled for 15 years to find not only healthcare professionals for my child with learning differences, but I also struggled to find community with other parents in my area. Dr. Wilson is solving this problem, which is near and dear to my heart. Through Dr. Wilson’s IFW campaign, American Express saw the innovation in her platform and awarded her a $25K grant as part of their 100 for 100 program where 100 Black women-owned businesses received $25,000 grants plus 100 days of business coaching to further their businesses.
Another campaign is YOWIE, founded by Shannon Maldonado who set out to build the future of dynamic retail. YOWIE is an endlessly shoppable space to stay, shop, and collaborate. She had been planning on using IFundWomen for her first online fundraiser on IFundWomen. Then the pandemic hit, and put her plans on hold.
Enter Unilever’s Caress brand, who is an IFundWomen Enterprise Partner.
Unilever invested $2,500 as a cash grant plus $1,500 in a coaching scholarship to Shannon (along with 250 other entrepreneurs), which served as the push that Shannon needed to get her fundraiser going.
When entrepreneurs gain access to IFundWomen’s coaching program, they have been proven to raise 27X more capital than on traditional fundraising platforms. The ongoing exposure through IFundWomen’s network led Shannon to gain tons of press exposure and connections to corporate partnerships.
Ally Shoes: IFundWomen was a leader in offering COVID Relief Grants to many women-owned businesses, and ALLY was one of the fortunate grant recipients. Can you tell us how you put together the grant offerings last year, and how you envision grants to fit in the IFundWomen ecosystem in the long run?
Karen: For those that don’t know grants are debt-free money, typically in smaller amounts ranging from $500-$10,000, given by an institution to a certain type of entrepreneur or startup that they want to support (e.g. women of color entrepreneurs, B2B SAAS startups, etc.). We have a few different types of grants on IFundWomen:
Our Pay-it-Forward Crowdfunding Grant is a monthly grant where IFundWomen invests 20% of our standard crowdfunding fees back into live campaigns on our platform.
Enterprise Brokered Grants are a frictionless funding platform used by enterprises like Visa, Amex, Comcast, Unilever, adidas, P&G Ventures, Diageo, etc. to deploy grants to specific types of women-owned businesses.
Women only got 2.3% of venture capital dollars deployed in the US last year. For BIPOC women, that’s .64%. CEOs of companies have to deeply care about EQUITY for BIPOC individuals and women or change is not going to be made. It’s that simple. When CEOs of brands and institutions actually care about creating intergenerational wealth for BIPOC people then they will hire diverse talent at the highest levels, diversify their cap tables, and fund diverse entrepreneurs. This is why grants are a key part of the funding ecosystem.
Ally Shoes: IFundWomen is a platform that also includes coaching, which was hugely important in the last year for professional women and entrepreneurs. Can you highlight a few unique elements in your coaching program?
Karen: IFundWomen has developed a proprietary flywheel of capital, coaching, and connections. We believe this is the only way to solve the funding gap problem.
Our e-Coaching Platform is an edtech product that facilitates everything from private sessions with a subject matter expert coach to semi-private workshops and classes, to multi-hundred people training sessions with tools, resources, and guidance through the startup journey to e-courses on hundreds of topics from how to build a codeless app to how to set up your Google Analytics, to how to get your PPP loan, and everything in between. The entrepreneurs who lean into our coaching product raise 27x more money vs. the crowdfunding industry average.
Ally Shoes: As a successful professional and business woman - what do you believe has helped you the most to get you where you are today?
Karen: My team, plain and simple. IFundWomen has never been the “Karen Cahn Show” and never will be. We have 25 diverse, brilliant minds working together on solving the funding gap problem. Everyone we hire at IFundWomen has to be mission-driven because our work, while actually super-fun and rewarding, can also be exhausting and taxing on the brain and body. We all just care with every inch of our beings about women-owned businesses getting our fair share of the funding pie. So, my team at IFundWomen is directly responsible for “getting me where I am today”.
Ally Shoes: What is your advice to a young entrepreneur who is just beginning to launch a product?
Karen: There are a lot of amazing men who want to see the industry change and are truly allies for women and people of color - seek them out and ask for help. Ask them to make connections for you. Ask them to write you BIG CHECKS. Do not stand for table scraps anymore, ladies. Make bold asks because that’s what our male counterparts do and they get the money. Also, don’t give up. It’s on us to be the change we want to see in the world, so no matter how hard our journey as women is, don’t give up. We got this.
Ally Shoes: Who is your biggest Ally?
There isn’t one. There are many and they are the women and men who showed up for IFundWomen in our seed round and wrote us checks to fund the beginning of the business. There are around 40 names, both venture funds and angel investors, who adorn our cap table, and these incredible people are our biggest supporters, allies, and champions.