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Entrepreneurs

Program Addresses Funding Gap

By Vicky Janowski, posted Aug 10, 2018
A program designed to help female entrepreneurs bridge the funding gap drew a number of local startups this year.
 
NC IDEA runs the SOAR program, one of several programs and grants the Durham-based private foundation offers to support entrepreneurship in the state. SOAR, an annual program, focuses specifically on female entrepreneurs running scalable businesses.
 
Potential participants apply for a slot, and this year half of the eight selected companies hail from Southeastern North Carolina.
 
“We started meeting in May, and events will continue throughout the rest of the year,” said Jennifer Turnage (left), co-founder and CEO of myBeeHyve, a web-based customer contact management system for network marketing professionals.
 
“The SOAR program has provided a great way to have more structure around working on my business with great mentors,” she said. “As entrepreneurs, we often get caught up in daily operations or working in our business. Scaling a new business rapidly requires a blend of both.”
 
Other area startups chosen this year were Anahata Swimwear, early education site Skilly-Do and interior design site Vavaroom.
 
As part of the program, the women receive mentorship from fundraising strategy experts, access to NC IDEA’s advisers and resources, invitations to roundtable events with other female entrepreneurs and introductions to investors in the organization’s network.
 
Overall, funding levels for new businesses differ greatly between startups by men and by women, according to reports.
 
One of those reports, by The Boston Consulting Group and Mass- Challenge in June, found that on average startups founded or co-founded by women raised $935,000 compared to $2.1 million for those headed up by men. That comes despite similar company performance, according to the report.
 
Of the startups looked at in the research, those owned by women averaged $730,000 in revenue over a five-year period. For startups run by men it was an average of $662,000.
 
The SOAR program launched in 2014 under the name SoarTriangle as a part of Google for Entrepreneur’s #40Forward campaign to increase the representation of women in startup communities. It became an official program for the NC IDEA Foundation two years later.
 
Its work broadened outside the Triangle, said NC IDEA Foundation director Andrea Cook.
 
This year’s group is the first that includes Wilmington companies.
 
The 17 companies that have participated since the start have raised over $15 million in both equity and non-dilutive funding, Cook said.
 
The mentorship aspect has been helpful for Vavaroom, said Cathy Maready (left), founder of the website that lets homeowners pull together their rooms with the help of interior design professionals.
 
“The mentors have helped us both strategize marketing concepts and zoom in on analytic data that is essential for understanding our business and how these numbers relate to our ultimate goals,” she said. “By helping us commercialize our innovations with a host of marketing experts, we can be a more scalable entity.”
 
Ahna Hendrix (below), who launched Anahata Swimwear last year, said she has learned to pare down her focus through this year’s process.
 
“We have gained excellent insight into our business foundation, product focus and next steps for growth,” she said. “One of the best outcomes thus far has been to return to our core offering of Made2Fit Swimwear.”
 
The application cycle for the next program opens early next year.
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