Take note, Philadelphia's female start-up leaders: Organizers of the vaunted Angel Venture Fair, for 19 years a male-dominated annual confluence of entrepreneurs and angel investors, not only got your message but also have been moved to inclusive action.

That so few women turned out to the Union League in May for the AVF, though it attracted a record 237 applicants, threw Marc Kramer, its executive director and the father of two entrepreneurial adult daughters, into immediate remediation mode.

Actually, he said, he went into action after I wrote a column about the daylong event that opened with this line: Why are there so few women here? 

Kramer said he brought that article (read it at http://bit.ly/2r9gYll) to the attention of Elizabeth Sigety, the first — and only — woman on the seven-member board of AVF, the oldest and largest such affair in the Mid-Atlantic region. Sigety, a partner at Fox Rothschild LLP who specializes in emerging companies and venture capital, also cofounded Delaware Crossing Investor Group, a network of angel investors.

Kramer proposed a women-oriented addition to the AVF offerings.

"I said, 'I think we should do a program that would be an every-year program that will have the average middle-age white male who typically writes these checks talk about what they look to invest in,' " said Kramer, a 56-year-old white male and serial entrepreneur who is executive-in-residence for family business and entrepreneurship at St. Joseph's University. "I thought we should have a group of women who raised money talk about how they raised money."

Marc Kramer, executive director of the Angel Venture Fair.
Ed Hille
Marc Kramer, executive director of the Angel Venture Fair.

The Women's Funding Seminar will make its debut from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Oct. 12  at Fox Rothschild, 2000 Market St., Philadelphia. To register until Oct. 10, go to https://angelventurefair.ticketleap.com/avf-women-funding-seminar/.

"This is just a start," Kramer insisted, suggesting that the $10-a-person event might be expanded in subsequent years to include minority-owned companies. "This is part of our mission for the Angel Venture Fair — to be more inclusive."

Enthusiastically endorsing that latter goal is Bethany Edwards, cofounder of Philadelphia-based Lia Diagnostics, creator of the first entirely flushable pregnancy test, which is expected on the market by the end of this year (http://www.meetlia.com).

"Ideally, we should be equally incorporated in the Angel Venture Fair," Edwards said of female entrepreneurs. "By separating us out into this subset … it naturally starts to create valuation impressions" that women-led start-ups are worth less.

She last attended the AVF in 2015, the year she and Anna Couturier launched Lia Diagnostics. Edwards found it "very definitely male-dominated." Not that that was a unique experience, she said, recalling making a pitch to Delaware Crossing Investor Group that same year on a rare occasion when Sigety was not able to attend.

"The entire room was men," Edwards said, recalling 15 to 20 "blank stares" coming from the potential investors, whom she described as mostly in their 50s and 60s. Some questioned why privacy in disposing of a pregnancy test would be necessary. Others wondered if the market would only be teenagers.

Lia Diagnostics got an undisclosed amount of funding from Delaware Crossing. But that was one uncomfortable session, with a lot of explanations required about the need for such a product, Edwards said.

That's where more women willing to invest in start-ups created by women would help, said Melissa Schipke, founder and chief executive of Tassl, (https://tassl.com/) a tech start-up helping universities, through an app, make more meaningful connections with alumni beyond just asking for money. Schipke will take part in a panel discussion on raising capital at the Women's Funding Seminar.

"I would love to see more women investors," she said, while adding that she does not believe men have judged her company any differently than women, partly because of the kind of business it is.

"It's really relatable to both men and women," Schipke said. "Angel investors, because of their wealth, are people who are most frequently hit up by their alma mater for money, so they understand the pain point that we're trying to solve."

Of pitching, she said: "I honestly think it's just a scary process in general. Any time you're getting up in front of a roomful of people and asking them to give you millions of dollars, it's never going to be a comfortable situation."

Which is why only men have been selected for the panel about angel-investment preferences at the Women's Funding Seminar.

"We weren't trying to suggest that men will have better comments," said Sigety, who will serve as moderator. "Often women [pitching to investors] are found in a room with all men, and they need to be prepared for that."

At last year’s Angel Venture Fair at the Urban League, investors listen to presentations by 34 start-ups hoping to score a private meeting and money.
Marc Kramer
At last year’s Angel Venture Fair at the Urban League, investors listen to presentations by 34 start-ups hoping to score a private meeting and money.