Neelam Brar, founder and CEO of Empress Capital, a venture investment and advisory firm focused on women-owned or women focused businesses on her commitment to supporting the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
Next Generation Of Billion Dollar Companies
1. Women Have The Power To Create Next Generation Of Billion Dollar CompaniesHow did you get to where you are today?
After graduating from Columbia Business School, it felt like the right time to set up my business. Spotting a need for a shared office space for technology entrepreneurs, District CoWork was born. Spread over a full building in Manhattan, we offer shared office spaces by day and innovation and entrepreneurship events in the evening. After realizing the issues facing women entrepreneurs were not changing, I founded Empress Capital to better support and invest in women-owned businesses.
2. What is Empress Capital’s mission?
I decided to take what I’ve learned over the past 10 years in banking to work hard to increase the number of women building global businesses. The Empress Capital business model is based on three C’s: Content. Community. Capital.
With these three C’s, I believe we have an ecosystem for success.
Content. Through Empress.World, an online platform that showcases inspirational content, we want to inspire women to build businesses and invest in other women-owned business. Today, it’s widely known that 85% of consumption in the U.S. is driven by women. If we rallied behind each other, we could develop the next generation of US$1 billion companies. It’s incredibly powerful. Through Empress.World we equip our readers with the tools to develop themselves. Jessica Alba for instance, instead of viewing her solely through a celebrity lens, we’ll teach the reader the steps to follow to become an entrepreneur in their own right. If a certain brand is popular; we’ll encourage the reader to look at the brand’s stock price in addition to checking out their new seasonal line. It’s about empowering women to think next steps, on a global scale.
Community. Women must get more comfortable asking for help. Without solid relationships and people to advise and provide mentorship, development will be stunted. The Empress.One. community is about discussions, workshops, mentorship and training – all focused on helping women-business owners become their best selves. We’re in the process of developing a roadmap for cities across the country. Taking a one-on-one relationship to create a global hub. A space to source deals through the network and share opportunities with the other women in the network.
Capital. These opportunities will be backed by Empress.VC. We’ll advise the women on their growth objectives, assist them in accessing capital and invest in them.
3. What motivated you to specifically invest in women and minority businesses?
Companies led by women generally perform better than those led by men (1). For instance, a recent study found women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drive three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men. Not to mention, women today are building businesses at a faster pace than ever before. When you pair these variables together. Why are women still being left behind? Why does most capital still go to men? Women still only make up 8% of senior investment teams, while black and Hispanics make up just 1% each (2). A white, male dominated investment world impacts the dynamic.The bottom line is that women represent an investment opportunity.
We need to empower women to develop scalable businesses. The number of women thinking bigger and asking for money needs to increase. Raising money and asking for money is a scary thing. We need to demystify the concept of raising capital and make it accessible. Women are often over-prepared in comparison to their male counterparts who are doing the total opposite.
4. What advice would you give to women/minority groups struggling to get funded?
The first thing to do is step back. Ask yourself: Why am I not getting funding? It could be that you are targeting the wrong investor; pitching the idea incorrectly; traction isn’t big enough or you’re not thinking big enough. Women must remember that men get doors shut in their face too so it’s important to sit back and understand what is missing. You must seek feedback every time you get a “no.” As an investor, in women-owned businesses I’ll still want to see evidence of growth. Show me traction, market projections, how you plan to exit and why you are the one that will succeed. With 10 slides and undeniable conviction, you’re likely to get funded.
5. Can you tell us about the Empress Capital investor roundtables?
I began hosting investor roundtables as a way to get more women involved in the discussion. It’s a great opportunity for the women to ask questions in advance of their formal 1-on-1 investor meetings. A cold pitch is really tough. You want to have some form of rapport ahead of time. My mission with the investor roundtable is to allow women to build better bridges through providing a network of support. I want to incubate early stage businesses and part of that is to give access; to allow them to think about where they are going. Interestingly, I found the majority of people attending the investor roundtables are men! I of course want men to be part of Empress Capital. Smart men see the potential in women and are fundamental to any real change. For 2017, one of my goals is to encourage more women to attend the investor evenings and build relationships early.
6. What is your outlook for 2017?
As the highest growth segment in terms of wealth and consumption; the female economy is larger than India and China combined (3) more than twice as big, in fact. Thus, I’m positive we’ll continue to see more tangible support and investment in women-owned businesses. 2017 will be the year of the female economy if I have it my way.
Neelam Brar is the founder and CEO of Empress Capital: www.empresscap.com.