Women startup leaders are outperforming during the current pandemic – my observations from the Astia Angels portfolio

May 5, 2020

Every time I look at my LinkedIn feed, I see another article about layoffs and shutdowns within the startup ecosystem. The overnight loss of revenue to fledgling consumer-facing companies has been devastating; B2B companies have lost corporate clients overnight; those working in the medical space are seeing trials put on hold or delayed, and those already commercializing cannot, understandably, get the mindshare of doctors.

Amidst all the bleak news however, are beams of light: startups who have found that their product or services can actually help in this current pandemic, startups that have been able to shift their focus and priorities to address current needs brought on by the health and economic crisis and startups that, though not directly solving problems brought on by COVID-19, are finding creative ways to cut costs and run lean while putting plans B, C and D into action.

Just as recent articles in Forbes and elsewhere have contended that countries under the helm of women politicians appear to have better outcomes during this crisis, I have likewise noticed that the Astia Angels’ portfolio, made up of startups with women leaders, seems disproportionately strong during this crisis. This is in no way a scientific study, but I find it important to share this observation that echoes the current conversation around the positive impact that gender inclusion brings to decision-making, especially in times of crisis.

Navigating the landscape with grit and resilience.

From the front line companies who are directly contributing towards developing therapies and vaccines for COVID-19, to those that are addressing the shattering economic impact of business closures and lost jobs, to those who have found additional relevance in this time, and even to those who have adjusted operations to weather through the current storms, the leadership teams of the companies in our portfolio seem to be navigating the current environment with a positive attitude and a lot of grit and resilience. Of course, these companies are not out of the woods – even those who have found new revenue streams during this time are still at risk as our overall economy suffers, but a month and a half in, and I would say that at least 85% are on encouraging paths.

Leaders buckling down and navigating the crisis…Rachelle Franklin, COO / BOD Amp.it, Sherisse Hawkins, CEO Pagedip and Doreen Bloch, CEO Poshly with Rafferty Jackson, Astia Angels investor.

Used to doing more with less and solving really big problems
Why are so many of our portfolio companies, in so many different industries, performing well in this time of crisis? We know that less than 2% of venture capital is invested into companies with women CEOs, and less than 5% with women anywhere in the executive leadership. I would posit that our women-led companies are therefore already used to doing more with less, their leaders are less shocked when suddenly faced with limited resources, better able to adjust quickly and stretch each dollar further because most have had to do that in the past.

I am also aware that the majority of our investments are into companies solving really big societal problems. I am tempted to conclude that this is because women more frequently launch companies to solve significant global issues, but I recognize my sample does not prove that claim, as it is just as likely that our investor group is more attracted to these types of investments. Still, I can’t help but feel in my gut that there is an underlying correlation and it does not surprise me that so many companies in our portfolio are so relevant in a time of major health, social and economic crisis.

Many of Astia Angels’ portfolio companies in the healthcare space are finding particular relevance at this moment. Niquette Hunt, CEO Candescent Medical, addresses the audience alongside Jean Anne Booth, CEO Unaliwear, Nick Damiano, CEO Zenflow (co-founder Shreya Mehta), Jennifer Ernst, CEO Tivic Health and Karen Drexler, CEO Sandstone Diagnostics.

Prioritizing health, team and customers
The companies in our portfolio are clearly prioritizing the health and wellbeing of their teams and are laser-focused on their customers, where applicable. Whether nature or nurture (I think a combination of both) I see many of our CEOs stepping into the caretaker position and making decisions that prioritize those around them. As we have seen in the news, those political leaders who have been more successful have made decisions to optimize the well-being of the larger society. I see this within our portfolio as well: those leaders who have excelled at communicating with their constituents, who have kept their team morale up and who are focused on their core customers are carving a positive path forward.

CEO Christine Moseley of Full Harvest is providing farmers a much needed platform to increase demand for their produce which otherwise is going to waste; alongside Sihuen Song of Rally which is applying their bus rideshare technology for moving supplies and essential workers and CEO Nadia Sood of CreditEnable which is facilitating loans to small businesses in India.

It’s really important to remember that none of this is easy, and especially the last part – the keeping the team together and the morale up in a time of major health and economic distress and fear. I have seen the emotional and psychological toll it can take on our CEOs and I have been in many meetings where there have been tears – something perhaps more “acceptable” within our organization, but which should be acceptable in any situation. Letting out the emotion is far more productive than keeping that stress in afterall, and allowing leaders the room to experience and express emotions should not be a gendered thing – it is just good common sense.

I would be curious to know what you are seeing within your own portfolios and how you believe gender has played into that?