Building a community at its core is about bringing together previously disparate people who share a passion or need. With the luxury of technology, previously isolated individuals can actively build digital communities to affect global change, by collectively pooling resources, aligning individual efforts, and scalably supporting the needs of the community.
In this guide, the Founder Institute aims to share experiences and insights learned through establishing our Female Founder Initiative, to provide a framework to help anyone who is looking to build their own digital community to help create positive change.
The Female Founder initiative was born in 2016 out of an immediate need to draw the Founder Institute global network’s attention back to the importance of diversity and inclusion in our programs and startup accelerators in general.
FFI Impact on the Founder Institute Portfolio
Initial Focus: Events, Mentors, Partners
At its launch, the Female Founder Initiative began by hosting female founder focused events to foster conversation around diversity and inclusion in local startup ecosystems. Including these female founder events as part of our application process drew in many new women entrepreneurs to the Founder Institute’s network, which in turn helped to kick-start the flywheel of fresh thinking within our organization around supporting female founders. Additionally, we wanted to offer women a chance to share their experiences as founders and discover entrepreneurship as a potential career path. But even for an organization that, unlike FI, doesn’t already run lots of events, the tools we used to publicize these events are mostly free and very widely available, including Meetup groups, Eventbrite, and Facebook events.
We discovered that female leadership of our core program directly correlated with an increase in female mentorship. So, the Female Founder Initiative worked to recruit more exceptional female startup ecosystem leaders, to become new program Directors that operate the FI pre-seed accelerator in their city, as well as startup mentors from their network for Founder Institute’s core programs.
We also sought to partner with organizations at all levels—global, regional, and local—to provide fellowships for exceptional female founders to join the Founder Institute program at no cost. The waived course fee fellowships sponsored by these key partners helped to immediately bump up the proportion of female founders applying and enrolling in the Founder Institute’s programs globally, creating a positive impact on the average gender equity of our portfolio.
While many of our efforts were successful based on the above structure, we found it imperative to have people within our network, men and women, who truly cared about creating more diversity in global technology. We shared our vision with them and empowered them to share their ideas, connections, and network with us to make our goal of improving global startup opportunities for women possible.
The early successes of these efforts were tangibly felt in many local FI chapters, but were not being quantitatively monitored—this pushed us to do a data deep-dive that explored the learning and insights gathered from the first ~3 years of the Initiative, and publish those findings in our first-ever Female Founder Report.
Post-Report: Further Connecting a Community
In early 2019, we wanted to take the next step with the Female Founder Initiative. We sought to provide additional and more personalized value to founders, and further establish the interconnectedness among our growing community of female founders.
We identified opportunities to provide that deeper value, through self-service and scalable tools. Experience had shown us that most female founders were looking to either:
- Validate their ideas
- Grow their business
- Fund their company
Regardless, what most female founders valued was the personal feedback. So to serve these individualized needs, we established one-on-one office hour time slots offered only through the Female Founder Initiative. There was high-demand for these one-on-one office hours speaking with Female Founder Initiative creators Rachel Sheppard and Megan Todd—this proved an effective test, as we learned that even short and personalized feedback provided real value, and occasionally led female founders to apply to join the Founder Institute program cohort in their city.
The demand proved that female founders are actively looking for personal feedback and key resources, even if that feedback was brief or we were only able to offer a few resources to start. To distribute resources more broadly, FFI co-creator Rachel Sheppard explains the next key evolution came from the launch of the FFI newsletter.
As a person who publicly supports female founders, including on my LinkedIn, I’m inherently inundated with pitch competitions, hackathon opportunities, and funding resources for female founders. We quickly found that newsletters are the best and most scalable way to collect and disseminate this information.
In launching the newsletter, it was important to again make every step of the process opt-in, with self-serve and scalability for founders. Next, we began creating content through findings from the Female Founder Report, as well as other female-led startup opportunities and news, and leveraged a simple pop-up banner and to get people who visited the Female Founder Initiative page to also signup for the FFI newsletter.
With an eye to the value derived from personalized feedback, we next added a Pitch Deck feedback feature, setup through simple Google Form submissions, and recurring calendar reminders to check the form collection and provide feedback – after a while, we even built structure to help with the most common pitch deck feedback.
As the community grew, the opportunities like pitch competitions, hackathons, and other resources came streaming in, and we decided to start hosting AMA-style Webinars with top female investors and collected questions from female founders all over the world. This kind of webinar became video content that proved a scalable way to share startup and funding advice with the community.
Finally, we added a dedicated Slack channel with an open invitation, where the growing FFI community can share their own opportunities and spark independent discussion with interesting questions or outside articles. While Slack is a great tool, we’ve learned that we need to have more dedicated resources to help us scale and keep the community engaged.
What’s next in 2020?
FFI’s focus for 2020 is to strengthen our support for female founders by increasing mentor involvement and funding opportunities, and improving overall scalability. Mentors—who will range from subject matter experts to FI graduates and beyond—will hold free office hours to provide feedback to founders in a free-form and scalable way. Small group office hours will be held in addition to the ongoing one-on-one meetings. The group office hours, which will strengthen the female founder community, save time answering duplicate questions, and grow founders’ general knowledge through shared challenges. Through incorporating these rotating mentors, FFI can continue to provide personalized and immediate feedback for founders at scale. In addition, founders may receive feedback from industry experts who would otherwise be difficult to reach.
Secondly, we seek to add resources working on the Female Founder Initiative. While our mission is great, our team is small, and we want to grow to scale out the best tools and resources for female founders.
Through increasing the amount of women founder focused events, female leaders, personalized resources such as pitch deck reviews, and office hours, the Female Founder Initiative has quickly increased the amount of ways we support our female founders, and laid the foundation for a growing global community.
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $950M in funding, and building products people love across over 185 cities worldwide.
See the most recent news from our Grads at FI.co/news, or learn more about their stories at FI.co/journey.