Steph Korey understands that startup and early-stage companies often cultivate outside investors to supplement the founders’ financial resources.
Ideally, venture capital firms and other investors will make objective funding decisions based on each company’s merits and readiness to launch the company into the marketplace.
Stated another way, the company founder’s gender should not be a factor in investors’ decisions. In reality, however, women-founded companies have historically attracted only a minuscule amount of the available startup/early-stage funding.
Entrepreneur and investor Steph Korey, who successfully founded her own thriving business, is on a mission to change that trend. She shares insights on the gender funding gap and spotlights nine women-founded companies she is proud to support.
The Venture Capital Industry’s Impressive 2021 Growth
The United States venture capital industry experienced exceptional growth in 2021. Venture capital investments, business fundraising programs, and exits all showed record highs, says the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor 2021 Q4 edition. This respected publication provides insights on venture capital activities within the United States.
For perspective, venture capital has recently performed better than other private capital assets. To illustrate, venture capital investments realized better outcomes than private equity, private debt, secondaries, real estate, and funds of funds.
Because of these positive results, investors poured huge amounts of money into venture capital opportunities. These large-scale cash infusions facilitated the industry’s record 2021 expansion.
Startup Investments Show Notable Gains
In 2021, United States-based startups successfully raised $329.9 billion in venture capital funds. For perspective, this number almost doubles the 2020 total of $166.6 billion in venture capital investments. The number of 2021 venture capital deals also saw substantial gains.
Every startup company category set 2021 records for total invested dollars and number of deals. This includes seed and angel investment categories along with early-stage and late-stage classifiers. In summary, 4,000 startups successfully raised their initial venture capital rounds in 2021, representing another record.
All-female Founding Teams See Decreased 2021 Investments
However, the venture capital industry’s notable 2021 growth did not extend to women-owned founding teams. In fact, says PitchBook, less than 2 percent of venture capital funds were awarded to women-owned startups. This number represents a five-year low for this key metric.
This strikingly low number was the focal point of a January 2022 Twitter Spaces conversation. Venture capitalist Del Johnson hosted this exchange, which included a discussion on why women-led founding teams appear to be at a significant disadvantage when raising funds. This development is despite the fact that more women have recently entered the venture capital industry.
In Johnson’s view, male venture capital firm owners fund women-led firms that share the venture capitalist’s views. Women who do not share that specific outlook simply do not receive any available funds.
Venture Capital Industry Does Not Favor Women
Serial entrepreneur Gentry Lane also contributed to the discussion. She believes that the venture capital industry holds a deep-seated bias against women-owned businesses. From her perspective, this may be why these startups have seen greatly reduced funding despite easier electronic access to prominent venture capitalists.
In addition, Lane says venture capitalists often base their decisions on pitch decks and formal presentations instead of “normal, human conversation.”
Because women and other underrepresented founders typically are less experienced with these promotional vehicles, they are less successful in a highly competitive arena.
Finally, discussion participants pointed out that much of 2021’s record venture capital funding resulted from later-stage funding rounds. Male founders typically dominate these highly coveted funding competitions.
Venture Capital Firms’ Makeup Plays a Role
A typical venture capital firm’s composition helps to determine who receives the company’s investment dollars. In the United States, fewer than 10 percent of venture capital firms’ decision-makers are women. Over 74 percent of these companies have no women in the investment ranks.
In a more encouraging development, more diverse venture capital firms view pitches from underrepresented founders more favorably. As industry studies have noted, when a venture capital firm has women and other minorities on staff, the businesses are more likely to invest with diverse company founders.
Matching Talent and Opportunity is Key
Successful entrepreneur and investor Steph Korey believes that bringing talent and opportunity together sets the stage for positive investment outcomes. With a wealth of business experience and her status as co-founder of a unicorn startup, she is in an ideal position to invest in start-up and emerging companies.
As an angel/early-stage investor, Korey believes that creative, competent business owners are found in every cultural background and ethnic group. Her deeply held conviction has driven her to search for businesses owned by women and other underrepresented entrepreneurs.
To date, Steph Korey has invested in nine women-founded startups with which she is personally and professionally aligned. Besides providing financial support, she mentors each company’s founders as they make the journey from startup to successful business.
Steph Korey’s Significant Investments
Angel investor Steph Korey enjoys supporting companies that offer solutions to large-scale quality-of-life problems. She also focuses on businesses that use technology in innovative ways.
To illustrate, Steph Korey most recently made a seed round investment in Intimately, an adaptive lingerie brand that is rapidly building a dedicated global following. Besides supporting Intimately’s market expansion, Korey has been instrumental in helping the brand to build a powerful virtual community.
Health and Well-being Investments
Veracity Selfcare provides users with an individualized skincare experience. The company’s proprietary Skin + Health Test uses data sourced from the user’s hormones and biofactors.
Modern Fertility focuses on a singular aspect of women’s health. By enabling women to test certain fertility hormones at home, they can receive timely information that may help them to make better fertility decisions.
Starday Foods targets the increasing consumer interest in healthy food choices. Specifically, the company offers a line of healthy, sustainable food products.
Great Jones is focused on giving people the tools to cook more frequently. In addition to its line of targeted equipment, the company offers encouragement and inspiration.
Front of the Pack provides quality nutritional supplements for canine members of the family. For added convenience, the company delivers its products to each user’s front door.
Companies with Larger Closed Funding Rounds
Steph Korey has also invested in three startup companies that recently accomplished larger funding rounds. These additional investments enable each business to strengthen its capabilities and expand its reach.
In June 2020, Steph Korey participated in Calibrate’s seed funding round. This telehealth startup has a mission to disrupt the global weight-loss industry by shifting the focus to holistic metabolic health.
By January 2021, Founder Isabelle Kenyon’s successful Series A round had raised $22.5 million. She had also quadrupled her team, and Calibrate’s customers had begun to see concrete results from this innovative program.
By late 2021, Calibrate had successfully completed a $100 million Series B funding round. Existing investors, along with new funders, participated in this latest initiative.
Isabelle Kenyon will utilize the cash infusion to conduct enterprise channel testing. She plans to explore partnerships with employers, insurance payers, government programs, and other entities that could subsidize the program’s cost.
Steph Korey was a partner investor in the June 2021 Series C funding round for the Montessori-inspired Lovevery early learning platform. The $100 million in funding meant that Lovevery has now reached an over $800 million valuation. The funding enabled this growing subscription-based company to further expand its services to children and their parents.
Every two or three months, Lovevery sends a group of stage-appropriate children’s toys to its subscribers. Lovevery provides parents with expert guidance on deriving the maximum benefit from the toys’ use.
To supplement its toy delivery program, the company has also launched an app featuring expert-led child developmental resources. The program is based on Montessori education principles, which emphasize firsthand independent learning at every age.
Currently, Lovevery has over 220,000 active subscribers. To further expand the company’s offerings, co-founder Jessica Rolph wants to attract additional investors. To achieve that goal, she and co-founder Roderick Morris are preparing for an IPO in the next two years.
Steph Korey has twice invested in Parade, a direct-to-consumer (or DTC) lingerie brand that incorporates eco-friendly fabrics in its products. Geared to younger women, this innovative company produces comfortable undergarments designed for every body type.
In December 2019, Steph Korey participated in Parade’s seed funding round. In April 2021, she invested during the company’s Series A funding cycle. Several venture capital businesses played key roles in this $10M total investment.
Parade Founder Cami Téllez launched the company while attending Columbia University. After juggling her studies and business activities for several semesters, she dropped out of college in January 2020 to devote more time to growing the company. Today, she serves as Parade’s CEO and Creative Director.
Valued at more than $140 million, Parade completed a $20 million Series B funding round in 2021. Also in 2021, Founder and CEO Cami Téllez opened Parade’s first brick-and-mortar store in New York City.
Steph Korey’s Entrepreneurial Journey Informs Her Investments
Angel investor Steph Korey is dedicated to supporting women-founded startups and early-stage businesses. In fact, she believes women and other underrepresented entrepreneurs frequently present the most promising opportunities.
Korey’s alignment with diverse business owners stems from her multicultural upbringing. With Middle Eastern and Romanian cultural influences and her trips to visit relatives overseas, she learned to embrace individuals with varied backgrounds and attributes.
At Brown University, Korey earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. This well-rounded education helped to further enhance her interpersonal, collaborative, and negotiation skills.
Developing Supply Chain and Management Skills
Soon after entering the business world, Steph Korey mastered the intricacies of buying and merchandising at Bloomingdales and Kate Spade. Next, she utilized these key skills as Warby Parker’s Head of Supply Chain. Specifically, she led the product development and distribution program for this growing online eyeglasses retailer.
To gain insights into business management, Steph Korey decided to earn her MBA from Columbia Business School. While completing this demanding program, she worked for DTC online mattress retailer Casper. Her merchandise strategy consulting work, supported by her supply chain management talents, helped this growing eCommerce business to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Of course, growing a successful brand depends on multiple factors. Steph Korey learned that before customers will purchase a product, its story must resonate with them in a highly personal way.
“My experiences at Warby and Casper also proved that a brand’s success is determined by so much more than just a great product. People don’t get excited about eyeglasses or mattresses—they get excited about the story those brands are telling,” she emphasizes.
Becoming a Highly Successful Entrepreneur
In 2015, Steph Korey channeled her business knowledge and education into her first business venture. She co-founded Away, a global lifestyle brand that raised $156M and achieved a $1.4B valuation under Korey’s leadership.
Today, Steph Korey enjoys supporting startup and early-stage businesses founded by women and other underrepresented entrepreneurs. Although providing funding is a key component of her work, this angel investor also mentors her founders as they navigate the complex path to success. She looks forward to helping to level the playing field for more talented women.