Office Hours: What they are and how they help entrepreneurs
By Peggy Wallace, managing partner of Golden Seeds
The thrill of starting a company is unmatched. The stress of it is also unmatched. One of the biggest stressors on new entrepreneurs is funding.
This is understandable. Navigating the sea of funding options, honing your pitch and choosing which funding route is right for your business isn’t just confusing, it’s by definition outside the expertise of most company founders.
This problem is particularly acute for founders who are women. Even now, women often face higher hurdles in terms of networking, getting in the room to pitch an idea, and even when it comes to final funding decisions. And women have had low representation in accelerators, which is where many male-led startups gain knowledge and networks early. In fact, when women entrepreneurs get funding, they, on average, receive 45 percent less capital than male entrepreneurs.
What can women entrepreneurs do to navigate this complex environment while still focusing on their business? One great resource is an Office Hours program. These informal events provide early input and support for entrepreneurs. Golden Seeds pioneered the practice for women-led startups in 2010.
Office Hours are a powerful on-ramp for female entrepreneurs who want to connect with other female founders, engage with potential mentors and source future funders,” said Sheryl Schultz, who, along with her Golden Seeds colleague Anita Brearton, created the Office Hours concept for women founders and leaders in 2010. Sheryl and Anita later co-founded CabinetM, a platform that helps marketers navigate the digital landscape.
At Golden Seeds, we were determined to reach women entrepreneurs, but when we went looking for them at accelerators, incubators and universities, there were very few women. We knew we needed to upend the process and actively invite women to come see us — and thus the Office Hours program was created.
Here are four ways Golden Seeds runs Office Hours to help entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of getting from idea to funded company.
Create a no-judgment zone.
Entrepreneurs need sounding boards at all stages, particularly when they are just conceiving of their businesses and determining the viability of their ideas. Good, honest advice can give you confidence to proceed, while candid input can save valuable time and money.
This is why the most important rule when it comes to Office Hours is “no judgment.” There are no formal presentations, no acceptances, no declines — just an opportunity to get feedback and advice. During these sessions, entrepreneurs can ask any questions they want, or focus on any advice they are seeking. This simple rule allows entrepreneurs to explain their ideas without fear, and lets angel investors and others provide meaningful, constructive feedback.
Get educated on funding options.
One thing many entrepreneurs struggle with is figuring out what the right funding source might be for their business. Since venture capital is featured in the news and media so frequently, many new to the entrepreneurial process overlook other avenues that may be a better fit, like angel investors and incubators. With the wide range of experts available at Office Hours, entrepreneurs can learn a lot about these options.
“At Golden Seeds Office Hours, there’s an interactive hour of education where entrepreneurs are provided with context for understanding how, when and why to raise angel capital, as well as a framework for measuring whether angel capital is in fact, a good option for them,” said Sheryl Schultz. “As a result, entrepreneurs come away with a better understanding of who they are as a potential investment, and connections to help them drive their businesses forward.”
Angel investors, for example, play a large role in creating companies in America. In 2016 alone, angels invested $21.3 billion across more than 64,000 businesses, according to the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Venture Research. The venture capital industry only funds about 5,900 companies a year. The angel market plays a key role in company formation in the United States. During our Office Hours events, Golden Seeds includes a presentation that educates female entrepreneurs on these markets.
Angels are generally people with a high net worth, who are passionate about investing, and specifically in supporting startup businesses. Angels invest in startup companies in exchange for an equity share of the businesses, but they do much more. They are, of course, looking for returns on their investments, but they also want to have a positive impact on the entrepreneurs they invest in by sharing their advice, skills and networks.
Likewise, many new companies can benefit from an accelerator or incubator environment. It’s a common refrain, but many of these accelerators and incubators are run by men, and largely populated by men. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in women-run companies. In fact, they are often welcoming to women, and need help identifying the right women-owned companies to support. These incubators and accelerators often reach out to Office Hours programs like ours, putting us in a position to recommend promising companies to them.
Make mentoring connections.
It’s unfortunate, but true: women entrepreneurs often don’t have the networks of investors and advisors that men do. Without strong mentoring relationships, even the best ideas often die on the vine. The Office Hours environment is a welcoming place for entrepreneurs to build these relationships.
For example, Golden Seeds has had more than 650 members through the years, and most of them have been willing to share their knowledge, even with companies in the earliest stages. In fact, some members are especially interested in meeting early-stage companies that might have an intriguing concept, but not substantial revenue.
These early conversations can produce long-term relationships, and it’s common for investors who meet companies at Office Hours to keep in touch with them and even be ambassadors for them when they decide to apply for funding.
Build peer relationships.
Of course, relationships that can be beneficial to entrepreneurs don’t end with mentors and potential investors; they also include other entrepreneurs. Far from a tangential benefit of Office Hours, these peer-to-peer relationships can be a highlight. Many other environments that women entrepreneurs navigate are populated mainly by men, who tend to naturally network with other men. At Office Hours, women founders are guaranteed to meet other women on similar entrepreneurial journeys. The knowledge gained from these interactions can be crucial, and can lead to lifelong friendships and business relationships.
Perhaps the best case for Office Hours comes from someone who has been through the process. Alisa de Gaspe Beaubien is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Groupize, a company that uses cloud-based solutions to reduce the complexity of sourcing, booking, tracking and managing multi-room bookings, extended stays, groups and meetings, all in real-time.
“We walked into Golden Seeds’ Office Hours in Boston. It was really a classroom-style environment,” de Gaspe Beaubien said. “We went to a desk and talked with an expert about our company. Due to our initial Office Hours discussion, people were engaged with us every step of the way after that.”
Today, Groupize is a Golden Seeds company, and the Golden Seeds member de Gaspe Beaubien met with during Office Hours is on her company’s board of directors. Not every entrepreneur will come out of Office Hours with funding, but most do gain information and build relationships that provide women founders with a leg up in making their companies successful.
Our Office Hours model is distinct from pure networking events, where an entrepreneur is seeking less targeted contacts and information. We incorporate an educational component, mentoring and peer networking in one model. As more organizations start to embrace Office Hours programs to connect female entrepreneurs with investors interested in backing women, it’s clearer than ever that both founders and investors want these connections.
Find out about upcoming Golden Seeds Office Hours in New York City, Boston, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Dallas and Atlanta, plus virtual sessions for entrepreneurs located elsewhere.