Next week Square One DSM will host Accelerate DSM with 1 Million Cups and the Technology Association of Iowa. The event will feature keynote speeches by Torey Maerz, founder of Rocket Referrals, Ben Milne, CEO and founder of Dwolla, and Cayla Weisberg, a partner at InvestHER Ventures.
InvestHer is the first and only venture capital firm in Chicago that invests solely in female-run tech companies. InvestHer’s portfolio includes Agrilyst, Klickly and Codeverse. Weisberg partnered with founder Gerri Kahnweiler in 2016 to address a common issue for women with startups: few investors are funding them.
“It’s much more difficult for women to raise capital; less than six percent of venture funds go to female-led companies,” Weisberg said. “There are about 1,200 privately-held companies launched by women every day, but only two to five percent are able to find capital of any kind.”
Since its founding last year, InvestHer has met with more than 200 companies, investing in nine. In addition to trying to spark investments in female-led tech companies, InvestHer is also addressing a deficiency in VC firms: less than seven percent have a female partner.
“We’re looking to be the catalyst to break down some of the barriers women face,” Weisberg said. “We want to provide a non-threatening destination while also sharing real feedback.”
Other than the keynote speakers, Accelerate DSM will feature a number of presentations and panels covering topics like “Forming Your Company,” “Raising a Seed Round,” “Grass Roots Marketing” and “Is an Accelerator Right for You?” Other speakers include Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Mollie Bodensteiner, Vice President of Marketing for FunnelWise and Casey Niemann, Founder of AgriSync.
Weisberg’s presentation is on “Raising Capital in the Midwest.” InvestHer doesn’t limit itself to Midwestern companies, but Weisberg said companies in Illinois and neighboring states have a special appeal for her.
“There’s something so special about the good old-fashioned Midwestern work ethic,” Weisberg said. “Women have really been able to innovate in large markets, but there’s a growing number of female tech founders in the Midwest who have caught our eyes. On the coasts, there’s a lot of focus by VCs on entrepreneurship, but a lot of the companies we partner with are more focused on business development.”
In addition to the programming, Accelerate DSM tickets include a lunch with roundtable sessions and a TechBrew networking and socializing event to close out the day.
Don’t write off those times between presentations as a chance to start checking emails or tuning out after an intense day of programming. That can be when the magic happens.
“I think networking is so crucial, for both female and male entrepreneurs,” Weisberg said. “We want to enter the game prepared to win and be prepared to overcome traditional objections and smokescreens. You need to position yourself to connect with subject matter experts in investment communities. It can help you find a proactive way to go into a pitch.”
When: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. May 17
Where: Iowa Events Center, 730 Third St., Des Moines
Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.