A palpable sense of anticipation fills the air of a light-filled New York City loft on a cold, sunny day in January. The entrepreneurs gathered here know that they’ll be meeting sports trailblazers—including Billie Jean King and Jackie Joyner-Kersee—and laying the groundwork for ambitious business plans. They don’t yet know about the thousands of dollars already pledged to them or the deep connections they’ll be forming this weekend, but there is a strong feeling that anything is possible.
The women have gathered from across the globe to participate in a groundbreaking initiative over the following two days. The sports-apparel giant adidas, in partnership with iFundWomen—a startup platform offering crowdfunding, grants, and expert business coaching designed for female entrepreneurs—has selected each due to their innovative ideas for sports entrepreneurship. As they share their stories with one another, the full range of their creativity—from an app that helps women take their menstrual cycle into account while training to a program combining education with girls’ soccer—becomes clear.
“We are forming this partnership with iFundWomen because we know that women do not get the same amount of support as their male counterparts,” says Alexa Andersen, senior director of global women’s brand communications at adidas. “At adidas, we are committed to bringing more sports into the lives of women.”
This lack of support is a very real phenomenon for both athletes and entrepreneurs. Professional women athletes must still fight for competitive compensation, and female founders receive a tiny percentage of available venture capital, the vital early-stage funds that can make or break an emerging business. Each of the nine founders here believes that the coaching and mentorship for which iFundWomen is known—supported by the worldwide reach and influence of adidas—will provide them with a leg up as they begin their respective business journeys.
A MASSIVE FUNDING GAP
Karen Cahn, founder and CEO of iFundWomen, traces her own company’s origin story back to this discrepancy. “We exist because there is a massive funding gap for women entrepreneurs across all sectors,” she tells the group. “And only 1% of the companies, regardless of the gender of the founder, will ever raise venture capital. What do the rest of us do? We max out our credit cards or we try to take out loans to fund our businesses.”
With the support of the adidas and iFundWomen initiative, these female founders will avoid the pitfalls of self-funding while trying to scale their businesses and, consequently, help to support even more women in the sports world. When they learn that, in addition to the crowdfunding iFundWomen is facilitating on its campaign pages, they will each receive a $10,000 grant from adidas, there is a collective gasp of appreciation. “What could your business do with $10,000 right now?” Cahn asks. “We’ll discuss that in your mentoring sessions.”
While the funding is clearly thrilling, the mentorship sessions stand to have an even greater impact on their lives. As part of its commitment to supporting these entrepreneurs, iFundWomen is sponsoring a year of mentorship, which will begin later in the day with in-depth sessions led by Cahn and two of her colleagues.
“iFundWomen right now is giving them coaching and mentoring so that they can figure out how to bring their ideas to life,” Andersen says. “What’s so important is the follow up.”
STRATEGY, SUPPORT, SUCCESS
This mentorship includes lessons in the technical skills and business savvy they will need to succeed in the ultra-competitive startup world. “The coaching teaches not only how to raise your first round of capital,” Cahn says, “but also basic business fundamentals like how and why to set up your Google analytics. How do you use Facebook retargeting ads, and how do you get your social [channels] started. How can you create a cheap MVP (minimum viable product) to test your concept? There are so many things that you need to know as a solopreneur.”
Susan Sullivan, founder of the Women Sports Film Festival, agrees that the continued encouragement is one of the defining characteristics of the initiative. “The coaching and the strategy and the support make all the difference,” she says.
Both adidas and iFundWomen believe that the initiative’s holistic approach will have an impact far beyond the women in this room. Each female entrepreneur that enters the community will inspire another wave of women, generating a ripple effect that will radiate through the sports world.
“The goals for the initiative are really to create long-term change,” Andersen says. “We want to bring awareness to the fact that there are these amazing women entrepreneurs out there. We want to be able to bring their ideas to the next level. And we really want to help set an example for the industry to show the importance of investing in these female entrepreneurs within the sports industry specifically.”
Brittany Edwards, one of the co-founders of Incorp[HER]ated, a diversity-and-inclusion agency that focuses on “sneakers, sport, music, and fashion,” cites that very reason for her eagerness to participate in the event. As she puts it, it’s one thing for a huge sports company to say, “We support women and diversity, and inclusion is important.” What this initiative demonstrates is “How they are going to commit to creating change,” Edwards says. “This partnership really showcases that this is not something that’s just being spoken about—that there’s action behind it.”
And that action is ongoing. Throughout the month of March, women from around the world are invited to share their own entrepreneurial ideas for potential support from adidas and iFundWomen. The next round of founders selected for the program will be part of a club that is eager for new members as they collectively write the next chapter of sports history.
If you’re a woman with an industry-changing idea, you too can receive financial support and expert business coaching from adidas and iFundWomen. To find out more about the program and apply, visit https://ifundwomen.com/adidas. Deadline is March 31.