This venture capital fund wants investors as passionate as philanthropists

Lindsey Taylor Wood spent years working to empower women and girls through nonprofits. But she grew disenchanted with the slow pace of the nonprofit world—and realized that some of its strengths could help improve the quicker-moving world of venture capital. 

“I grew disenchanted with philanthropy,” said Taylor Wood. “You can look by and large at any metric of success, impact, or advancement—for reproductive rights, women in the C-suite—and the net result is stagnation.” 

That’s why she co-founded The Helm, a new venture capital fund that officially launched on Thursday. The fund invests in female founders, and it takes a cue from one area where philanthropy really excels to hopefully improve the impact of its investments. 

“The thing philanthropy does really well is galvanize people around a mission.”

“For all its limitations, the thing philanthropy does really well is galvanize people around a mission,” Taylor Wood said. “It’s the antithesis of finance where things are transactional.” 

To build the same sense of connection that philanthropists feel with their causes, The Helm is trying to create a community along with its investments. Investors contribute a minimum of $50,000 to the fund and pay a $2,500 membership fee and a 2 percent management fee. In return—along with returns on their investments—they get programming, venture capital education, and editorial content related to investing and female founders. 

Investors, for example, would spend a day attending dinner with the founders of one of their portfolio companies, taking a tour of their startup, meeting with other leaders in that startup’s industry and take home some samples. In its pitch to members, The Helm imagined that all happening at Loreal’s Women of Color Lab with leaders in the beauty industry. 

It’s an experiential component that Taylor Wood and her co-founders, Erin Shipley and Emily Verellen Strom, hope will convince longstanding philanthropists to try their hands at another way of making a difference. 

“Why is philanthropy the only way we’re investing in equality?” Taylor Wood asked. “Charitable aid is a great thing and will always be needed, but what I realized was we weren’t being honest about its limitations.”

The Helm’s venture fund—aiming to include 40 members and a minimum of $2 million in capital—will invest in companies that have both a female founder and a female CEO. The firm is aiming to invest in between eight and 12 startups in its first year and write them checks for at least $200,000. So far, they’ve heard from female-led startups working on artificial intelligence, fintech, the future of work, sustainability, software, and a whole array of ideas. 

“Women who have wealth are asked to give their money away.” 

It’s another way to support women-led companies in an environment where female founders only received 2.19 percent of venture-capital funding in 2016. 

The Helm’s model is attracting investors who are interested in backing female founders, but also philanthropists used to this sort of community, impact-oriented approach who haven’t really invested on their own. Oftentimes, those philanthropists are women. 

“Historically, men with wealth are invited to amass more wealth. Their buddy says, ‘Buy this stock, make this deal,'” Taylor Wood said. “Women who have wealth are asked to give their money away—write a check to this nonprofit, chair this gala.” 

The Helm hopes to encourage those women to invest alongside their philanthropic pursuits, while also supporting female founders who are often passed over for venture capital funding elsewhere. 

Their project is focused on the wealthy who have the money to invest an extra $50,000 alongside their usual charitable contributions—but it’s hoping to change who’s investing and who’s getting their money. 

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