Only 2% of venture capital funding went to companies led only by women in 2021, with just 16% of funding headed to hybrid leadership teams (teams that have at least one female) and only 0.34% of funding headed to ventures led by female minorities. Chapel Hill-based VC firm Jemison Alexander is looking to change those statistics.
Led by General Partner Ryan Perlowin, a UNC grad and veteran entrepreneur, Jemison Alexander—the firm’s name comes from the middle names of Perlowin’s two kids—looks to invest exclusively in early-stage companies led by at least one female-identifying founder.
Since its founding in Q3 of 2023, Jemison Alexander has already invested in four companies—Aunt Flow, Piction Health, Gabbi and Reside Health—all in health-adjacent fields. Don’t let that spook you if you’re not in that industry vertical, Perlowin said, as Jemison Alexander is interested in investments across disciplines, as long as they meet the “one female founder, early-stage” bar.
“We are looking at anything, and honing that thesis over time,” Perlowin said.
The firm invests between $250K and $500K in ventures hovering around the seed stage, dipping down into pre-seed and up into Series A. It is actively seeking female-led companies to invest in. While Perlowin is based in the Triangle, Jemison Alexander is not geographically confined with its investments.
New startups to invest in aren’t the only partners Jemison Alexander is seeking. As an SPV (special purpose vehicle) syndicate fund, it is also looking for angel investors who want to put their money where their mouth is by investing in female founders.
“The Squad,” as Jemison Alexander calls its group of investors, is open to accredited investors willing to invest a typical minimum of $5,000. Jemison Alexander will play “matchmaker” between the members of its squad and its profile companies.
“Listen, a lot of people can’t write a $250,000 check, and that’s totally O.K.,” Perlowin said. “We have typically set the minimum to join our deals at $5K. And so people have come in at five thousand bucks, which is still a lot of money, but it’s a much more accessible number for people who are interested in this world of angel investing.”
Investors make the ultimate decision to opt in or out of any individual Jemison Alexander investment. This plays a dual beneficial role: investors choose to put their money into startups that align with their personal preferences and values, and female founders end up with an automatic pool of people with the genuine interest and insights they need to face an often under-welcoming startup space.
Challenges facing female founders
Difficulty finding investment is just one of many factors that make being a founder more challenging for female entrepreneurs.
In 2020, the New York Times found that only 15% of partners at U.S.-based VC firms were women. Besides the abysmal gaps in female funding, female founders are overwhelmingly pitching to VC firms that don’t look like them—and studies have found that investors overwhelmingly support founders that they can identify with.
Perlowin notes that a lack of diverse investment teams perpetuates a “cycle of homogeneity,” as male founders become investors who invest—unconsciously or otherwise—in other men.
“That’s bad,” Perlowin said. “We need to break that cycle.”
Though Jemison Alexander is in its early stages, Perlowin notes that he hopes to bring on a female-identifying investor as a partner in the firm down the road.
“If you’re gonna put your money where your mouth is, I think it would be important to bring on at least one partner who identifies as female,” Perlowin. “The sort of mission that we’re talking about outwardly, in our investment thesis, we will have internally as well.”
Investing in female founders creates opportunity for business leaders with more diverse lived experiences, which Perlowin said makes the world “a better place.” The numbers don’t lie—a 2019 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that $5 trillion may be missing from the global economy due to unequal investment in women.
Perlowin notes that female-led ventures perform better than similar male-led ventures on almost every metric, including annual revenue. Despite their unequal investment opportunities, female founders are two times as efficient with the investment they take in than their male counterparts, a 2018 study found.
The bottom line, Perlowin said, is that investing in female founders isn’t charity—it is good business. Investors interested in making more bang (and positive change) for their buck should consider Jemison Alexander.
“There’s a lot of systemic issues that make it so it’s harder for female founders to raise money than male founders,” Perlowin said. “And that’s ridiculous. That’s not the world that I want to live in. It’s not the world that I want to bring my kids up in.”
Interested in learning more about investing in or becoming a Jemison Alexander portfolio company? Reach Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.