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Looking to expand, Doyenne Group launches crowdfunding campaign

Funds raised from the campaign will help launch pilots of Doyenne chapters in Milwaukee and Green Bay to make the group’s programming available to women entrepreneurs across Wisconsin.

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The Doyenne Group launched in Madison in 2012 with a mission — to build entrepreneurial ecosystems that invest in the power and potential of women entrepreneurs.

In that, it’s been successful. So successful, in fact, that Doyenne is now looking to expand its reach.

Beginning today, April 5, and running through May 12, Doyenne is hosting a crowdfunding campaign on the funding platform exclusively for female entrepreneurs, iFundWomen. During that time, Doyenne hopes to raise at least $50,000 that it will use to offset the cost of its programming for members, and to launch pilot chapters of the group in Milwaukee and Green Bay in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Several members have shared that Doyenne programming really helped them grow and expand their businesses,” says Heather Wentler, Doyenne co-founder and executive director. “That’s why we know it’s important to continue to keep Doyenne programming affordable, and to expand Doyenne to other cities. There have been a number of women asking us to bring Doyenne to Milwaukee and Green Bay, so we’re starting the Milwaukee pilot later this year, and we’ll move forward with Green Bay in 2019.”

Wentler says in the past five years, Doyenne has had 82 companies come through its 11 retreats, of which at least two to three companies on average are from outside Madison. Doyenne’s signature 5x5x5 event, held each year at Madison’s Forward Festival, has on average 40 applications annually, with approximately one-third of entries coming from outside of Dane County. In the 5x5x5 event, five women-led startup businesses each get 5 minutes to pitch and one receives a $5,000 grant. In addition, Doyenne’s Evergreen Fund awarded seven grants during the first round of funding in January, of which three of the companies were from outside of Madison and in the Greater Milwaukee region.

“[Milwaukee and Green Bay] are definitely ‘hot spots,’” says Wentler. “We’ve spent the last two years connecting with women from across Milwaukee to see what is already offered within their community. The Milwaukee ecosystem is very fractured, and unless you’re ‘in the know’ it’s hard to find more than just the various networking communities. The majority of programming that is offered in Milwaukee is also very targeted to industries that only fit certain types of entrepreneurs or ventures. Doyenne’s approach is more inclusive, and instead everyone who shows up knows that they are welcome, will be respected, and deserve a seat at the table no matter the stage of their venture or what they are aiming to grow it into.

“We’ve just starting mapping out the Green Bay network, but again the main reason we’re going there is because of the outreach from women saying we’re needed,” Wentler continues. “When you look at the entire Fox Valley region, there are lots of entrepreneurial organizations, but again they’re very focused on networking or certain industries. They don’t address the overarching goal of building entrepreneurs and changing their ecosystem of how to approach entrepreneurship.”

Perfect platform

Even as Doyenne looks to expand outward across the state, there’s still a pressing need for its programming around Greater Madison.

“Research shows that businesses with women in leadership positions outperform businesses that don’t have women,” says Dr. Amy Gannon, Doyenne co-founder and director of entrepreneur development. “Women do more with less; they are capital-efficient. Despite this research, 80% of venture capital dollars go to all-male teams, teams that don’t have a single woman involved. Only 2% of that venture capital goes to all-female teams. That’s why consciously funding women’s ventures is so important, and that’s why we’re proud to be running our crowdfunding campaign through iFundWomen.”

iFundWomen, founded by University of Wisconsin–Madison alumna Karen Cahn, supports women by reinvesting money into active campaigns and offering coaching and video production to entrepreneurs who are launching campaigns on the site. The goal is to create a healthier entrepreneurial ecosystem by helping women access capital more easily to grow their businesses.

Having a resource like Doyenne is important because of the stats about the uphill battle, notes Wentler. When Doyenne was founded, it was because of the uphill battle the majority of women were — and still are — facing within the Madison entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Doyenne is a place where you can be yourself, not have to prove your worth, and you can get the support, mentorship, and encouragement you need,” explains Wentler. “That way, when you have to take the next step with your venture, you know you have an entire army of women and men in your corner to support and stand beside you as you move forward into sometimes scary or new waters.

“The biggest value that Doyenne provides is giving a voice to women who feel they have no voice,” adds Wentler. “In the workplace, women have forever been seen, not heard. When we do raise our voices, we’re told to ‘be thankful you’re here’ or asked ‘why are you so angry?’ Doyenne stands up and demands that women’s voices are heard and recognized for how we contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, our economy, and all the ways our ventures change the world for the better.”

Wentler notes that Karen Cahn went to UW­–Madison and doubled in majors non-related to business and entrepreneurship. “She is a living example that anyone can go from any background into being a successful entrepreneur. iFundWomen also aligns very much with the Doyenne mission of providing economic empowerment through entrepreneurship to women from all backgrounds.”

When Wentler and Gannon started looking into crowdfunding platforms, they noticed a lot of them still have very little success for women, and the average backer is a man, too. “We chose to work with a platform that benefits women, creates opportunity for women to put their dollars to work to support other women, and exemplifies the idea of a community coming together to support other women,” says Wentler. “None of the other sites offer this.”


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