A Different Kind of Acceleration

Sequoia Brown of FAR Botanicals speaking at Creative Startups Demo Day 2015

There’s almost nothing more difficult than starting your own company. Add to that dealing with expectations linked to gender, race, and socioeconomic class, and it can feel like an impossible task. This is especially true for women, who the vast majority of Americans feel are capable of leading governments and businesses, even while recognizing that they face a higher standard.

But the world of female entrepreneurs is finally moving faster in some areas, and it’s happening largely because investors and support organizations are paying attention in the micro to get macro effects.

Organizations such as Mergelane, a female-focused accelerator, and Kapor Capital, a venture fund that has focused on inclusion and diversity in its investments, are helping to pave the way for more women entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech industry.

As Mitch and Freada Kapor noted in a recent post about the work they’ve done to make changes as investors, it takes both being honest and setting concrete, measureable goals to shift the structure:

“...when we hear VC’s express concern that expanding diversity means “lowering the bar,” we cringe. This notion stems from the false assumption that more underrepresented employees haven’t been hired because those candidates haven’t met high standards. The reality is that top-notch candidates from all backgrounds are out there; however, the hiring criteria, in practice, are hardly objective. If companies are having trouble finding underrepresented candidates, there are unacknowledged problems with their hiring practices and — far too often, office cultures that negatively affect reputation and retention.”

And then there are insights from the women entrepreneurs themselves as well. Many become serial entrepreneurs, and some go on to mentor other women-led startups.

We spoke with Sequoia Brown, CEO of FAR Botanicals, an Ohio-based maker of artisan-crafted moisturizing products, about her journey as a female entrepreneur in the 21st Century, and experience as a Creative Startups 2015 graduate

Creative Startups: Can you give us some background about the growth and development of FAR Botanicals?

FAR Botanicals started as a personal eco-art project. I originally had no plans to sell any of the formulas I developed and only desired to make a more healthful option for myself and family. Around 2009 / 2010, I really began to focus on the idea of starting a natural/sustainable beauty care company, and left my wage-based job in 2010 to pursue that goal. After several years in R&D, FAR Botanicals fully launched at the end of 2014. 

Creative Startups: Do you have any venture or other equity type funding?

Right now, I am more interested in continuing to bootstrap the company's funding or investigating alternative loaning institutions like Kiva or Kabbage as opposed to having to give away equity in my startup. One thing that made me reevaluate investment funding was the time required to pursue such funding, versus the time direly needed to continue to work on the company itself.

Creative Startups: What trouble did you have getting financing from male-dominated firms that didn't seem to understand your product and market?

Between 2013 and 2015 I investigated several different investing institutions and business accelerators. Most of these businesses want to support tech products, period. The few consumer product-oriented firms I was able to find really don't give you a second look unless your company is already making a half million to a million in gross revenue. It's quite the Catch-22, isn't it? You need money to grow, but few want to give it to you when you need it most.

Creative Startups: Do you feel startup accelerators are still too white/male dominated to be fully successful as a concept?

Yes and no. Clearly they are successful as evidenced by the number of successful companies which have sprung from them. No, in regards to inclusiveness. My mind keeps wandering back to the totally abysmal Silicone Valley stats that were being discussed in 2015. So much talent and intelligence being ignored or locked out. It's an awful waste of intellectual resources and ambition, and with greater awareness and willingness to address the disparity, it should and will be corrected. Hopefully.

Creative Startups: Tell us about your experience being selected as a Creative Startups 2015 Top Finalist.

This gave me a wonderful ego boost! It was an affirmation that my company was something worth investing in. I was also able to review a video of my pitch and see where I could make my pitches stronger and more concise in the future.

About the author

Alice Loy

Author Alice Loy is a Co-founder of Creative Startups, and has researched the creative industries for 15+ years. She has lived and worked in Europe, Mexico, and Central America, designed and taught university level courses ranging from Social Entrepreneurship to Environmental Ethics, and holds an MBA and PhD in Strategic Communication and Entrepreneurship.