Photo courtesy of Preemadonna
San Diego’s Pree Walia with her Nailbot at-home manicure and nail art system.

Photo courtesy of Preemadonna San Diego’s Pree Walia with her Nailbot at-home manicure and nail art system.

Females make up the fastest-growing entrepreneurial group in the U.S. today, according to a new report from UBS, which found women start an average of 1,800 new businesses a day, generating $1.8 trillion in annual revenue.
 
But funding and launching a successful startup still does not favor the female founder, said UBS’s Business Owner Insights, which reported that female-founded companies received only 2% of all venture funding in 2018. That report said most business owners (68%) think women entrepreneurs face more barriers than men when starting a business – and also noted just 7% of partners at venture capital firms are women.

 
This week, the Business Journal asked finalists in the $10K fast-pitch competition held during San Diego’s 8th-annual Women’s Venture Summit for their thoughts on challenges facing female founders. (UBS was the title sponsor of the event, conducted virtually Sept. 17-18. UBS Managing Director Jane Schwartzberg was keynote speaker at the summit.)  


‘Develop a Tight Network’


Adriana Vazquez Ortiz is cofounder of Lilu, a women’s health company building tech-enabled devices that empower new moms. Her pitch for Lilu’s massaging bra for breast-feeding mothers won the $10,000 first prize in the fast-pitch competition at this year’s summit.


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Adriana Vazquez Ortiz  Co-founder/CEO  Lilu

Ortiz said developing a “tight” network of investors and supporters has been critical to her startup success. “For most of this journey, officially it’s been only my co-founder Sujay and myself working full time on this, but in reality, there’s been hundreds, if not a thousand, of people who have built Lilu -- from the first moms who tried the ‘Frankenstein prototype’ to the workers in the factory, as well as our investors, advisors, mentors who have given us hundreds of hours of their time,” she said.

 
Ortiz’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Find your village and tribe. Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs who can help you when things are challenging and with whom you can brainstorm or use as a sounding board. And help them through their challenges, too, when you can. You may learn a lot.”


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Pree Walia  Founder/CEO  Preemadonna

Don’t Give Up
 
Pree Walia, CEO and founder of San Diego-based Preemadonna, which makes Nailbot, an intelligent, at-home manicure/nail art system, has raised $5.6 million in seed funding to help launch her company.  

Nails grew more than any other mass market beauty category in 2020 – and have notched an 18% sales increase so far in 2021 as COVID-19 prompts more people try DIY beauty products.
 
Walia calls her entrepreneurial journey so far “unpredictable and rewarding.”

 
“We pitched hundreds of angel and smaller seed funds – many of them multiple times before they said yes,” Walia said. “While building a large investor base takes up precious time, it has network effect advantages. For example, we have built a strong network of angels that we can turn to for manufacturing, supply chain or customer acquisition questions.”

 
“Ultimately, we found investors that believed in us, the immediate problem we were solving and our bigger vision,” Walia said.  


These key investors, she added, “also happened to be predominately female.”

 
“My advice to other female entrepreneurs that are starting out is to believe in yourself,” Walia said.
 “Rejection from investors can feel debilitating. Conveying delays in your product timeline to both your investors and crowdfunding backers also takes a toll on your self-confidence. Focus on the positive, learn from your mistakes and keep going. There is always a bright side.”
 

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Veena Somareddy   Founder  Neuro Rehab VR

Do Your Homework First
 
Veena Somareddy, co-founder of Neuro Rehab VR, a virtual reality system for physical therapy, also made an attention-getting pitch at this year’s Women’s Venture Summit – and passed on some advice to aspiring female founders.  


“First, before you do a lot of work building a company or building a product, try to find product-market fit and talk to your customers,” Somareddy said. “Get an MVP (minimum viable product) out as quickly as possible and get as much feedback as you can. Always think about what your customers are trying to achieve with your product. Doing this exercise, you might discover factors you never considered at the idea stage, or maybe the customer is using the product for a totally different reason than you originally intended.”

 
“Don’t wait until your product or business is ready to launch to concentrate on sales,” Somareddy added. “Do surveys with customers early on to get your product out there and see if people will actually pay for it. When you first get a product out, most people are going to be really nice and tell you how awesome it is, but none of that matters if they won’t pay for it. When someone can’t wait to pay you for a solution, then you know you are truly solving a market need.”