Rogue Women’s Fund shares its wealth to boost female founders

The firm uses part of its management fee to fund support programmes for female founders, including providing a personal leadership coach, financial coach and a family stipend, says managing partner Caroline Lewis.

Rogue Women’s Fund, a women-led venture firm, is taking hands-on support to the next level for the women-led tech start-ups it backs.

“We feel that if we can mitigate the financial stress that founders face, the personal mental stress that comes with being a leader and growing a start-up, and the familial stress, they’re going to show up [to be] a better founder and build a better company,” managing partner Caroline Lewis told affiliate publication Venture Capital Journal.

The Portland, Oregon-based firm, which is in the market raising its second fund, uses part of its management fee to fund a number of support programmes for each founder, including a personal leadership coach, a personal financial coach and a family stipend. The firm also provides each founder with a portion of the GP carry in order to further open access to venture investing.

“We really want our founders to feel like they’re part of the team at Rogue, so by including GP carry we help them get one step closer to investing in women,” Lewis said.

The firm raised $5 million in 2020 for its debut fund and invested in 10 companies across industries including financial software, healthcare and business software, all led by women. Fund I is performing well and “already has a good chunk of capital returned to investors,” Lewis said.

Now, the firm has set out to raise $30 million for Rogue Women’s Fund II, according to a regulatory filing.

“Ultimately, I think my life calling is to get more money in the hands of women,” Lewis said. “The challenges that we faced with Fund I are what we’re trying to mitigate with Fund II. We wanted to invest in more companies and we wanted to write much bigger check sizes.”

Rogue Women’s Fund was founded in 2019 and incubated under Rogue Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that makes minority investments across stages in companies based in the US, particularly the Northwest region. Fund II will be officially separate from Rogue Venture Partners, though RVP co-founder and managing director Tom Sperry and partner Adam Stoll helped found and are partners of Rogue Women’s Fund.

Fund II will see almost every LP from its predecessor return, Lewis said, and will charge a 2.5 percent management fee and 20 percent carried interest. Whereas Fund I averaged a check size of around $150,000, Lewis said the firm plans to invest anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 per deal moving forward.

Fund II also contains a mandate to invest 10 percent in late-stage venture deals, an opportunity that Lewis recognised while investing Fund I. Rogue participated in women-focused investment platform Ellevest’s $53 million Series B in April through a no-carry, no-fee SPV that Lewis set up to open access to other women GPs without the weight of more fees for their investors. The vehicle, alongside commitments from underrepresented founder-focused firms Hustle Fund and Cap Table Coalition, raised roughly $3 million in two weeks.

Lewis is also working on an SPV with Gale Wilkinson of Vitalize Venture Capital and McKeever “Mac” Conwell II of RareBreed Ventures, all three of whom are Kauffman Fellows. The SPV will allow individuals to invest in all three funds at a much lower minimum check size than usual for venture capital.

“I really try to make sure that venture is accessible to women, minorities and non-binary individuals,” said Lewis. “I worked with Gail with Vitalize and Mac with RareBreed to create this structure so that I could continue to ensure that over 50 percent of my high-net-worth individuals who invest are women or minorities.”

According to a report published by PitchBook, just 2 percent of venture capital dollars went to female founders in 2021, down from the 2.2 percent in 2020. This disparity comes despite women-led startups being 500 percent more likely to be a billion-dollar company, according to statistics on Rogue Women’s website.

“I truly believe that if you want to create equality, it needs to come through financial equity, which makes opportunity and leads to the ability to put people in positions of power and decision-making that better reflect our society,” Lewis said.