Dreaming big and being bold may not have been seen as ladylike a few year ago. But, as Bob Dylan said, “the times they are a-changin'.” More and more women, like Tory Burch, are publicly owning their ambition. That’s good news for the economy. Since 2007, employment in women-owned businesses has increased by 18%, while employment in men-owned businesses has declined, according to The American Express OPEN 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
Women business owners are leaving self-limiting beliefs behind them and are now just as likely to be found in the middle market — businesses generating between $10 million to $1 billion in revenues — as in any other business demographic, according to the Middle Market Power Index from American Express and Dun & Bradstreet. Since 2008, EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women (EWW) has been helping women entrepreneurs reach for the brass ring. Women entering the program have companies that are already successful but their potential to scale to far greater heights is palpable. An impressive 33% of the companies in the 2016 class received venture and/or private equity funding. Those who received VC financing averaged 497% year-over-year growth in year 2 and 699% year-over-year growth in year 3. Leen Kawas is president and CEO of M3 Biotechnology and one of 14 women in the EWW class of 2016. Her company is getting ready to go into clinical trials for a drug that may stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and even restore lost function. It is estimated that five million Americans have the disease.
“The word ‘entrepreneur’ wasn’t even part of my vocabulary,” said Kawas, as she talked about growing up in Jordan. Having a stable job was the dream. Her dream was upsized when she came to the U.S. and was exposed to American culture. She earned a doctorate in molecular pharmacology from Washington State University and took some business classes. Her education didn’t stop there. “I networked like crazy — meeting with 700 people,” said Kawas. People were impressed with her idea and with her. The first million she raised was from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and the Washington’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund. The money was used for proof of concept. Raising money through grants was a slow process so she decided to raise equity financing instead. Her goal for her seed round was $.5 million to optimize the drug and start the safety trial. She raised $1.5 million.
She needed more money — $8 million — to finish the pre-clinical safety trial and produce the drug for the Phase 1 clinical trial. As with the first financing round, this round was oversubscribed. She raised $12 million. Many investors from the first round reupped for this round. “Investors need to believe you’re the person who can make this happen,” said Kawas. Clearly, M3’s investors believe in Kawas.
It wasn’t just money Kawas was looking for. As a first-time entrepreneur, she wanted strategic guidance. Her advisors play a critical role in the company. It’s why being part of EWW is so important. There’s the formal training. She’s learned about negotiating, exit strategies and licensing. In fact, licensing her technology to a large pharmaceutical may be how she funds later clinical trials.
As they say “seeing is believing.” Having a community of peers who look like you, have faced similar challenges and have overcome them changes your perception of what is doable, commented Lisa Schiffman who is the EWW program founder. Kawas heard Jamie Kern Lima, IT Cosmetics CEO and a former EWW winner, speak about her exit story. Kern Lima sold her company to L’Oreal for $1.2 billion. Stories like that inspire, which is just one part of the EWW’s value. The program also provides community, information, networks and guidance that can accelerate the growth of EWW participants’ companies.
Are you dreaming big and bold enough to apply for a seat in the 2017 class of EY EWW? You have until June 9, 2017.