Baltimore investor only backs women-run companies

One Baltimore investor only puts her money into women-run companies.

Kelly Keenan Trumpbour believes women should put their money where their mouths are.

The 37-year-old invests her money solely in companies run by women, driven by a philosophy of female empowerment and a desire to shake up the traditional white male corporate culture. She founded See Jane Invest two years ago to help educate other women on how to become investors.

Trumpbour, who sits on the board of directors for Baltimore Angels, an early-stage investment group, has invested in four women-run companies so far and plans on backing a few more this year. She typically invests about $10,000 at a time.

"If you had more women running companies, imagine how the economic landscape might change," Trumpbour said. "In order to have a more diverse corporate world, I believe in backing companies with money."

As someone who invests only in female-run firms, Trumpbour doesn't have a lot of company. She and others involved in venture and angel investing in Baltimore said she is the only one in the area who follows that particular strategy.

The startup and venture capital scene in the U.S. has long had a reputation of being male-dominated. Women partners in venture capital firms have even declined from 10 percent in 1999 to 6 percent last year, according to the Diana Project at Babson College. The same study found that only 2.7 percent of venture capital-funded companies had a woman CEO.

"There's been so many different things being said about the investment world being a lot of guys," said Greg Cangialosi, CEO of event ticket seller MissionTix and co-chair of the Baltimore Angels. "I think there is a real need for more women to get involved. Women entrepreneurs may see things differently, or I've spoken to several women entrepreneurs who felt intimidated or had a hard time getting a meeting" with an investor.

Trumpbour came to Baltimore from Detroit about 15 years ago, working for various political and nonprofit groups, including serving time on the board of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, a group that financially supports younger female political candidates, and co-founding Running Start, a nonprofit focused on encouraging young women to run for office.

In 2010, she and her husband, Jason Trumpbour, decided they wanted to start a family. But her attempts to get pregnant came with health complications that landed her in the hospital. After a couple of years of trying, she came to terms with switching gears.

"I was in this very frustrating place, where I thought I was about to become a parent, and that didn't happen," she said.

She kicked the tires on the notion of giving money to charitable foundations, as many of her peers did. But she said it wasn't as appealing as investing in women-owned companies, so she started familiarizing herself with the city's startup scene and founded See Jane Invest. Her background in raising money for female candidates ended up guiding her decision.

"I'm so tired of just giving my money away," she said. "I think there's a lot that can happen here in the startup scene, but if I'm going to put my money and time into it, there should be something in it for me, and that should be a profit."

The first company Trumpbour put money into was Allovue, a Baltimore-based educational software firm that has raised about $1.7 million in seed funding and is conducting pilot programs in schools in Baltimore and New Haven, Conn. The company's software helps school districts track both spending and outcomes.

Allovue founder Jess Gartner, a friend of Trumpbour's, shares her philosophy on the need for more diverse investors.

"It's not an accident that most of the capital is in the hands of white men and most of the money invested is with white men," Gartner said. "The world is not a meritocracy, and I think Silicon Valley has been trying to push a meritocracy narrative for a long time, and that's not the way the world works."

Gartner said Trumpbour came prepared and asked thoughtful questions about the fledgling company's strategy. Now, Trumpbour helps promote the company in conversations with other investors or in investment articles she writes.

"Investing is a long and exhausting process, and Kelly was a very thoughtful and respectful investor, both of my time and me as a person," Gartner said. "When you're trying to start as a company, your time is the most valuable thing you have, and there are some investors who take advantage of that."

Trumpbour also invested in Hip Chicks Farms, a California-based company that makes frozen chicken products without artificial ingredients.

Serafina Palandech, Hip Chick's president, said finding investors as a woman can still be rife with sexism. After months of meetings with a man who seemed interested in her company, she took a plane to Los Angeles to meet up and finalize the investment documents. But when she arrived, she discovered he was more interested in her than her company.

"When I got down there, he had rented a hotel room for us," she said. "This was months of my time, and he had no intention of investing. It's out of control."

Palandech met Trumpbour later at a meeting of the Pipeline Fellowship angel investing boot camp for women in Washington, D.C., last year.

"My experience of going out there and presenting to investors is that it can be a stretch and a challenge for traditional angel groups to understand what we're trying to do ethically, morally, and also from a business standpoint what the chance of success is," Palandech said. "There's a lot of investors that don't get it. Kelly immediately understood it and got it."

Since then, Palandech said, she's attracted more investors, including two who are male, and is distributing her product on the East Coast. She said she appreciated having a female investor, especially given her earlier encounter.

"I think that before I met Kelly and Pipeline, I was beginning to doubt my ability," Palandech said. "I think she gave me confidence to move forward in a fledgling company such as ours."

cwells@baltsun.com

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