By: Fleming Farrow
This past week six of the seven general partners of the JumpFund attended the annual 36|86 conference in Nashville, TN. For those of you who are not familiar with 36|86, it is a seminal event put on by Launch Tennessee that features proven business leader and investor led panels and a start-up competition including the southeast’s most innovative startup companies. Out of the 36 startup companies, three represented Chattanooga- Branch Technology, Rapid RMS and our very own Torch. And monumentally, eight were women led companies- Acivilate, Avrio Analytics, Collabora, Kevy, Sequr, Shevirah, SmartCommerce and Torch.
It was at this very same event four years ago that the conception of the JumpFund began. I asked Kristina Montague, JumpFund managing partner, to expand on this-
“Just four years ago I attended the first iteration of 36|86, SouthlandSE hosted by LaunchTN. That event was a seminal moment for the formation of the JumpFund as there was not a single woman-led company pitching onstage and only a literal handful (count 5) of women in the audience, my future JF partner Shelley Prevost among them. Fast forward to 36|86 this year, bigger and better than ever, which kicked off with a woman-focused panel hosted by prolific female angel investor, Joanne Wilson and featuring our own Jewel Burks of Partpic and Kelly Hoey (friend and mentor of the JumpFund) as moderator. Joanne started off with a fiery treatise on the history of feminism and where we have “dropped the ball” in recent years as we continue to see huge disparities in access to capital, wage gap, and other issues which hold women back from full equality in our economy. Setting the tone for this conference, I continued to hear the conversation reverberate among the MANY (we estimated maybe 20%?) women present from startup company leaders to investors, media, and staff. Our JumpFund tweets exploded across social media as we were “liked” by many in the audience and beyond. The conference app was also full of notifications such as “where are all the women meeting?” and many women wanting to meet with me to discuss their company or learn more about our work.”
As exciting as it was to have the conference kick-off with the “Female Focus Feature Keynote & Panel” featuring our very own Jewel Burks of PartPic (she won the Village 36 startup award last year!), we also had Kristina as one of the judges of the 36 companies and Shelley Prevost pitching for Torch. Unless you have been living under a rock the past few days, then you probably know that our own Shelley Prevost took home the grand prize of $50,000!
I spoke to Shelley after her win about her biggest take-aways and the differences she felt at 36|86 as a startup company versus an investor. Shelley told me about her conversation with Butch Gilliam of West Texas Investors Club about his investment strategy. She paraphrased it and told me that it sounded a lot like the kind of investor and entrepreneur that she wants to be-
“If it’s only about the money–the end result–you probably will not be sustained when it gets hard. What is your mission? What difference are you making? That’s what sustains you. And whatever you hope to find at the end of all your success is exactly what you should be bringing to your company every single day. Whether it’s anxiety, fear, self-doubt, happiness, optimism, or confidence, that energy will meet you at the end of it all.”
via Chuck Buckner
Despite all of the positive energy, there is still work to be done.
There were still several astonishing sidebar comments, such as: “I don’t see any issue for women entrepreneurs in the valley” (from a well-known Silcon Valley VC) and “where’d you get that blue dress, I want one for my wife” (directed at Shelley as she walked off the stage by one of the West Texas Investor yahoos). But the overall tone was clearly less “boys club” and felt much more inclusive (although still very white). I’d like to think that having created the JumpFund alongside the growth of this annual conference has had some influence on both its programming and the conversations I am now hearing among attendees. Our rock-star portfolio of strong female-led companies from across the Southeast, some of which now share the stage (and win!) alongside their male peers, is testament to the opportunity and deal flow available to investors if they look outside their comfort zone. I am hoping that next year, we see an even greater number of women onstage and in the audience so that panels such as the one that kicked off this event no longer need to be. We’ve come a long way (in an amazingly short time), baby! But there is still much work ahead.” – Kristina Montague
We hope to see you all there next year!