women to women

4 corporate housekeeping tips for female founders from Houston experts

A panel for women by women highlighted key things to keep in mind when starting a company. Getty Images

Laying the proper foundation of a startup might be one of the most important parts of starting a company — right behind the innovative solution your startup aims to provide.

At a female-founder focused panel at Baker Botts cohosted by The Artemis Fund earlier this month, a group of experts gave their advice from managing contracts and hiring to salary and investment.

The panel was moderated by Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and featured an investor, a founder, and a legal representative — Leslie Goldman, general partner and co-founder of The Artemis Fund; Emma Fauss, CEO of Medical Informatics Corp.; and Katie Belleville, associate at Baker Botts L.L.P, respectively.

If you missed the event, here are four pieces of advice from the panelists.

Be aware of an investor's founder red flags

When asked about what she looks for in a potential investment opportunity, Goldman, who's fund invests in female-led startups, looks at a myriad of things, but the big one is the founder herself.

"Ninety percent of it is about the founder," Goldman says on the panel. "The founder is key."

She goes on to say that her founder red flags include lack of transparency, not knowing her numbers, and not having the proper legal paperwork in order.

Representing the legal side, Belleville echoed the importance of getting the proper legal paperwork together from day one.

"It is important to get you organizational documents in order in the beginning to avoid a problem later down the line," Belleville says. "Going to a lawyer to help you set up your company and what documents you need."

She adds that startup founders can expect to pay lawyers by the hour like most legal exchanges, but a lot of legal professionals will offer a preliminary meeting to understand each other for free.

Be smart about who's giving you money

For Fauss, who closed an $11.9 million round in January, and most entrepreneurs, finding investors is a huge challenge and commitment.

"Raising money is probably my least favorite activity. It's a brutal process," Fauss tells the audience. "You are getting married to someone for 20-plus years. And it's easier to get a divorce from your husband than it is to get a divorce from your board members."

She explains how keeping that in mind really led her to be picky about her investors and find ones that were right for her and her company.

When it comes to hiring and salary — get it on paper

Every founder will eventually get to a point when they'll need to hire as their company grows. Fauss says she was fortunate to find her early team members organically — through networking opportunities. When it comes to listing jobs online, she recommends being specific to what expertise you're looking for.

In tandem with hiring, founders must decide how they plan to compensate their employees and whether they offer equity — something Goldman says impresses her.

"If a founder convinced other people to join their team based on a promise of getting a part of the company, it means that they are a charismatic entrepreneur and it means that the people who join them believe strongly and passionately about the company," Goldman says.

Belleville adds that founders should be aware of employment agreements, which she doesn't think is necessary in every situation, and confidentiality agreements, which she highly recommends when it comes to protecting the company's intellectual property.

"If you make it part of the [on boarding] process, then everyone has one and you've got that security at the point when they're leaving," Belleville says.

At one point in the panel, Fauss brings up a salary issue she's passionate about.

"Don't forget to budget in your own salary," Fauss says. "Your sweat equity, your worth does have a cost."

She adds that even if you're not getting paid a full salary when you're starting out, it's important to keep in the budget especially when factoring VC money.

Keep your paperwork in order

This might be a no-brainer, but the panelists all echoed the need for properly organized paperwork, especially when it comes to contracts and letters of intent with clients, for general bookkeeping reasons but also for review of potential investors.

"I'm going to want to see that there's actually a binding contract there," Goldman says, adding that the legality and terms of those types of agreements are crucial for her role as an investor.

Belleville says that one way for founders to keep track is by making a detailed spreadsheet with all that's in the contracts — terms, renewal, and termination details, for example.

The panelists — and even some founders in the audience — recommended digital filing systems like Carta, or its free version called captable.io. DocSend was also recommended for sharing your pitch deck because it offers stats so you can see how much time was spent on each page. At the very least, founders should keep files backed up online in Google Docs or DropBox.

When it comes to issuing contacts, Fauss recommends working with a legal team to streamline that process. Ninety percent of contracts will stay the same between clients, she says, so put together a playbook to know which variables to use and when.

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Building Houston

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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