March 3, 2015
This is a story of women helping women in an area that has been historically dominated by men.
Dahna Goldstein is a crazy hardworking, DC-based entrepreneur in the not-so-sexy, but absolutely necessary world of grants management. Her startup, Philantech, holds the most recent honor of being the first successful exit for a startup funded by the Pipeline Fellowship, a fellowship and bootcamp for female angel investors that promote female-run companies.
An Untapped Market in Grant Management
Dahna, who holds a Master of Education from Harvard University and an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, has spent most of her career working in nonprofits. She saw an opportunity for change when she noticed how terribly grant money was being managed on both the grantee and grantmaking sides. It has been estimated that 13% (or nearly $6 billion) in grant money per year is being spent on administrative costs. This is a HUGE amount of money that is not going into meaningful projects.
Upon realizing this problem, Dahna began trying to develop a way to streamline the process using technology. She started Philantech with the mission of “streamlining philanthropy.” She created a platform that eases the application and proposal process for grantmakers by allowing them to have all of their information stored in one place so that it is easily accessible and reusable, and also allows grantmakers to monitor the entire lifecycle of the grant from pre-grant due diligence to post-grant monitoring and evaluation.
The First Pipeline Exit
Philantech’s mission ultimately led to them partnering with and being acquired by Altum in November of 2014. Altum is a huge player in the grants management space. Since Philantech’s products focused more on helping smaller non-profits, and Altum provided solutions for larger organizations and government agencies, they were able to join forces and cover a lot more ground.
So how did the relationship between Philantech and the Pipeline Fellowship (based in NYC) form? It was quite by luck, actually. In 2011, Dahna was actively on the quest for funding when a friend of hers mentioned a pitch day that Pipeline was hosting. It was two days before the deadline to submit an application, but Dahna got hers in just in time and was chosen, along with 10 other startups, to pitch. She won the competition and became the first startup funded by Pipeline angels.
The Pipeline Program
As the first recipient of funding, as well as the first successful exit for a Pipeline funded company, Dahna had lots of positive things to say about what Pipeline is doing. Every Pipeline class is made up of 8-10 potential investors. During the bootcamp, they really take the time to train future angel investors and this training along with a healthy dose of passion makes for investors who are very hands-on and engaged in the companies they choose to fund. According to their website, “in 2013, only 19% of U.S. angel investors were women and only 4% were minorities.” Pipeline is actively trying to increase the diversity in the angel investing community and create capital for women social entrepreneurs.
While talking with Dahna, I also took the opportunity to ask about challenges she has either personally faced, or seen other female entrepreneurs face–challenges that might be unique to women starting up. One thing she has noticed is that women often pitch differently than men.
“What I’ve seen is that some women pitch in a way that could be perceived as more realistic — talking through different possible outcomes and acknowledging risks — that can end up somewhat undermining the pitch. I think some of that comes down to confidence and some of it results from a perception of the reality of starting a company that will ultimately serve the company and its growth well, but doesn’t always come across the best way in a pitch situation.”
As for advice she would give to entrepreneurs, female or otherwise, Dahna says don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The entrepreneur community, especially in DC, is very open and helpful. Even if you think your request is a little off the wall, “you’d be surprised how many people say yes.”
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