Recognizing that there were very few women in Madison’s tech community, Heather Wentler and Amy Gannon set out to change that in 2012. Wentler, the founder of STEAM enrichment program Fractal, and Gannon, a change agent dedicated to identifying and unleashing entrepreneurial talent, together launched the Doyenne Group, a Madison-based organization supporting women-led and women-owned startups.
The Doyenne model focuses on four key strategies:
- Develop: Expand entrepreneurial skills
- Connect: Build and mobilize networks
- Fund: Raise and invest dollars
- Collaborate: Partner to change the ecosystem
For Wentler, it was about raising the visibility of women as successful entrepreneurs, as well as combating the gender gap within the entrepreneurial community. The group, which also welcomes people of color (regardless of gender) to join, officially launched at Madison’s 2012 Forward Festival, where it hosted a breakfast for women in business that more than 50 people attended. That sellout inaugural offering gave rise to a schedule that now includes three events a month, on average, ranging from startup showcases to business-coaching seminars. Meanwhile, the Doyenne Group has grown to more than 220 members, operates from offices in StartingBlock Madison and has set its sights on a Milwaukee satellite office in 2019.
“We want to make sure that women entrepreneurs have access to professional development to help them grow and succeed,” Wentler told Wisconsin Inno. “If we don’t see women being raised up as successful entrepreneurs, and women aren’t being recognized for what they are doing, how do we really have an inclusive ecosystem?”
The group’s roster includes members from startups like WodBottom, an e-commerce platform for weightlifting gear and apparel, and Wolf Flow, an ad-tech startup making software to improve workflow.
In addition to coaching opportunities for entrepreneurs and founders, which have included planning retreats and pitch events, the Doyenne Group has supported more than 400 entrepreneurs at its Connect events, which draw other members, mentors, business leaders, potential investors and customers.
Doyenne also invests in member companies through its Doyenne Evergreen Fund, which includes funds raised by Doyenne from state and city government, community organizations, foundations and private donors. For its investments, the fund requires startups to be based in Wisconsin and be at least 51 percent women and/or minority owned. Startups also must have fewer than 100 employees and have raised less than $10 million in funding to date.
For more information about the Doyenne Group, visit DoyenneGroup.org.