Feature Photo courtesy of Chloe Capital
At the end of 2019, a District Court judge in California ruled that players on the U.S. women's national soccer team—that year's World Champions—could go forward with class-action status in their gender discrimination suit against the federation.
This was in the same year that Nike shut down its notoriously imbalanced track and field training program (zero women coaches in the senior ranks) amid accusations of sexist and damaging coaching.
Women in sports have made massive, fast progress toward equality over the past several decades, and a big part of that improvement has been thanks to a concerted, legal, and global effort to level playing fields. Leveling the playing fields has meant letting women have a seat at the table—all of the tables.
For instance, since 2012, no Olympic sports have been allowed to exclude women, and women's overall participation in the games is now nearing 50%.
"There are many parallels between women's positions right now in sports and in business," says Elisa Miller-Out, co-founder of the seed stage venture capital firm Chloe Capital, which invests exclusively in women-led startups.
"Sports exist in an ecosystem, and so does business development," Miller-Out says. "What happens upstream absolutely determines what happens further downstream."
Since 2008, VC investment in women-founded companies has hovered stagnant around 2% and 3%, while the number of deals completed by women founders has steadily risen. But those who do invest in women-led companies enjoy better than average returns on their investments, according to several studies, including a report by Morgan Stanley.
Ready to tackle the inequities head-on and capitalize on the good performance of women-led startups are a handful of new VC firms, including Chloe Capital, which was founded in 2017. "Our founders," says co-founder of Chloe Capital Kathryn Cartini, "are our star athletes. We discover them and nurture them, and they perform."
The natural affinity between women athletes and women in business shows up everywhere, notably at the Aurora Festival and Aurora Games, a newly launched annual showcase of excellence in women's sports that featured, in its inaugural year last summer, 125 Olympic athletes, competition in six women's sports by elite women athletes from all over the world, and a series of events and panels focusing on women's achievement in both sports and business.
Held in Albany, NY, the festival was sponsored in part by Miller-Out's firm Chloe Capital. It was the brainchild of Jerry Solomon, longtime agent and promoter and author of An Insider's Guide to Managing Sporting Events, who is the husband of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Cartini, along with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor Georgia Kelly, hosted a 5-hour seminar at the Aurora Festival. Participants included everyone from C-Suite executives, middle managers, athletic team coaches, and business founders.
Connecting Women to Each Other, Knowledge, and Money
"Kathryn's got a keen sense of what is needed to grow and promote women's business," Georgia Kelly says of Cartini. "I've learned so much from her. She's very thoughtful and diligent in execution. She's focused on the end result, but at the same time on the details along the way."
Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Magazine Liz Plosser interviewed the Team World basketball players at the session. Also presenting was Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over the trial against U.S. Gymnastics physician and abuser Larry Nassar.
"It was inspiring to see how fully engaged all the participants were, hanging around after the formal parts of the event, having great conversations with each other," Kelly remembers.
Those conversations and connections are the stuff of investment and business success, she asserts. "It's always the surprise connection that pays off, one degree of separation beyond what people predicted."
At one discussion, there was a question from the audience about how to grow women's confidence. Sunny Stroeer, a climber and outdoor adventure sports star and photographer, had this answer: "Do hard things. It doesn't matter if you succeed at them. The trying is the important part."
Good advice, and yet when it comes to women in sports and in business, it's not a lack of trying hard things that accounts for gender inequity; it's discrimination and an inequity in support and opportunity.
And so special venues like the Aurora Games, and special investors who focus on women, like Chloe Capital, are likely to play an outsized role in providing the ultimate remedy.
"The drive, determination, and hard work I see in women athletes who defy odds stacked against them," Miller-Out says, "gives me hope for women in business too."