Inclusion investing nurtures companies led by women and minorities

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As Indra Nooyi ends her 12-year run in the top job at PepsiCo Inc. (NASDAQ: PEP), the number of women CEOs in the S&P 500 drops to 24. But in the middle market, a growing movement is nurturing women-led companies. In July, a new group called Exponent brought together 200 women from private equity funds, investment banks, startups and M&A advisory firms for the Exponent Exchange, an event that featured Sallie Krawcheck as the keynote speaker. Krawcheck, who previously served as the CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Citi Private Bank, today is the founder and CEO of Ellevest, an online investing platform for women. Exponent was founded in 2017 by a wide range of dealmakers, including Nanette Heide of Duane Morris LLP and Michelle Van Hellemont from Accordion. Mergers & Acquisitions participated in the event as an in-kind sponsor, and I moderated a panel.

Many of the speakers at Exponent Exchange were women who lead companies, including: Meghan Asha, founder and CEO of FounderMade, which connects entrepreneurs with distributors, influencers and investors, and helps people discover new wellness, beauty and food brands; Rica Elysee, founder and CEO of BeautyLynk, which provides on-demand beauty services; and Nancy McKay, CEO of Nest Fragrances, a maker of home fragrances founded by entrepreneur Laura Slatkin in 2005.

Investors interested in backing women-led companies were also among the featured speakers, including Natalia Oberti Noguera, who founded Pipeline Angels. The group is “changing the face of angel investing and creating capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs.” Since Pipeline Angels launched in April 2011, more than 300 members have graduated from the group’s angel investing boot camp.

Pipeline Angels members Seble Tareke-Williams and Lorine Pendleton spoke at the conference. Pendleton focuses on “inclusion investing.” One of her investments is Tastemakers Africa, a startup founded by entrepreneur Cherae Robinson. Tastemakers Africa provides “the definitive guide for people who want to travel Africa and skip the mediocre,” according to the company website.

Inclusion investing is investing either in companies that are led by diverse entrepreneurs, or have products and services that cater to those markets.” Pendleton explained. “When I say diverse entrepreneurs, it could be entrepreneurs of color, it could be LGBT entrepreneurs, it could be women, it could be veterans, or disabled entrepreneurs. People think that they are niche markets, but they’re actually growing in terms of spending dollars and market size. The demographics in the U.S. are changing, so white males will be a minority in a number of years.” Visit www.themiddlemarket.com to watch our video interview with Pendleton.

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