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Springboard Enterprises Featured in Enterprising Women Magazine

Wednesday, April 2, 2014  
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Springboard Enterprises:  Big Businesses Starting Small


Did you get your flu shot at a MinuteClinic this year?  Or announce a new service to your clients via ConstantContact?  Perhaps your living room was vacuumed by the robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba.  On your last business trip you might have rented a Zipcar to get to a client located in the suburbs.  Do you know someone who would benefit from knowing there is a new treatment for the autism disorder?

What do all these products and services have in common?  They were all conceived of and launched by women who raised venture capital and built their companies thanks to Springboard Enterprises. 

Established in 2000, Springboard Enterprises has worked with 537 women-led companies introducing them to equity investors. Collectively these companies have raised over $6.2 billion.  Springboard companies are transforming the way we live, the way we do business, and how critical health issues are diagnosed and treated. 


The late 90's were the hey-day for venture capital investment -- investments exceeded $100 billion dollars.  At the same time, women were starting businesses at twice the rate of men and generating substantial revenues and employment.  "Money was pouring over the transom," says Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Networks and now chair of Springboard Enterprises, "however in 2000, less than 2 percent of venture capital was going to women-led businesses."  Kay knew the importance of growth capital.  She had launched USA Networks with an initial capitalization of $600,000 and it ended up being sold for $4.5 billion

In 1998, President Clinton appointed Kay to chair the National Women's Business Council (NWBC).  "I am very much a big picture person who likes to look out to the horizon," she says.  "I wanted to do something in my three-year term as chair that we could measure and say we actually moved the needle for women-led businesses."  She found the opportunity she was seeking in accelerating women-led businesses' access to venture capital. 

At the NWBC Kay had the perfect partner for launching something no one had done before, Executive Director Amy Millman, now president of Springboard Enterprises.   Before being appointed by the Clinton administration to lead the NWBC, Amy had been a Washington DC lobbyist for major industry and trade groups, including Philip Morris Inc. and the trucking industry. 

What these two dynamic women brought to the table were connections.  Kay knew the business leaders and venture capitalists; Amy knew the players in the women's community and  understood the politics. 

Taking Action:  Launching Springboard 2000

Kay and Amy went the Mecca for venture capital, Silicon Valley.  There they met with a small group of pioneering women leaders who already had started working on access to venture capital for women-owned and -led businesses. (See Sidebar)  The original plan was to host a national conference to raise awareness of the issues of women's access to venture capital.  They quickly concluded it was time to stop talking and take action that would have measurable results for women entrepreneurs.

(Side-bar:  Springboard Enterprises founders:  The co-founders include Kay Koplovitz, Amy Millman, Denise Brosseau, Cate Muther, Jim Robbins, Andrea Silbert, Debra Filtzer, Penny Pickett, Ginger Lew, Mary MacPherson, Hedy Ratner, Patty Abramson, Wendy Kanarek, Rob Stein and Karen Bixby)

Thus was born Springboard 2000, the first-ever venture forum exclusively for women-led companies.  "Our plan," Millman says, "was to present women-led firms in technology and life-sciences to a crowd of venture capitalists with the goal of securing millions of dollars in funding for each company." Thanks to Kay's contacts, Springboard would have an auspicious launch -- Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, agreed to host Springboard 2000 at his company's headquarters. 

The team sent out the call for applications, crossing their fingers they would get 100 applicants.    They received 350! 

Twenty-six companies were chosen to present.  Amy had attended a number of venture capital forums to identify best practices and quickly realized that the most critical success factor for presenters was preparation.  Kay and Amy were determined leave nothing to chance.  Each presenter was surrounded with a team of coaches -- lawyers, bankers, VC's, and a professional presentation coach.  The coaches met with the companies, reviewing their business plans and helping them polish their investor presentations. 

Lauren Flanagan was in this first Springboard class.  She had successfully launched and run several software companies but had never raised capital for them. When her latest company, WebWare, began to gain traction and needed cash to fuel growth, she decided it was time to raise money. 

WebWare pioneered software that provided a platform for companies to implement and manage brand assets across the enterprise anytime, anywhere and in any format.  When Lauren was chosen for Springboard, the company was already four years old and had big customers -- including Boeing, Amgen, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and The Jim Henson Company. 

  "But,"says Lauren, "I did not know the language of talking to investors. One of my coaches, a very savvy woman banker from Silicon Valley Bank, said after listening to me pitch, ' Lauren, I can tell you are really smart and very passionate, but I have to be honest.  I don't have any idea what you are doing and what you just said.' "

"It was a real eye-opener," continues Lauren.  "I worked with my coaches to develop a story the investors would understand."  It worked and she received multiple offers, eventually raising over $20 million. 

Twenty-two of the companies in the first venture forum were funded, two companies merged, one company sold, and only one was not funded. 

 Even before the success of the first Springboard forum, Amy had spread the word and additional venture forums were planned in the Washington DC area hosted by AOL, followed by forums in Boston at Harvard, and then New York, Texas, North Carolina, and Chicago.  As of 2013, there have been 25 venture forums.  

Sidebar:  Springboard Statistics as of 2013

·      537 companies

·      83% raised funding

·      $6.2 billion raised

·      10 IPOs

·      81% of the companies still in business either as independent entity or as part of an acquired entity

Moving Forward

It soon became clear that Springboard would be viable as an independent enterprise.  Although launched under the auspices of the NWBC, its funding had come entirely from the private sector.  So, with the support of the Kansas-city based Kauffman Foundation, it separated from its government ties and became an independent nonprofit with the name Springboard 2000 Enterprises Inc.  Amy Millman became president, and, after completing her term as NWBC Chair, Kay Koplovitz joined the Board of Directors as chair. 

Amy negotiated an agreement with The George Washington University to house Springboard Enterprises at its Mt. Vernon campus, a campus dedicated to educating women leaders.  Having Springboard Enterprises resident at the GWU/Mt. Vernon campus expands the horizon for the women students, especially those aspiring to entrepreneurship.  The students and Springboard both benefit from student internships.    

The Transformation:  From Program Focus to Network

Initially Springboard was program oriented, focusing on the venture forums.  Today, the focus is on creating a customized network of coaches and connections for every company.  "Success is based on relationships," says Amy.   

Instead of a few meetings with advisors for the sole purpose of preparing for a venture capital forum, there is an ongoing relationship between the entrepreneur and her team of advisors.  The coaching teams include Springboard alumnae as well as bankers, lawyers, accountants, and corporate executives.  The team also may include potential strategic partners, investors, and customers.  In addition to providing subject matter expertise, the coaches make valuable connections for the women.  Coaches often are invited to join the company's advisory board or board of directors.  Today, Springboard can draw on a pool of over 5,000 volunteer coaches.

Springboard now conducts an annual accelerator program.  Selected companies go through the program in cohorts.  Each cohort starts with the "Bootcamp," which is both an orientation and an opportunity to assess each company's needs. 

"We do a SWOT analysis for every company," says Amy, "and select the coaches based on the needs of the entrepreneur and her company."  Often the team leader is a Springboard alumna because they are the most knowledgeable about the business building and money raising process. 

For most women, the network is as important as the help in raising capital.  Luan Cox, Springboard class of 2013, is founder and CEO of Crowdnetic, a leading provider of funding portal platform technology and market data solutions to the private equity and crowd funded securities industry.  "For the first time, we are bringing together investors and the very important group of small and medium-sized enterprises who are dying for capital.  Our goal is to create more capital, more jobs, and improve the economy," says Luan.

Although she has led several startups, Luan finds tremendous value in the Springboard networks and coaching.  "Springboard is as much about the support, camaraderie, brutal honesty, and being with women who have accomplished so much -- and who have your back  -- as it is about helping us get investments." 

Getting funding is the beginning of the journey, not the end.  "We stay with our companies and our entrepreneurs forever," says Kay Koplovitz. "They come back as their companies go through different growth stages or when they are getting ready to sell or go IPO.   And then, we have a lot of serial entrepreneurs -- so they come back when they start a new business -- and often go through the whole program all over."

"Springboard Enterprises is like Hotel California," says Lauren Flanagan. "You can check out anytime you want… but you can never leave!"

The Funding Model is Changing

Because the funding strategy differs by industry, companies are divided into media/technology and life sciences (biotech, devices, diagnostics and health IT).  Advances in technology have drastically reduced the amount of money the media tech companies need as well the turnaround time to realize the benefit of the investment.  In contrast, the biotech companies must raise much larger sums of money – upwards to $100 million – to take them through the regulatory process and to market which could be as much as ten to twelve years.  

Companies are matched with potential strategic partners and investors in one-on-one settings. "This is a more effective strategy and yields a higher success rate for our companies." says Amy. 



% of Total

Biotechnology/Healthcare Svcs/Medical Dvcs



Software/IT Services



Media and Entertainment



Business Products and Services



Consumer Products and Services






Financial Services








While Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston are still the centers of venture capital, new investment models such as crowd finance from accredited investors are emerging.  "These changes will lead to the democratization of capital, and I think this is a good thing for women because it opens up the marketplace to many more potential investors who wouldn’t ordinarily know about the opportunities presented by our Springboard companies," Koplovitz says.  

Part of the value of the coaching network is that coaches and fellow entrepreneurs often have connections that lead to funding sources.

Dr. Joan Fallon, Springboard class of 2009, is the founder and CEO of Curemark.  She founded Curemark to develop a treatment for children with autism based on a proprietary technology.  "We are bringing hope to children where there hasn't been any," says Joan.  "We've been able to look at autism in a unique way and to look at early drug development in a different way."  In addition, Curemark is one of the first virtual biotech companies.  "So we are creating a new paradigm in multiple areas."

Joan credits Springboard with helping her raise money.  "There is no venture capital in drug development for autism," she says.  A significant portion of the money she raised came through connections from other Springboard companies and Springboard advisors, some investing themselves in her company; others providing introductions to potential investors.  However, it is not just the access to funding that is valuable.  "When you have someone looking at your company who has been there and done it before, it makes a big difference." 

Curemark’s drug for autism has a Fast Track designation from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and pre-submission of the rolling New Drug Application (allowing completed sections of the NDA to be submitted as completed) has commenced under that program.  "We are at a point now where we have many options about where we take this company,"  says Joan,  "including being acquired, vertically integrating, or going to the public markets." 

Presentation Preparation is Still Critical

No matter the funding source, it is still critical to learn how to pitch the company using the language investors understand. Says Millman, "One of the most important things we do is help our women ‘speak investor.'"   Today, instead of preparing for one big shot presentation, the entrepreneur prepares for perhaps hundreds of pitches – two minute, five minute, ten minute and hour long --  presentations they will give over the lifespan of their business.    

"It is not just about getting in the door to meet with an investor," says Luan.  "If you don't have the right message and presentation skills to nail it when you get in there, you might as well not even bother."  She echoes what other Springboard alumnae say, "I can honestly say that my funding would not have come through if I hadn't had the Springboard training."  

Women Investing in other Women

At the core, the Springboard model is about women investing in women.  Springboard alumnae are recognizing that they have an expertise to share with other women and are giving back by participating on the coaching teams and sharing their connections.

Plus, they are investing money in other women's companies. It is not totally altruistic -- they are realizing a return on their investment while making a difference for other women.  

From her earliest days at the NWBC, Amy urged women to invest in each other.  "Springboard today is a fulfillment of that dream," she says. 

When Lauren Flanagan sold her company, Amy asked her to coach some of the new entrepreneurs.  As she worked with these women, Lauren started investing in their companies and now she is invested in 35 companies.  But she wanted to do something broader, so she founded BELLE Capital USA along with two other partners—one of whom is a Springboard alumna, to provide early stage funding to women entrepreneurs.

Limited partners in BELLE include successful corporate executives who are acting as coaches and several Springboard alumnae who have had positive liquidity events and have money to invest or who have made a choice to diversify some of their holdings into other women entrepreneurs.  In addition to the financial investment, BELLE Capital and its investors bring their human capital, helping their entrepreneurs raise additional capital, acting as advisors, and, if there is a fit, joining the company as a board director, board observer or advisor.

"Even as women come into Springboard, we are pitching them on investing in each other.  So when the time comes that they have the money to invest, they already are primed to invest in other women," says Lauren. 

The Future

Going Global  

 Springboard is having a global impact. Springboard programs have been held in Israel and Australia. The percentage of Springboard companies headquartered outside the U.S. is growing steadily.  Clearly the model works across national boundaries; expansion depends on developing in-country partners and local infrastructure to lead the programs. Meanwhile, those non-US based companies that intend to enter the US market are encouraged to apply to the U.S. program. 

Extending the Outreach

Recently there has been rapid growth in entrepreneurial incubators and early stage accelerators.  Just as Springboard saw that women were not getting access to venture capital, they now see that the entrepreneurial pipeline coming through the incubators is predominantly male.  Springboard is partnering with many of them to increase women's participation.   While the incubator companies are earlier stage than Springboard companies, they have the potential to be feeders into the Springboard process.

Springboard also is expanding the benefits of the network model to other groups.  The Dolphin Tank™ is named intentionally to contrast with the Shark Tank.  Because dolphins swim along with you to help you be a success, a metaphor for the Springboard model.  The program is a stand-alone “helpful feedback-driven” pitch session designed to provide entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs -- both women and men -- with actionable insights and connections from knowledgeable people in the audience.  Dolphin Tanks™ are held at universities, during business conferences, and are a popular session at Springboard events.

The Future

Similar to its companies, Springboard is looking to its future.    

"Springboard has shown that women are able to scale a business and put together an 'A' team," says Kay.  "We will continue to grow the ecosystem that will move the next generation of companies even further."

"Springboard is about the power of relationships and connections," adds Amy.  "As long as there are women entrepreneurs who want to grow a business matched with women who have done it and who realize that by giving back, they themselves are benefitting, Springboard will be strong and continue to expand."

And, the next generation stands ready to take a leadership role.

"I think we are at a pivotal moment in the opportunities for women-led companies," says Luan Cox.  "The 20, 30 and 40-year-olds need to step up and take the baton.  The call to action for women like me to get arm in arm with leaders like Kay and Amy and say 'Let's plan the next sixty years.'"

For more information on Springboard and successfully preparing your company to pursue investment capital, visit

For more information about the early days of Springboard Enterprises read Kay’s e-book Bold Women, Big Ideas by Kay Koplovitz with Peter Israel.

SHARON HADARY, Ph.D, is the co-author with Laura Henderson of How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know. Sharon, former and founding executive director of the Center for Women's Leadership, adjunct professor in the Doctor of Management Program at the University of Maryland University College, and a Small Business Expert for the Wall Street Journal's Small Business Forum, is a recognized thought-leader on women's entrepreneurship and leadership. She is a member of the Enterprising Women Advisory Board and has been inducted into the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame.  Contact Sharon at 

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