The 98 Fund for "fantastic female founders"
Around three years ago, digital leaders Joy Marcus '83 and Lynda Clarizio '82 were at a stage in their careers where, while they had a great deal to offer to companies as operating executives, they were also disappointed in the lack of investment in women-founded companies from venture capitalists. So, they decided to create an investment group that first began with a group of 30 women, including Erin Enright '82, Fay Landes '82, Martha McCully '82 and Diane deCordova '83. Together, they would invest small amounts, creating many single purpose funds; however, they quickly realized that having multiple funds under one umbrella was less efficient and impactful than having one central fund. To remedy this, they decided to change their business model and they created The 98, an investment fund for female-led startups in Seed or Series A rounds. The fund's name reflects its mission to help rectify the saddening statistic that only 2% of venture capital funding ends up going towards women-led ventures.
To date, the team has invested in multiple Princeton alumnae founded ventures, including The Vendry, led by Daphne Hoppenot '10, Realworld, led by Genevieve Bellaire '11, and most recently, Paladin, led by Kristen Sonday '09. Paladin is a legal tech company that helps law firms and in-house legal departments source and manage their pro bono programs and opportunities. The 98 participated in Sonday’s recent $8 million Series A financing, alongside other prominent investors like Mark Cuban, C2 Ventures, and Hyde Park Venture Partners.
As far as selecting which businesses to fund, Marcus states that while a woman should have “significant ownership” in a company as a C-suite executive, she does not have to be its founder. She continued to say that the true purpose of the fund is to help fantastic female entrepreneurs realize their goals, while realizing significant returns for investors in the fund. In terms of focus sectors, The 98 concentrates on investing in tech-enabled businesses in commerce, media, health and wellness, fintech and legal tech and plans to invest somewhere between half a million and a million dollars in each of its portfolio companies.
The duo lends great credit to Princeton for allowing them to meet and giving them the connections needed to get their fund off the ground. Clarizio said that “The Princeton ecosystem has been remarkable in raising awareness about The 98 and referring us to extraordinary female founders. We also wouldn’t have been able to raise the fund without investment support from Princeton friends and alums.” Additionally, Clarizio said that being in one of the early classes that admitted women to the University motivated her to be a female leader and pushed her to do things that she never thought she could do, The 98 being one of them.
Both Clarizio and Marcus underscored the tremendous value that their dynamic relationship brings to The 98. According to Marcus, she and Clarizio have been “collaborating together since '82,” when Clarizio was assigned to Marcus as her mentor for her Junior Task Force project as an upperclassman in the Woodrow Wilson School (now known as the School of Public and International Affairs.) Years later, they worked together at AOL and Time Warner. In 2018, they began extensive work on the fund, which has brought them to where they are now.
With her experience teaching the foundational entrepreneurship class at Princeton’s Keller Center, Marcus has extensive experience in digital publishing, content, and e-commerce, while Clarizio brings deep expertise in data and advertising. (Clarizio’s experience in these fields is so extensive that she now sits on the leadership council of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.) More generally, Marcus discussed the reassurance and mutual trust she always feels when collaborating with or hiring Princeton alumni — “It’s always going to be high-quality.” She, Clarizio, and many members of their initial investment group were so connected to Princeton that their early pitch deck’s colors were orange and black.
Marcus stated that the fund enjoys making relationships with skilled entrepreneurs and they also enjoy mentoring even those that are deemed too early-stage for the fund; she emphasized that forging relationships and working collaboratively in the field is crucial for success. Additionally, Marcus said that creating an ecosystem like this around The 98 is “changing the face of venture capital.” The 98’s specific plans on fostering mentorship are still to be determined. “It could take the form of boot camps, it could take the form of an incubator,” she said.
In terms of how Princeton’s entrepreneurial ecosystem can help The 98, Marcus highlighted that spreading the word is most important to female entrepreneurs of promising tech-enabled businesses. If you are a female entrepreneur or know someone who is, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered!