Breen Sullivan, founder and CEO of The Fourth Floor, shares her journey from a serial startup common counsel to leader of a platform that is breaking ceilings and assisting ladies-led startups attain accessibility to funding and vital advisors.
CCBJ: You should share a little little bit of your track record with us.
Breen Sullivan: My qualifications is as a common counsel for tech startups. For two, I was the initial authorized use and developed out the lawful functions. At the third I was the Main Administrative Officer, CHRO and Typical Counsel. As a generalist for tech startups, I begun to recognize something: in all a few organizations, male colleagues were being angel investing and serving on advisory and governing boards of startups (and finding promoted!) and female colleagues weren’t. When I attempted to find related ‘under-the-radar’ board and expense opportunities for myself, there was no obvious position to go. As a tech attorney, I also realized numerous startups really do not choose comprehensive edge of advisory boards or fill all of their open up board or observer seats, which implies much less opportunities than there require to be.
We often hear about lack of access for girls to community and massive company boards but we hardly ever feel to hear about lack of entry for females to the considerably less pretty, a lot less large profile prospects, like advisory board positions or smaller sized company company board roles, and so forth., that much more normally than not lay the foundation for the type of networking and experienced development (and for-gain board knowledge!) that ladies need to achieve accessibility to more substantial, much more-sought-immediately after alternatives down the highway. Access to these ‘feeder’ board options, nevertheless, are controlled almost entirely by an invisible and informal community that gals usually are not a part of.
Then when I fulfilled Katrin de Haën, a serial entrepreneur, I realized females business people confront comparable obtain difficulties when it will come to funding and expansion opportunities, and do not always have the instruments, assets or network to just take advantage of the price that advisory board or unbiased directors could provide to their startups. It turned apparent that bringing these two groups of women of all ages with each other who really do not often fulfill every single other would produce a mutually valuable marketplace that could split open up that monopoly.
This perception (and disappointment!) led me to develop The Fourth Ground to be this new form of position exactly where ladies can hack the process, initiate and progress their for-profit board occupations, make equity, and get started investing. Proper away, we started supporting ladies-led startups obtain advisors and funding which led us to combination ladies-led startup board alternatives into a board seat exchange accessible to qualified ladies.
In 2021 we understood two much more things: 1). We experienced designed a market for below the radar board and investment opportunities and they have been gradually but absolutely transforming the demographics of the pipeline of ‘board-all set candidates’ by obtaining ladies on to the boards and cap tables of ladies-led startups, and 2). It was not ample. We required to do a lot more.
Girls want to be on boards, but they also have to have funding, and they will need to be crafting checks. So The Fourth Flooring produced a ‘Back Room’ for founders, ladies-led money, angels and confined associates to inspire females to spend in each and every other and open up their boards and cap tables as a way to even more amount the playing field.
When you first conceived of founding The Fourth Floor, what was your general vision and how has that developed as you’ve labored with much more candidates, buyers and founders?
Excellent concern. At the beginning, the worth proposition that we were being focused on was extremely obvious: the price that ladies (primarily legal professionals!) could provide to advisory boards and governing boards of early-phase, females-led startups and the mutual advantages that could be reaped by the exchange.
On the other hand, we usually understood that we required to do more and our mission was much larger. We want to close the gender prosperity and funding gap by diversifying boards and cap tables. We want to get much more ladies on boards, more women funded and additional ladies creating checks. So how do we remodel the benefit creation circle we constructed with females founders, candidates and buyers into a current market answer?
We understood there was opportunity to drive systemic alter on a a great deal much larger scale and make a dent in the gender prosperity and funding hole if we could incentivize the full business group- male-led businesses involved- to dedicate to tangible techniques that would make variety at the board level a truth and guarantee a regular stream of board prospects and certified candidates, so that is what drove us to appear up with the Pay out It Forward Initiative.
Latest moves by NASDAQ (diversify or delist), the Securities and Exchange Fee and players like Goldman Sachs, not to mention the laws in California necessitating board range, all counsel we require an economical, transparent ‘Market Network’ for diverse board candidates sooner rather than later on. The Fourth Floor thinks it can be that useful resource and assist to accelerate the alter that is by now in the air.
The Fourth Floor’s Fork out It Forward Initiative will spearhead this transformation by enlisting hundreds of businesses between now and 2025 to acquire a pledge to near the gender prosperity and funding hole by diversifying boardrooms and cap tables. The Initiative kicked off March 29th of this 12 months and is focusing on a goal to advance for-income board careers for 75k girls by the finish of 2025.
We figured out a way to incentivize businesses to believe otherwise about their boards and revolutionize how they evaluate DE&I: Fork out It Forward Companions obtain a seal (imagine Superior Housekeeping) and credits for the range of options they develop (sort of like carbon off-sets). Pre-launch associates presently include CCBJ, NYSERDA, PEWIN, The Innovation House and Stella Labs, Trulieve, Vibrant Electricity, Archetype and Open up Grants with numerous more lining up. The Initiative will officially launch in May well.
Fork out It Forward incentivizes all companies to ‘pull more chairs up to the table,’ bring variety into their boardroom, and empower gals executives to initiate or progress for-income board occupations all while conserving money from the bottom line. Sorry for the shameless plug, but if you are a CEO, CHRO, board member or final decision maker, now is the second to not get remaining behind! You can get the pledge and begin advancing board careers for girls right now. If you are intrigued in nominating oneself for a life time Board Applicant Membership or nominating your employer to come to be a Pay It Ahead Husband or wife, study a lot more on The Fourth Ground web site.
As for getting far more gals funded and extra women of all ages composing checks, that is the mission of our ‘back room’ financial investment club. There are a large amount of factors why bringing collectively women of all ages business owners with girls-led funds and accredited investor Board Applicant users just will make perception. Females-led resources have to have far more revenue in their coffers, gals need additional accessibility to investment decision opportunities, and women-led startups will need funding. Because ladies are more possible to spend in women founders and they are a lot more probably to spend aligned with their values, these 3 networks need to be related. We have massive options for The Again Room, but thoroughly checking out its possible will very likely not take place right until soon after the Pay It Forward Initiative is in complete swing. So stay tuned!
What’s your suggestions to gals searching to acquire obtain to board support and/or money, and what problems have you seen climbing stars make along the way?
Community, network, network—and comprehension that one’s skilled network is unique from a board network. You have to have to go outside the house your comfort and ease zone, to acquire threats, to fulfill groups of folks who you wouldn’t typically meet. That is a truly essential section of attaining access to for-earnings board company and having began in investing.
When it will come to raising funds as a lady founder, there is no simple route, but women of all ages-led cash are 3 situations a lot more likely to devote in women of all ages-led ventures, so networking with women of all ages who are crafting checks of any kind can be particularly handy. To the extent you can tap into differentiated networks outside of your individual shut circle (specifically kinds that are united with a popular mission or purpose linked to acquiring you funded or obtaining you on a board), it will be exponentially useful.
Ladies also have a tendency to be additional chance adverse than adult males. It can truly feel overpowering beginning a board job or an expense portfolio and it is scary! But it is very critical we set ourselves out there, and that we choose risks. They can be good challenges, educated challenges, but we want to leap in and get began. And aspect of currently being capable to do that is reframing how we think of ourselves. Ideal is the enemy of good. We’re in no way going to be excellent but we need to have to believe that that we’re good ample. There are 10 million board rooms in this place crammed with imperfect men- it’s time for some imperfect ladies to join them at the desk!
What are your membership standards and how does the plan work?
At the specific degree, we acknowledge the following classes of associates:
Startup Founders: We settle for women of all ages and women of all ages-figuring out founders and co-founders of early-phase, scalable and expansion-oriented startups, concept stage as a result of sequence B. Founders qualify for a absolutely free membership if they listing at minimum 1 opportunity in our board seat trade and/or back room financial commitment club.
Board Candidates: In get to sign up for us as a Board Prospect Member, you will have to have a requisite stage of skilled knowledge, which we’ve decided to be at minimum 10 yrs, despite the fact that we also look at the high quality of that qualified practical experience and the level of seniority that that individual has reached above the training course of their job. You can either acquire a Board Applicant Membership instantly from our platform or you can obtain a daily life-lengthy, no cost membership as a Board Prospect Nominee through our Shell out It Forward Initiative. At some point we hope to be equipped to provide no cost, daily life-extensive Board Prospect membership to all capable women. As the range of Spend It Forward Companion organizations boost, so will the pool of out there nominations to give out. In the interim, we persuade all Board Candidate Members to inform their employer about the Pay It Forward Initiative.
Dream Backers: We are about to start out offering a ‘Dream Backer Membership’ for ladies fascinated in remaining a portion of The Back again Room Investment Club only. This membership is for gals who are interested in angel, enterprise and/or other forms of investing. To qualify, ladies have to be accredited investors.
At the company level, we settle for the following groups of associates:
Pay It Forward Partners: Open to all for earnings companies
Greater Effects Partners: Open up to innovation labs, accelerators, resources, B2B firms, expert service company corporations, NGOs, Communities, Federal government Companies and Associations
Girls-led Resources: funds that are ‘women-led’ (50% or more owned and operated by a girl).
What are some milestones that you have established for The Fourth Floor?
The greatest and most significant milestone is the a person we gave ourselves for the shell out-it-forward initiative. We hope to progress 75,000 for-financial gain board occupations for females by the finish of 2025 and to reach that aim we want to get somewhere around 15-20k corporations to participate in the initiative. We consider we can obtain this by forming larger effect partnerships with organizations that can assist join us to hundreds and hundreds of prospective pay out-it-ahead associates and also through amplification of this initiative.
The Spend It Forward Initiative is a market option to a social dilemma which we assume has probable to drive a lot more systemic modify in the limited phrase than a legislative resolution. Of program we need to have a lot more legislation like the rules in California and more actions like people taken by NASDAQ and the SEC, but we also have to have a market approach that incentivizes providers across this nation to just take a step back and feel a very little otherwise about their boards. If the Pay back It Ahead framework can assistance businesses see some cost savings from their base line, improve diversity in their boardroom, spend in their govt women of all ages talent and make them more organization or expenditure pounds, then they will participate, and by participating, they will enable us produce new board alternatives and combination current kinds into a board seat exchange that will get started to change board demographics in this nation.
Membership development is a further milestone and a large amount of this goes hand-in-hand with the pay out-it-ahead initiative. If we can strike that 75,000 variety, it will suggest a giant influx of Board Applicant Members at The Fourth Ground. The similar goes for the about 20,000 new board-similar alternatives we have focused for our Board Seat Trade. So these are some very major plans.
We also strategy to increase our founder and trader membership concurrently. As our back again home expenditure club grows, we will be ready to provide more funding chances for ladies-led ventures and a lot more expenditure prospects for women hoping to get the plunge and start out investing with a women-led fund or a women-led venture.
And finally, there are our amplification and messaging milestones. We truly want to get the word out there about what is achievable and why it’s so critical to drive systemic alter when it comes to the gender prosperity and funding gap in this country—and then all over the world.
On a very little little bit additional of a personal observe, we would adore to know who and what has motivated you along your expert path.
I was born and lifted in Alaska so I’ve normally been a bit of an outsider, primarily on the east coast, which is where I have expended a lot of my adult life. My atypical background and working experience has assisted me have an understanding of there is the way most men and women do issues and then there are other strategies to do items. There is usually an outside the house-the-box tactic, a way to make that pie even bigger.
I also realized early on that you can take management of your narrative and that can get you to a various location. Also, most points are not as terrible as they seem and most matters are achievable if you seriously keep focused on that purpose and you are open to rolling with the punches and getting choice routes to get there. I also experienced a few exciting difficulties when I was acquiring started professionally – I was living in Morocco when 9/11 took place and in New Orleans when Katrina strike. I ended up possessing an atypical entrée into the authorized profession as a final result. These encounters taught me overall flexibility and not just accepting points as they are.
I observed various firms where by the entrepreneurs and board users have been all white adult men. You can both just settle for that or you can imagine about it in another way. Why not make an on ramp for women of all ages to get on boards immediately? Why do we have to wait?
Four or 5 time in my life I was compelled to discover an alternate route to attain what I needed. It was usually probable then, so why just can’t the identical point be true listed here?