Companies founded by women have been attracting more venture funds in North Texas recently, but the percentage nationwide remains low. Sensing an opportunity to boost the numbers, serial entrepreneur Wendi McGowan-Ellis has founded a Frisco-based venture capital firm that will invest in part in growth-stage, women-owned and led companies in Texas, with an initial focus on Dallas-Fort Worth.
The first fund from Cassandra Capital LLC, the new VC firm, is a “rolling fund of funds” that’s aiming to raise $20 million, says McGowan-Ellis, who’s serving as Cassandra’s CEO. Eighty percent of the amount raised for Cass Cap Fund I LP is intended to be invested in four other women-owned venture capital firms: Houston’s The Artemis Fund, Chicago/Los Angeles-based Supply Chain Capital, and Portfolia and Chloe Capital, both with headquarters in New York.
“I picked these four firms to target because their current funds windows are open, they also invest in women-led companies, and each of them have different industries and markets that they target,” McGowan-Ellis says.
The remaining 20% raised for Cass Cap Fund I will be invested in early-revenue, scaling, and growth-stage women-owned and led companies through convertible notes providing nondilutive capital, McGowan-Ellis says. She’s especially interested in investing in companies in fields like health and wellness, smart homes and cities, clean energy, fintech, media, robotics, and sustainable beauty and fashion.
U.S. startups with all-women teams snagged just 1.9% of the roughly $238 billion in venture capital that was allocated last year, down from 2.4% in 2021, according to Pitchbook. In Dallas-Fort Worth, female-founded startups received $293 million in 35 deals in 2022, Pitchbook says. The year before, they raked in $973 million in 36 deals — far more than the sub-$100-million-dollar raises they typically saw in the previous 12 years.
‘We need it’
McGowan-Ellis says Cassandra is looking to fill a void in female-led VCs investing in North Texas women that was left by the closure of the Dallas-based Texas Women Ventures family of funds. “The fact that that fund is gone has removed any women-led venture organizations that are also investing in women in North Texas,” she says.
Texas Women Ventures, founded in 2005, invested more than $25 million in women-owned or led businesses in Texas and the Southwest, according to its website. BravoTECH and Freeman+Leonard CEO Valerie Freeman, one of TWV’s four founders, says the private-equity firm was shuttered “about three years ago” after its third fund had disappointing results.
McGowan-Ellis, a management consultant and founder of businesses including LifestyleFrisco.com and Wendistry.com, believes her background as an “operator-turned-investor” can help Cassandra succeed.
“I truly understand what it’s like to be a woman business owner trying to grow and scale,” she says. “We as women traditionally max out our credit cards, we go to friends and family, we think about SBA loans—we don’t think about trying to raise money. That’s not where our heads go first, as we’re building a business.
“Part of my mission with Cassandra Capital is not only to invest directly in these women and their businesses, but also to teach new investors who are women—accredited women who have that net worth—about getting into VC and being a limited partner, and having access to these alternative investments to really round out their portfolios and create wealth on their own,” she adds.
Freeman, the TWV co-founder, says McGowan-Ellis’ VC firm is welcome news. “Good for her if she can raise money for women-owned firms, because we need it,” Freeman says.
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