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Veteran Chicago Trader Creates Angel Fund for Women Entrepreneurs

Women represent only 19 percent of angel investors in America. To combat that inequity, Carolyn Leonard is raising $1.92 million to help fund female-led companies.

Photo: (Leonard) Courtesy of Carolyn Leonard); (event) Shia Kapos

They sipped “rumtinis,” nibbled truffle mushroom risotto bites, and hobnobbed the way you do after work. But this wasn’t your average women’s networking event. Nearly 100 business-types gathered at the Tortoise Club last week to hear a veteran trader talk about a new investment fund—for women.

Carolyn Leonard, among the first women to trade in the Chicago Board Options Exchange pit, has formed DyMynd Angels Fund to promote women entrepreneurs.

“It’s about women supporting other women,” Leonard said before she and business partner Monika Black stepped to a microphone to make the ask. They’re looking for contributions of $1,000 each to help fund women-run start-ups.

What inspired you to start the fund?

The idea came after I attended the Hera Venture Summit in San Diego last year and learned that there were no female angel funds in Chicago. Women entrepreneurs in Chicago receive $2.90 for every $100 her male counterpart receives. The inaccessibility to capital stems from a simple human factor—people invest in people who look like themselves. Men who graduated from Stanford support young men who graduate from Stanford.

What’s the goal?

Our goal is to raise $1.92 million. We got that number from the year 1920, when women won the right to vote—white women, that is. The rest of America got that right in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act. We’re calling it the 1920 “Vote Your Money” campaign and asking 1,920 people to contribute $1,000 each. We’ve opened up contributions to accept $100 and up. The fund will continue to reinvest capital. As one company exits, we’ll deploy the capital to fund a new female-led company.

How are you getting investors?

We like to call them contributors. Women are more comfortable with that. DyMynd Angels hosts Angel Hours at least once a month. They’re networking events over coffee or cocktails. It gives women the opportunity to meet and network with the entrepreneurial community, learn about challenges female founders have, and become part of the ecosystem.

Who are your contributors?

Women try to support other women, so we’re encouraging women from all walks of life and careers to support the DyMynd Angel Initiative. And by the way, we’re encouraging men to participate in our movement. This isn’t exclusive.

What’s the challenge?

In the past I wanted a seat at the table. Today I realize, as women, we need our own table. The challenge is getting the right people in the seats.

Are women investors different than men?

I’d flip the question. “What makes women founders different than men?” Female founders tend to create products that solve a problem. Most of the time the problem isn’t a man’s problem. ZipFit Jeans is a good example. [The Chicago-based company was founded by Liz Tilatti.]

How did you got your start as a trader?

I started trading out of a bad marriage and nasty divorce. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood on the North Shore and a lot of my neighbors were CBOT/CME [Chicago Board of Trade/Chicago Mercantile Exchange]  traders. These men weren’t educated like the doctors or lawyers who lived in the neighborhood, but they could afford to live there. So I decided that if these guys could make a living trading, why not me?

I started as an unpaid clerk and just observed for three months. After I passed an SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] exam, I was ready. My mother loaned me the money for my trading account. My first day was a rude awakening. Traders told me they had never traded with a woman and they weren’t going to trade with me. It was basically a men’s club. It took me six months to break through and get in on all trades.

Given it’s a male-dominated industry, do you have a #MeToo story?

Trading floors were sexist environments. I faced gender bias both conscious and unconscious. But because I was self-employed, I didn’t face being put in a position where I depended upon a man in power for my success.

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