Vicki LeMay is on an ambitious entrepreneurial mission after a decade in corporate America: To empower women business owners worldwide daunted by the startup phase of running a business.
But this venture isn't just a campaign slogan for LeMay, who previously held business strategy and management consulting roles for several brand name companies, including Nestle, Nikon and Reebok. Her passion is fueled, in part, from an alarming new Kauffman Foundation study that found women entrepreneurs receive $5 for every $100 of investment capital. One reason for the disparity, the study from the entrepreneur think tank found, was men begin with more money, which allows easier debt financing. The old-boys' investment community, moreover, has few women.
So LeMay, 37, sees not only a mission, but a business opportunity in Nap Time Startups, a Sarasota-based firm. The focus is to help women user-entrepreneurs who start businesses based on products they invented for their own use or their family. The company's name is derived from the idea that many entrepreneurs get their best work done when their kids take a nap — though LeMay, the CEO, doesn't have children.
“These women have amazing ideas, and they don't know where to go,” says LeMay. “It's amazing how hard it is for women to get funding.”
That's why Nap Time Startups starts with what LeMay calls a boutique-style crowd funding ecosystem. Crowd funding is an Internet-based method for raising money for a project, from a startup to a new product to supporting someone's dream to make it in Hollywood. Crowd funding differs from venture or angel capital because it aims to raise small amounts of money from a large group of people, who don't receive equity in the business in change for their investment.
LeMay, however, says Nap Time seeks to provide more services than standard crowd funding sites, which are mostly only fundraising platforms. Nap Time services include: business coaching; contributor-investor feedback; a social network for entrepreneurs to engage with investors; and monthly status reports on the crowd funding projects.
The Nap Time business model is to take a percentage of the capital each entrepreneur raises on the system. So the incentive is mostly on LeMay and her team to match top ideas with the right investors. “We are trying to help with all the things that lead to success,” LeMay says. “It goes beyond 'is your crowd funding campaign successful?”
The first Nap Time crowd funding campaign is expected to launch in early December on www.naptimestartups.com. LeMay then targets at least two new launches a week over the next three months. She has a pipeline of entrepreneurs who want in, from Detroit to Italy. “This could be a very powerful approach,” says LeMay, “if we do it right.”
LeMay began her career in Boston, where she worked for consulting firm Cambridge Technology Partners. She moved to the Gulf Coast in 2009 and formed her own startup consulting business, SeedBoom. Through SeedBoom LeMay met John Montelione, a semi-retired Sarasota IT services executive who co-founded Nap Time and is now a business coach for the firm's clients.
LeMay is happy to leave her old career behind. “I've done my share of corporate America,” LeMay says. “But I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I've always wanted to do my own thing. It's scary as hell, but it's the only thing I want to do.”
Crowd funding 101
The crowd funding concept, raising money in small doses for a business or project through an Internet platform, can be a large boost for a startup. Vicki LeMay, CEO of Sarasota-based Nap Time Startups, a business devoted to helping women entrepreneurs launch crowd funding campaigns, offers some beginner's tips for doing crowd funding right.
Display the passion: LeMay says a key to a successful crowd funding campaign is to distance it from the others through storytelling. She says the passion an entrepreneur has in her product or service must come through in the campaign. And that story should be told in words, pictures and videos.
Be upfront: Much like a one-on-one, in-person meeting with investors, a crowd funding campaign should be clear about where the money will go.
Get going: Don't sign up for crowd funding and disappear, says LeMay. Instead, she suggests a search for perspective contributors before the campaign even launches. Then communicate with them over social media about the company and its goals.
Stay active: A cousin to get going, LeMay says, is don't set a crowd funding campaign and forget it. Check the page at least once a day, she says, and direct people there through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.