About a year ago, Erika Szychowski, the founder of a protein snack company called Good Zebra, had a startling realization about what it means to be a female founder. Szychowski had reached out to a network of other founders and unearthed a disturbing finding: Most of the women she spoke with said they would never have been able to secure funding if they hadn't had support from a man.
“They’d say, ‘I would never have raised funding if I hadn’t taken my husband into the room or made my brother my co-founder,’” Szychowski told Refinery29. These findings planted a seed in Szychowski’s mind, and she started researching and trying to understand what better funding for women entrepreneurs and founders looked like.“I thought, I don’t have any of that [support from men]! And I didn’t think it was necessary.”
After reflecting on how best to change the business landscape for women, Szychowski put a plan in action and co-founded the F Project along with Phyllis Dealy. The newly-launched social impact project is an initiative to help female founders become more visible to consumers. The project plans to recruit 100 female founders — which already include Rebecca Minkoff, Third Love’s Heidi Zak, and more — from a diverse mix of brands at different stages. The founders will then take a pledge to seek out, buy, and gift female-founded products, and mentor and support fellow female founders to help get more women-led businesses off the ground.
"How do we shine light on female founders and support one another, in a way that women founders don’t always have to be talking about themselves?"
During her initial research, Szychowski found that many female founders struggled to talk about themselves and their accomplishments in the same way male founders do. “Men are way better about selling themselves and speaking in the ‘I’ whereas women speak in the ‘we,’” Szychowski said, noting that this became a crucial piece of how the F Project was structured. “It became a big a-ha moment: How do we shine light on female founders and support one another, in a way that women founders don’t always have to be talking about themselves?”
From Szychowski’s vantage point, when a woman lends her voice to the F Project, she is creating an opportunity for all women to rise. “The idea is: Can we each say amazing things about someone else?” Szychowski said, explaining that she sees the F Project becoming an collaborative marketplace — one that relies on empathetic storytelling about other women's brand stories. “If we each start to speak to our fans, friends, followers about other female founders, the hypothesis is [that] we can activate them to purchase from these brands.”
Honest storytelling is a crucial piece of The F Project, according to Szychowski. “There’s a lot of people trying to fix [inequality in business] but no one’s talking to consumers,” Szychowski said. “We don’t want to pitch to them; we want to story-tell and emotionally connect them to these founders through collaboration.”
In a world that routinely disadvantages women in almost every field, women are often taught to view one another as competitors instead of potential allies. Szychowski realizes the existence of this scarcity mindsets among women in business, and hopes the F Project can help to address it. “Every woman is different because we’re at different stages of our journey,” Szychowski concluded. “[But] I believe that if we can garner support and feel non-competitive with one another we can change the game.”