Mary Jo Gorman, Prosper Women Entrepreneurs

Mary Jo Gorman

Investing in
Women-Led Businesses

Editors’ Note

Mary Jo Gorman has held her current post since 2014. Before this, she was Managing Director for Golden Seeds; Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer for Advanced ICU Care; Chief Medical Officer for IPC-The Hospitalist Company; and Chairman of Critical Care at SSM DePaul Health Center. She received her B.A. from Saint Louis University, her M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and her M.D. from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Organization Brief

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs (prosperstl.com; PWE) was created to advance women-led companies. PWE is comprised of two separate divisions: Brazen, a nonprofit organization that helps growth-seeking women entrepreneurs advance their businesses to create economic prosperity, and the Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator, a for- profit organization focused on increasing women entrepreneurs’ access to growth capital and the number of women investing in early stage capital markets.

What is the vision and mission for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs?

Literally hundreds of women start businesses every day but they don’t build them as large as men, nor do they receive capital funding at the same rate as men.

We looked at how we can have an impact on that fact and realized that investing as a venture fund would allow us to make small investments in a large number of companies. We are determined to help move those women-led companies to the next level to attract additional capital from investors.

As a venture fund, we believe that women are an under-invested and under-resourced asset class. Our hypothesis is that we’ll do at least as well as, and probably better than, other kinds of venture funds because we focus solely on one segment.

Is the focus nationwide?

The first of our criteria is that a company has to be woman-led, which we define as having a woman on the executive team with a significant amount of equity. Primarily, we have been U.S.-based and also in an industry we know well and with a company we believe we can move forward.

How does the process work?

We have received more than 1,000 applications over the past two-and-a-half years and we have made 27 investments, so that gives one an idea of the competition.

For each cohort, we narrow down the group of applicants to about 200, and nearly 100 percent of those applications meet our criteria.

We further narrow that group to 25 and conduct due diligence confirming with them that they understand they are required to be in St. Louis for part of the program.

We try to fully probe why they’re interested and what they hope to achieve before finally taking a group of 15 to our selection committee. At the end of this comprehensive process, we select five or six companies to participate in the class.

Do you think someone is born with that certain something that makes for a successful entrepreneur?

There are certain well-documented characteristics that correlate with success as an entrepreneur. We’re looking for those characteristics with a leadership assessment, which is part of our evaluation. One is risk tolerance. Another big one is critical thinking skills, which is definitely impacted by education and the situations one is exposed to in terms of education, parenting, and family. While a person can improve upon that measure, the reality is that by the time someone is in their 20s, it’s pretty well fixed.