A woman’s place is in the…startup! Crowdfunder judgments, implicit bias, and the stereotype content model

When seeking investors via crowdfunding, female entrepreneurs benefit from the stereotype that they are more trustworthy than male entrepreneurs.

Authors: Michael A. Johnson, Regan M. Stevenson, Chaim R. Letwin
FindingsMethodology

Female entrepreneurs in the United States and abroad are less likely to obtain private funding (e.g. private equity, institutional capital, bank financing) than are male entrepreneurs, a phenomenon coined the “venture funding gender gap.” In the USA, only 1.3% of companies that receive venture capital funding are run by women. Previous research on this gender gap suggests there might be funding discrimination based on funders´ attitudes: If funders perceive that the characteristics of women are incongruent with those of a successful entrepreneur, they might perceive female entrepreneurs to be less competent than male ones and thus less worthy of capital.

In order to challenge this funding gender gap, this paper suggests that women may have an advantage over men when raising capital through crowdfunding, a type of microfinance in which capital is obtained from a large, diverse group of amateur investors, each of whom contributes a relatively small dollar amount. The authors hypothesize that, while gender stereotypes might negatively affect how investors perceive female entrepreneur´s competence, they will also positively affect how investors perceive female entrepreneur´s trustworthiness, leading lenders in this context to be more likely to support female entrepreneurs than their male counterparts. This is because crowdfunding is an informal and uncertain funding setting where trustworthiness plays a key role in the lenders´ decision to invest.

Given that stereotyping drives this effect, financial support is hypothesized to be greater for lenders with larger implicit gender bias. To test these hypotheses, researchers performed an archival analysis of projects in Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding site, and conducted a randomized controlled experiment. 

Findings

The analysis of 600 Kickstarted projects showed that women were significantly more likely to be funded than men and that they received a significantly larger amount of financial backing, thus showing that female entrepreneurs have an advantage over their male counterparts when seeking funding via crowdfunding:

  • Female entrepreneurs who led fundraising campaigns on Kickstarter between 2009 and 2012 were significantly more likely to reach their funding goals than those led by men.
  • Female entrepreneurs received, on average, 1.2 times more funding than their male counterparts.

To gain insight into crowdfunding investors’ decision-making processes, the authors next conducted a simulation of a crowdfunding pitch. A group of amateur investors watched a video of the pitch, which was delivered by either a male or female actor (all other details were constant between the two videos).

  • Investors ranked female entrepreneurs as significantly more trustworthy than male entrepreneurs: 0.62 points higher on a 5-point scale.
  • For every increase on the trustworthiness scale of one point, investors were significantly more willingness to fund the pitch: 0.72 points higher on a 7-point scale.
  • For every increase on the trustworthiness scale of one point, investors allocated $4.99 more to the entrepreneur instead of a safer investment.
  • As a result of perceived greater trustworthiness, being a woman indirectly caused entrepreneurs to receive significantly higher rankings in terms of willingness-to-invest: (0.44 points higher on a 7-point scale) and higher average funding (females received $3.09 more than male entrepreneurs. out of $50).
  • There was no significant relationship between gender and competence, suggesting that the entrepreneur’s gender did not affect investor perceptions of the entrepreneur’s competence.
  • When investors possessed high levels of implicit gender bias, the strength of that bias informed the extent to which they appraised women as more trustworthy than men.
    • For every one-point increase in implicit bias, investors ranked women as 1.62 points more trustworthy on a 5-point scale.
  • Furthermore, the extent of implicit bias influenced the indirect effect of gender on funding success, with a one-point increase in implicit bias correlating with:
  • A 1.12-point increase in the indirect effect of gender on willingness-to-fund 7-point scale.
  • A $7.27 increase in the indirect effect of gender on funding allocated.

Investors’ stereotypes and implicit bias affect their perception of entrepreneurs and subsequently influence their choices in crowdfunding decisions.

Methodology

In Study 1, the authors randomly sampled 600 of approximately 48,500 entrepreneurial funding campaigns conducted through the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, between 2009 and 2012.  They analyzed the relationship between the entrepreneur’s gender and campaign success, defined as both the total amount of money pledged and whether the campaign’s funding goal was reached (as the platform operated on an all or nothing model, meaning those projects that do not reach the goal do not receive the funding). In order to draw valid conclusions about this relationship, the authors took into account other factors influencing campaigns’ chances of success: Type of campaign, duration of the project, length of the funding campaign, size of the entrepreneur’s social network, number or reward levels offered, and quality of the campaign.

                  Study 2 was an experiment to isolate the effect of entrepreneur gender on funding success from other factors that might influence crowdfunding investment decisions as well as to gain insight into the cause(s) of this effect. Seventy-three amateur investor participants based in the eastern United States were randomly assigned to evaluate a crowdfunding 3-minute video pitch from an entrepreneur delivered by either a female or male actor. Participants viewed a video recording of the actor delivering the pitch as well as a mock crowdfunding website page for the company. Any differences between the two videos other than gender were minimized, including the script of the pitch and the actors’ age, race, and level of attractiveness. The authors also took into account participants’ gender, level of education, investment knowledge, and work experience. Participants then answered questionnaires that assessed:

  • How trustworthy and competent they perceived the entrepreneur to be.
  • How willing they were to invest in this company.
  • The proportion of $50 they would invest in this company relative to a money market mutual fund (they were told they had $50 to invest for both).
  • Implicit gender bias.

MLA: 

Johnson, Michael A., et al. “A woman’s place is in the…startup! Crowdfunder judgments, implicit bias, and the stereotype content model.” Journal of Business Venturing, vol. 33, no. 6, 2018, pp. 813-831.

APA: 

Johnson, Michael A., et al. (2018). A woman’s place is in the…startup! Crowdfunder judgments, implicit bias, and the stereotype content model. Journal of Business Venturing, 33(6), 813-831.

Chicago: 

Johnson, Michael A., et al. “A woman’s place is in the…startup! Crowdfunder judgments, implicit bias, and the stereotype content model.” Journal of Business Venturing 33, no. 6 (2018): 813-831.