How She Does It: Elizabeth Kraus, Co-Founder of MergeLane

Elizabeth Kraus is co-founder of MergeLane (along with CEO & Co-Founder, Sue Heilbronner), which discovers, accelerates and invests in exceptional women and the companies they run.

She's an entrepreneur and angel investor, and founder of the Impact Angel Group, a group of investors equally dedicated to making a difference and realizing a return.

Prior to founding the Impact Angel Group, Elizabeth ran her own startup, myUsearch.com, and has been founding, working for and consulting for startups for her entire career.

She is an active angel investor, startup mentor and advisor, and she has been very active in the state and national effort to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem and mobilize angel investors. Elizabeth earned her B.A. in Marketing from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.

Designed to increase the number of women-led startups and to activate female leaders, the MergeLane accelerator program is structured to meet the needs and interests of companies with diverse management teams.

Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, MergeLane is a 12-week program. Companies must be physically present in Boulder for the first two weeks and last week of the program. MergeLane companies also are required to participate in virtual workshops, mentor meetings and leadership coaching sessions throughout the program.

*The first MergeLane class begins in February of 2015.  The deadline for application is December 15th.*


Deb: Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Elizabeth. So, how did get started as an entrepreneur?



Elizabeth: I'm glad to be here, Deb. How did I get started? Well, every personality test I've ever taken has told me that I should be an entrepreneur. I am just wired that way. However, the way I actually became an entrepreneur was happenstance. My husband had started a business, and he needed someone with the skills that I had. I started working with him on an as-needed basis, and before I knew it, I was knee-deep in the business.

As the company started to grow, my husband found that he was better-suited for growing companies from 20 to 200 employees, rather than from 1 to 5. I found that I loved the 1-to-5 stage. As we figured this out, he got a great job offer from a well-funded, venture-backed company with twenty employees.  I stepped in to grow the company he had founded. From that point forward, I was hooked."


Deb: What was the inspiration for MergeLane?  

Elizabeth: We grew weary of being the only women in the room. We also both like to invest in women, both because we tend to meet extraordinary entrepreneurs who happen to be women and because the statistics overwhelmingly show that women-led and gender-diverse businesses perform better.  We decided we wanted to develop an accelerator that is backed by a diverse group of male and female investors and mentors, and is uniquely designed to activate female leaders.

MergeLane was created to broaden the on-ramp for women-led companies.  Not only are we passionate about investing in women-led startups, it’s a strategic decision with profits in mind. Statistically, venture-backed women-led businesses achieve 12% higher revenue.   If we can impact the gender gap, while doing what we love, we think it’s a win-win.


Deb: That's terrific and really needed. Who would be the ideal entrepreneur for your upcoming program?

Elizabeth: An extraordinary female leader that is passionate about her business. Her business would have a clear model for scale and it would be beyond the idea stage. This hypothetical entrepreneur would be is looking to grow. She has the energy and gumption to do it, but she may not have had the opportunity to do so present itself.

There isn't a specific industry sector we are looking for - it could be anything from natural foods to consumer web to medical devices.  We prefer startups that have raised less than $2 million of outside capital. The company doesn't necessarily have to be only female–run, but it must have at least one woman serving in an executive role with equity interest. 


Deb: What would you say are the top challenges for women seeking business funding?

Elizabeth:  The majority of VC opportunities aren't set up to benefit entrepreneurs with families. Most accelerators demand that the companies be in-residence for months in the location of the program.

MergeLane has a reduced residency requirement that enables entrepreneurs with a broad range of other commitments to participate. Remote mentoring, virtual curriculum sessions and possible connections to mentors in the entrepreneurs’ place of residence ensure program continuity.

After speaking with over 150 female entrepreneurs, we believe that women as a generalization frequently (a) have challenges in asking for help; (b) are less willing to go live, seek funding, or take risks until everything is “ready” or even more than ready; (c) tend to shoulder all of the responsibility versus sharing it with others and creating a support network; (d) undersell, think small, raise too little money in a fundraising round, etc.  These are major generalizations. Many women do not see these dynamics and many men do see them.

MergeLane caters to meet the leaders right where they are, but we are going to be willing to be in dialog on these unique issues that we see commonly in the women leaders we encounter (and…candidly…in ourselves).



Deb: What’s your vision for MergeLane?

Elizabeth: Our vision in the first year is to prove our business model by discovering, accelerating and investing in eight outstanding female-run startups.

We feel that this model not only fits our passions, but is a proven model in terms of returns.

Overall we hope that while growing these companies, we also help to strengthen and promote our female leaders in a way that meaningfully affects the gender gap in VC funding and startups.



Deb: I'm so glad you could share this exciting program with my readers. Please let everyone know where to find you online. 

Elizabeth: Thanks, Deb. This was great. Here's our website and social media links:

Website:  http://mergelane.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mergelaneaccelerator
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/MergeLane






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