“Everything is so fraught and so hard and so on the line in the first years of running a company,” says Lindsey Taylor Wood. The company she’s talking about has higher stakes than most. Though many people come to The Helm as an e-commerce site, it’s also a venture fund.
Wood has invented a whole new way to invest in women, so that it’s approachable for everyone, whether you have the capital to be an LP (limited partner) or if you’re just buying a letter opener for your office at shop.thehelm.co. That’s because everything for sale on The Helm comes from a company owned by someone who identifies as a woman.
It’s not hard to see, then, how Wood’s gamble feels especially high-stakes. Her favorite advice came from Jean Brownhill of Sweeten, who said simply that when the going gets really tough, “Just keep going.” And that’s exactly what Wood does.
In fact, The Helm started from a desire to “just keep going.” Wood’s career has centered on the women's rights space for more than 15 years. But despite her efforts, she felt that women in the U.S. weren’t making progress, or worse, were backsliding. At Wood’s previous business LTW, an impact studio with an emphasis on contemporary feminism, “It was hard to justify advocating allocating those levels of philanthropic resources when we weren’t seeing the sort of returns we wanted to,” she recalls.
So she went on a yearlong quest, asking anyone she could, “Why is philanthropy the only way we’re investing in equality?” Amid a wide range of experiences and answers, her “aha” moment that catalyzed her to start The Helm was when she was told about the difference between well-off men and women.
While men are taught to amass their wealth, the friend postulated, women with wealth tend to give it away. In other words, women are putting their money where their mouth is, trying to clean up the inequities they see in society. And one way people with more financial capacity can do that? By investing in The Helm’s venture fund. But not everyone has pockets that deep. That’s why Wood came up with the masterstroke of adding the retail component to help support women-owned businesses through consumerism.
The Helm launched in 2018 and deployed all the $1.5 million it had raised in its first fund by February 2019. That included 11 businesses, all with female CEOs. Those businesses ranged from Haute Hijab, which sells the perfect satin version of the Muslim head covering, as well as more practical (but still soft) jersey versions. Those products are for sale at The Helm, but not all of the companies that were funded fit into the retail space.
Among the other 10, companies include Ganaz, a suite of technology tools that helps with agricultural management; Tia, which started as a women’s health app, but has expanded to launch a flagship clinic in New York; and The Riveter, a network that provides a digital ecosystem for entrepreneurs as well as IRL workspaces. But the next company to be funded by The Helm could be yours. The upcoming fund, which Wood says will be much larger, is currently being built.
The retail component of The Helm launched in the summer of 2019. The products available range from fashion for work and play to feminine care and sex accessories. It’s a one-stop shop for practically anything a successful woman needs at any time of her life. Which, of course, is not surprising, given the fact that every product was conceived of by a woman herself.
When asked about her greatest challenges, Wood is hopeful. “What’s interesting is that the thing we’re trying to solve for is the greatest opportunity,” she says. “The opportunity is exponential.” She hopes that inviting women to the table will help them to feel that they have agency to make change with their dollars. “The whole mission is to change the relationship between women, money, and power.”
And with every purchase, and every investment, women are helping to change the narrative — and build success — for other women.