The Standard Interview

Q&A: The Powerhouse Women Behind Dream Ventures

Dream Ventures Accelerator Founders Annie Evans and Kelley Arena are on a mission: uplift the next generation of female entrepreneurs by increasing access to the capital they need to fund their own brands.

If anyone is equipped to take on the challenge, it’s this duo: Annie is an accomplished entrepreneur who has helped raise over $25 million for women-led brands through Dream Ventures, and Kelley pivoted from seasoned roles at Merrill Lynch and Johnson & Johnson to found her own VC fund, Golden Hour Ventures.

This Women’s History Month, they’re taking their commitment to the next level with a pitch competition that will award the winner with well-deserved funding. In a financing landscape where women receive less than 2% of overall investments, the Dream Ventures Accelerator cohort is a much-needed source of empowerment for the ladies who are making it happen in their businesses.

It’s not all work and no play: a celebratory post-event dinner at The Standard, East Village was a must to squeeze into the day. Guests including Amanda Seyfried, Hannah Bronfman, and more enjoyed bites and a wine & mocktail menu spotlighting all female-owned labels. In the midst of it all, we sat down to get the scoop on their go-to pitch hacks, brand inspo and more. Read on for their thoughts & snaps from the dinner:

Meet Annie Evans, Co-Founder of Dream Ventures Accelerator and Founder of Dream Ventures

Why start Dream Ventures instead of going to work for an existing VC? 

I saw an opportunity in the venture landscape to do things a bit differently and disrupt the status quo, seeing how the statistics speak for themselves. A few years ago, I set out on a mission to build a network of female angel investors who want to invest in iconic brands & power women-led ventures building a better future.

Why did you feel like the accelerator arm was so crucial to develop instead of solely launching a fund?

We launched our accelerator to support early-stage founders raising their first round of capital to help educate and elevate their fundraising strategy.  During the seven-week program, our founders learn how to run a tight process when fundraising, where to find the right investors, the etiquette around fundraising, and how to build authentic relationships with investors which lead to closing a successful round.  We’ve seen the power of community in each cohort and having founders as peers that are at the same stage and the meaningful connections that happen as a result.

What has been one of the most memorable success stories from a brand that you mentored through Dream Ventures?

I was fortunate to meet the founder of Poppy Seed Health, Simmone Taitt, one night when hosting Whiteboard & Wine evening at my apartment for a group of entrepreneurs. That night, she shared with me her dream to create a platform to support moms pre- and postpartum along with miscarriage support as a result of her own experience and journey to motherhood.  A few months later, Simmone reached out and asked me to be her “Fundraise WingWoman” to help raise capital.  I jumped on board to start introducing her to angels and also wrote a check. Hannah Bronfman and I led an angel syndicate for Poppy Seed Health and brought in 30 powerhouse angel investors that resulted in $250k as part of her Seed Round.

Fast forward and she has now raised $2.5M from top-tier VCs and angels, supported thousands of moms in all stages of motherhood and loss, has a community of 1k+ doulas and an app that can connect someone experiencing pregnancy loss to chat support within nine seconds. Poppy Seed Health has made a huge impact in the maternal health space and I’m so honored to have played a role in bringing the vision to life. 

Meet Kelley Arena, Co-Founder of Dream Ventures Accelerator and Founder of Golden Hour Ventures

This March, you’re co-hosted a pitch competition prior to dinner at The Standard, East Village with Dream Ventures Accelerator. Give us three quick pointers that changed the way you successfully pitch.

The most important part of any pitch is clarity. You would be surprised how many pitches I hear where I have to ask…”so, what exactly is the product?" Using very clear, concise language that is not shrouded in jargon is so important. You can always dive into details after the hook has been made, and interest is piqued. I want to walk away knowing: 1. What is the product and how will the business make money  2. What is the opportunity 3. Why are you (the founder) best suited to execute upon this vision.

You double as the founder of Golden Hour Ventures and have invested in powerhouse brands like Une Femme Wines and West~Bourne. What stood out about these brands that made you keen to invest? Are there any favorite marketing moments from companies in your portfolio?

Really and truly, it is always the founders. Jen Pelka of Une Femme and Camilla Marcus of west~bourne—these are founders you just want to bet on. They have such conviction in their ideas but also the flexibility to redirect and rethink when it's called for. That kind of flexible strength is what I look for in founders.

I could brag about my portfolio companies’ founders all day—I am just so proud to know them. Being a founder is such an intense path and I have so much admiration for them I could go on and on—but a few highlights would be Hearth Display being featured in Time’s Best Inventions of 2023,  Vanessa Barboni-Hallick and Another Tomorrow's relentless commitment to sustainable clothing as an asset, and being immediately adopted by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Megan Markle, WTHN’s Michelle Larivee closing their Series A with L Catterton and expanding in NYC, and Une Femme’s smashing success with Delta Airlines.

In honor of International Women’s Day, spotlight a woman that you’re proud of this month.

It has to be Annie Evans. I don’t know anyone else who works so tirelessly on behalf of women founders—if you know her, count yourself as lucky.

And—this may be cheating—but any woman that is building her dream while managing the demands of family: you are a hero and I am proud of you. We deserve more than a day to celebrate women (some suggestions would be equal pay, equal funding, better healthcare, more seats at every table, societal parental support and a massive vacation on an island).

For investors & entrepreneurs looking to get involved in the Dream Ventures Accelerator, head here


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