After spending several years working at a private equity firm that invests in aerospace and defense companies, Erika Lucas founded StitchCrew in 2017. The non-profit organization connects women and BIPOC entrepreneurs with capital, resources and networks needed to launch and scale companies.
StitchCrew created programming via workshops, coaching sessions and networking opportunities for traditionally overlooked founders and partnered with brands such as the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Google and BASF.
In 2020, Lucas also founded VEST, a private organization geared for female professionals interested in networking; membership is required. And after witnessing the consistent decline in VC funding for women, Lucas launched VEST Her Ventures last year. It’s an early stage venture capital firm investing in women-led companies in the future of work and care economy.
“The lack of infrastructure for caregivers has led to many women dropping out of the workforce,” she said. “That’s because workplaces were never designed with women in mind.”
Lucas has spoken to hundreds of women since she launched StitchCrew and has seen the widening of the gap for support for caregivers, typically those caring for ailing parents. Many have quit their careers to be primary caretakers. StichCrew has supported over 120 startups through various grants.
The care economy is estimated to be valued at $648 billion, according to Pivotal Ventures and The Holding Co. It is the money that is spent caring for peoples’ basic expenses like healthcare, food, housing and other costs from the moment they’re born until the end of their lives. It has been estimated to exceed the size of the U.S. pharmaceutical market that is estimated at $510 billion.
“People have not been paying attention to it,” Lucas said of the care economy. “Perhaps that’s because 90% of the investment world is made up of males who have benefited from having support systems at home. The sector is broken and in dire need for supply and an overhaul.”
VEST Her Ventures also invests in companies that are helping employers build more inclusive workplaces, better recruit, and retain and upscale employees, she said.
There are 11 million job openings according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report in December 2022 and within 10 years, when Boomers will likely retire, the economy will need more than 21 million employees. Companies will face more challenges since Millennials and GenZ have very different expectations of what the workplace should look like.
“If employers want to survive and thrive they need to be inclusive and position themselves for the future,” Lucas said. “Workspaces that allow people the flexibility on where, when and how they work, and provide them the tools to be successful, will be the ones that win.”
VEST Her Ventures is raising $20 million and has already started deploying capital. The portfolio companies include Apiari, a future of work platform for in-home providers in the care industry, Byrdhouse, a multilingual video conferencing platform that provides AI-powered real-time translation across 100 languages and Pivt, a social wellbeing platform that helps employees support distributed teams.
Name: VEST Her Ventures
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Size: VEST Her Ventures is raising a $20 million fund.
What it is: VEST Her Ventures invests in women-led companies in the future of work and the care economy.
Lucas is also the host of the VEST Her Podcast, a show about the barriers women face in the workplace and stories of women building power together.
What kinds of companies does it invest in? VEST Her Ventures invests in the future of work industry, including flexible work tools, people-centered solutions, skill training and collaboration tools. It also invests in the care economy, including infant, child and adult care, long-term/ home-based care, household management and workplace benefits. VEST Her Ventures also invests in adjacent markets such as digital health, new parent tech, caregiver support and family planning.
Leadership: Erika Lucas, founder and managing partner.
This story and others on Times of E are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.