Young women raise big bucks for startups

June 24, 2014: 9:50 AM ET
she started it
Brienne Ghafourifar started a company that received venture capital funding when she was just 17.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

At age 17, Brienne Ghafourifar achieved a world record. She became the youngest college graduate to raise $1 million in venture funding for her business.

"I usually don't talk about that," Ghafourifar, now 19, says with a nervous laugh, hesitating to brag about her achievement. "I usually let my brother talk about that for me."

Immediately after graduating from Santa Clara University with a bachelor's degree in economics, Ghafourifar founded her first startup, Entefy, with her older brother Alston. The cross-device platform aims to aggregate and house all of your disparate forms of electronic communications -- texts, emails, IMs, etc. -- onto one interface.

Entefy has garnered $4.1 million in investments and is currently in development, with a private beta expected by the end of 2014. Ghafourifar's journey as a young, female tech entrepreneur launching her career in Silicon Valley is one of four stories chronicled in the upcoming documentary film, She Started It.

"You can count on your fingers the amount of young women starting companies," said the film's co-director and producer, Insiyah Saeed.

"We want girls to consider the opportunities there are in tech right now," added director-producer, Nora Poggi.

Poggi, a first-time filmmaker, was inspired to make the documentary after interviewing countless male startup founders, during her time as a tech reporter in Silicon Valley.

In the United States, women-founded businesses are backed by only 13% of venture capital deals, with female-led software companies coming in dead last among all sectors at just 10%, according to PitchBook data.

"There is a real lack of female role models in the industry," said Stacey Ferreira, a 21-year old also profiled in the documentary. Ferreira wanted to do everything her older brother did, which led her into gaming. She eventually taught herself to program games through web tutorials and how-to books.

At 18, Ferreira co-founded MySocialCloud, an online platform that stores usernames and passwords for auto-login. Ferreira decided to leave college after her first year at New York University to pursue the venture, which started as a summer vacation side project, full-time.

"All my friends are making fun of me because I'm technically still a sophomore and they're all graduating next May," Ferreira said.

Not even legally able to drink at the time, Ferreira got herself into a charity cocktail event where she met Sir Richard Branson, who soon thereafter became an investor and helped her raise $1.2 million for MySocialCloud.

Black girls code for social change

The She Started It filmmakers raised $17,250 for the documentary with an Indiegogo campaign and have a target release date of this October. The release will be paired with an educational tour visiting middle schools, high schools and colleges around the country.

"Our goal is to empower the next generation of female entrepreneurs," said Poggi. "We want any girl in middle school or high school to watch the film and say, 'Yeah, I can do that, too.'"

For Ghafourifar, who routinely works 14 to 15 hour days, participating in the documentary is her way of reaching out to other girls and young women and giving back.

"I want to help, mentor, inspire, guide. I'm not even old enough to do all that," she says. "But if there's anything I can do to help, I will."

Saeed stressed that young girls have to believe in themselves.

"You don't have to be Bill Gates to be the founder of a company. It's more important to be resourceful, ambitious and confident," she said. "There are girls who say they aren't good at math so they won't get into the STEM fields. Men who get C's don't second guess their ability. Men may not have the best ideas, but they are more likely to have the confidence. We want to break that trend."


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