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Exclusive: Human Ventures elevates its woman-led startup studio with a $50 million debut fund

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At Human Ventures, the white, male founders of the PayPal Mafia–the nickname for a group of all-male PayPal alumni that includes Peter Thiel and Elon Musk–don’t serve as the sole prototype for a successful entrepreneur. But the New York-based startup studio does believe in the collective power of finding–or creating–your own “mafia.”

“It wasn’t that the PayPal mafia was uniquely different than most people, but they had a very tight, strong network that really committed to helping everyone rise,” says Human Ventures founding partner and CEO Heather Hartnett. “And I think that the studio model is analogous to that.”

As a startup studio, Human Ventures is somewhere between an incubator and traditional venture capital outfit. Hartnett’s team bets on founders–the eponymous humans–and helps bring their ideas to fruition. Over its 100-day workshop, Human Ventures can take founders from the early stages of ideation to, say, polling a focus group and determining product-market fit. When founders “graduate” from the workshop stage, they get the green light to build their company and receive a cash infusion. Hartnett also guides founders as they seek subsequent rounds of funding, connecting them with early stage investors in her network and offering insight on their investment record.

“We bring in founders early and build teams around them,” Hartnett says. “We help be their cofounder, essentially, in the beginning.” The studio only puts money behind a founder when an idea is fully fleshed out (usually somewhere in the range of $500,000, depending on the startup’s needs). “We’re really not taking venture capital dollars until we know we have the fundamentals of a business in place,” Hartnett adds. “So we feel that we’re producing more valuable companies, and that’s what the ecosystem needs: more rigor up front, not fake growth.”

Since 2015, Human Ventures has bet on 22 founders whose companies have a combined value of $150 million. That includes restaurant........

© Fast Company