How 5 Women Successfully Funded Their Interior Design Businesses

November 16, 2021|In SD Blog|By Danine Alati

It’s no secret that female entrepreneurs notoriously have a more difficult time funding their businesses through venture capital investments. Less than 3 percent of VC dollars go to women-led companies—in fact, that stat went from 2.5 percent in 2019 down to 2.3 percent in 2020. To put this in context, women comprise more than half (52 percent) of the highly skilled creative class in the United States and more than one-third (36 percent) of business owners, according to Bloomberg, yet they receive fewer VC dollars than their male counterparts. What does this mean for women in the design industry who seek to start their own design firms? Some attempt to defy the odds and obtain VC investments, while others rely on their network of contacts to raise funds, and still others self-fund through strategic saving, planning, and investing in themselves.

Here, five founders of women-owned design companies share, in their own words, with Studio Designer how they successfully funded their endeavors and lend advice about how fellow budding female design entrepreneurs can follow suit.

Kate Lester

Founder of Kate Lester Interiors and Kate Lester Home, Hermosa Beach, California

“If your business concept is not scalable, don’t look to raise capital until it is. Potential investors want to see a business plan and how an influx of capital could help increase their ROI. If you’re not prepared with those answers supported by data, then it’s better to start small and learn as you go.

“I funded my business the old-fashioned way: slow and steady! All I needed was an IKEA desk, a computer/printer, a business license, a solid contract, a website, and some business cards. I started with $500, [and] … I started taking on small projects. I reinvested all the profit back into the business. In a service-based industry like interior design, the initial start-up investment is relatively low, so it’s better to start small and reinvest as you go.

Design by Kate Lester Interiors | Photo by Amy Bartlam.

“You’d be amazed at how financially savvy you become when you are working with your own money. I learned so much, and I am glad I didn’t have to report back to investors when I made some mistakes along the way. 

“Learn your numbers, know your costs, and do what makes sense to encourage growth. You can do it. It’s just about being patient and starting small.”

Design by Kate Lester Interiors | Photo by Amy Bartlam.

Kati Curtis

Principal of  Kati Curtis Design, New York, and a Studio Designer client

Design by Kati Curtis

“I have always self-funded through the business profits. I started my design firm with literally nothing. 

“Some advice I would have for other designers is to think of employees as ‘human capital’ rather than an expense—they’re supposed to help you ultimately make money. And if your time billing or design fees are not covering your overhead, then you need to rethink your pricing. I would recommend that all designers who want to start their own business work with a strategic coach to understand their financials.”

Courtney Sempliner

Owner and Creative Director of  Courtney Sempliner Designs Ltd., Port Washington, New York

Design by Courtney Sempliner | Photo by Kyle Caldwell

“There was very little overhead in setting up my design company so I was able to forego the hassle of raising capital and just start my company with not much more than a little savings, my laptop, and some entrepreneurial spirit. I was a bit scrappy and skimped on things in the beginning—for example, working from home and using my personal laptop. I made the most of my connections to generate new business, including doing some pro bono work to get my name out there. Also, social media continues to be a huge way to reach new clients, and it’s free.

Design by Courtney Sempliner | Photo by Kyle Caldwell

“When getting your business off the ground, don’t be afraid to take on small projects—you never know what they can lead to. And concentrate on building your portfolio; this can help tremendously with social media and your website, and it will verify your business to potential clients.”

Anne Rainey Rokahr

Founder of  Trouvaille Home, Winston Salem, North Carolina

Design by Anne Rainey Rokahr

“I’ve started a few companies over the years, and I preferred to fund them myself. I never wanted to be beholden to a private investor. Those relationships can get sticky quickly, and many times the person who holds the purse strings wants creative input.

“Work hard, and save your money. Start by working for a firm; watch, learn and listen more than you speak. Take note of ingenious design decisions, but burn into your memory the costly mistakes—it’s in the subversion of disaster that the real learning takes place.

“When a proper amount of experience is under your belt, take the leap to being a freelance designer. Start a corporation or an LLC. Decide how you are going to charge. Before you know it, you’ll have your seed money, need to hire an assistant, and then get an office to house your sample library and meet clients.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need a fancy office and a full team immediately. All you need is talent and the primal desire to outwork the competition; the rest will come naturally.”

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Studio Designer is the leading digital platform for Interior Designers managing and growing their design businesses. Featuring fully integrated project management, time billing, product sourcing, and accounting solutions for the interior design industry.

FEATURED IMAGE: Design by Kati Curtis