Ad Astra Launches ‘Venture Builder’ Offering Bespoke Support for Female Founders

SAN DIEGO, June 17, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — San Diego-based Ad Astra Ventures is launching a new form of venture capital support for women entrepreneurs. In contrast to traditional venture funds, the Venture Builder model offers diverse founders a highly customized level of support from the gender-lens investment fund. Three female-led companies, Lilu, Sēkr and The Sash Bag, will benefit from Ad Astra’s inaugural Venture Builder, which applies the best of Ad Astra’s business accelerator and bootcamp curriculum and leverages its leaders’ decades of experience as early-stage investors.

In this highly personalized program, Ad Astra’s partners, advisors and investor-mentors walk alongside founders and engage in active conversations to deeply understand each leader’s unique strengths and to assess the company’s core value proposition, product-market fit, marketing and sales plans and funding approach. The partners use their detailed analysis to deliver a strategic assessment that highlights areas where they’re able to actively partner and support the founder and her company. 

"We don’t start with capital, we end with it," says Vidya Dinamani, who is a co-founder of Ad Astra Ventures alongside Allison Long Pettine and Silvia Mah. "Together with Ad Astra’s carefully selected network of mentors, we roll up our sleeves to understand the specific areas where founders need support, then engage our curated network of industry and subject-matter experts to guide the founder to success."

The boutique approach of the Venture Builder model aims at long-term success through active participation resulting in stronger, more confident leadership and a foundation for thriving, resilient companies.

The following diverse companies have been selected for the first Venture Builder cohort, all female founded, two BIPOC-founded and one LGBTQ+-founded:

  • Lilu ( is developing a suite of innovative, tech-enabled products for nursing moms. The company’s first product, the Lilu Massage Bra, is an FDA Class I device that addresses the notorious inefficiencies of breast pumps. It uses their patented pneumatic massage technology to mimic a baby’s natural motions, accelerating milk output and alleviating discomfort and pain. Lilu customers "love this bra" and have called it a "life saver" and "breastfeeding savior." The company was co-founded by Adriana C. Vázquez, CEO, and Sujay Suresh, COO.
  • Sēkr ( is making outdoor travel easier, safer and more connected with a social plus app where people find campsite destinations, amenities and community in the outdoors. Co-founded by Breanne Acio, CEO, and Jessica Shisler, Ph.D., COO, the company was launched from their campervans and serves a range of customers, from full time travelers to the occasional camper. (Previously, The Vanlife App).
  • The Sash Bag ( produces a sleek and innovative alternative to traditional handbags. Sash Bags wrap around your torso and have four exterior and six interior (zippered) pockets and a built-in wallet to hold all your personal belongings. Nicknamed "The fanny pack of the 21st Century," the Sash Bag is a solution for women to be hands-free and organized on-the-go when carrying a purse just isn’t practical. The founder and CEO is Nichole MacDonald.

"Women entrepreneurs intuitively approach business fundamentals, such as risk, differently than men and our Venture Builder empowers this difference," said Long Pettine. "We look past established norms and treat each founder as an individual, which equips women leaders to show up differently with an assurance in who they are."

Through Venture Builder and the Ad Astra Fund, a community of female founders is growing, and it looks very different from the traditional models. This is especially important today as the coronavirus pandemic has hit female-run businesses harder than most, which contributes to an existing disadvantage when it comes to raising capital and establishing work-life balance. In fact, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women extends beyond layoffs and women leaving the workforce, to the venture capital funding of female entrepreneurs. Startups with all-female founding teams drew an all-time-high of 3.4% of all venture capital dollars in the U.S. in 2019, according to Crunchbase. That declined to 2.4% in 2020 and that percentage stayed consistent through the first two months of 2021.

"There is nothing cookie cutter about our approach to VC funding," said Mah. "We are championing a new way of investing and encourage others to adopt this approach, not just because it’s the right thing to do in support of women entrepreneurs, but because it’s the smart thing to do."

About Ad Astra Ventures:
Founded in 2018 by Vidya Dinamani, Allison Long Pettine and Silvia Mah, Ad Astra is dedicated to growing and building female leaders through thoughtful programming and investment opportunities. Among the organization’s programming is a 12-week business accelerator for high-growth startups led by one or more females. With a thriving portfolio of 13 companies to-date, Ad Astra is building a global community of founders, investors, executives and philanthropists who are putting more women in leadership positions. Learn more at

Media contact:
April Enriquez


SOURCE Ad Astra Ventures