1 change that can fix the VC funding crisis for women founders

The venture capital industry as we know it is broken. At least for women, that is.

In terms of funding to women founders, 2020 was among the worst years on record. On a global level, only 9% of all funds deployed to technology startups went to founding teams that included at least one woman. Solo woman founders and all-women teams raised just 2% of all VC dollars, Crunchbase data showed.

Shockingly, this number is actually less than it was when we first started counting a decade ago, well before many high-profile diversity initiatives launched with the goal of fixing this very problem.

This funding gap isn’t just a moral crisis — it’s an economic one. The lack of investment into women-founded startups is a missed opportunity worth trillions of dollars. That’s because of overwhelming evidence that startups founded by women outperform startups founded by men: They generate more revenue, earn higher profits and exit faster at higher valuations. And they do all this while raising way less money.

What we’re doing isn’t working. Through research for my next book on women founders and funders, I kept asking myself the same question: When it comes to fixing the funding gap for women founders, what’s the one thing we can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

I now believe that our best bet for long-term change is to focus our efforts on increasing the number of women investing partners who can write large seed checks. Here’s why.

Women investors are up to 3x more likely to fund women founders

Recently, one of the top VCs in the world told me how challenging it is to diversify his senior team. He expressed it as an accepted fact and a widespread belief. This is a common trope in Silicon Valley: Everyone wants gender diversity, but it’s so hard to find all the senior women!

In the venture capital industry, who you hire at the senior level is who you hang out with. And who you hire at the senior level determines who your fund will back.

Since studies now show that women investors are up to three times more likely to invest in women founders, it is clear that the fastest way to fund more women is to hire more women investing partners with check-writing ability. The effect to venture firms? Returns.

“When U.S. VC firms increased the proportion of female partners, they benefited with 9.7% more profitable exits and a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns annually,” explained Lisa Stone of WestRiver Group.

Data from All Raise and PitchBook reinforce the “correlation between hiring female decision-makers at the investment level and outperformance at the fund level,” adding that “69.2% of U.S. VCs that scored a top-quartile fund between 2009 and 2018 had women in decision-making roles.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that women investors are more likely to invest in women founders. That’s because humans have a propensity toward homophily the tendency for like to attract like and for similarity to breed connection.

Homophily is why a vegan VC is more likely to invest in a vegan food tech, a gamer is more likely to hang out with gaming founders, or a parent is more likely to invest in a parent marketplace. People gravitate toward what they know.

Deena Shakir, who happens to be a woman and a mother, recently led Lux Capital’s investment into women’s health unicorn Maven. Shakir had multiple high-risk pregnancies with multiple complications, emergency C-sections, NICU stays and breastfeeding challenges.

“It is no coincidence that I am joined on Maven’s board of directors by four other mothers … and a brand-new father … whose personal journeys have also informed their professional conviction,” Shakir wrote in a Medium post.

Why seed checks have the greatest impact on the ecosystem

I believe that to fix the funding gap for women founders and jump-start the virtuous cycle of venture capital investing into women, we should focus on getting more seed checks into the hands of women founders. That’s because seed investing is a leading indicator of whether we are headed in the right direction in terms of closing the funding gap for women, according to Jenny Lefcourt, a partner at Freestyle and co-founder of All Raise, the leading nonprofit focused on diversifying the VC industry.

This doesn’t discount the importance of investments made into women founders at later stages. When a women founder lands Series D capital, it boosts this year’s numbers into women founders and likely brings that particular founder closer to a liquidity event that will lead her (and her executives) to invest in more women.

That said, the greatest impact on the future ecosystem will come from widening the top of the funnel and giving more women at the seed stage the shot to one day reach a momentous Series D funding like Maven. After all, who we fund now becomes who we fund later.

Why large seed checks matter most

Finally, the size of the check is also important when thinking about how to have the biggest impact on the ecosystem.

I know first-hand that microchecks are critical to building an inclusive ecosystem. When women invest at the seed level — in any amount — they jumpstart a virtuous cycle of women funding women. That’s why when I stepped in to lend a hand at my portfolio company when the solo woman founder took a parental leave, one of my key projects was to develop Jefa House, a way for Jefa’s own executives to easily invest in other women-founded startups.

That said, large party rounds made up entirely of small angel checks are few and far between. Similar challenges face small checks from emerging fund managers. Although the sheer number of emerging managers has increased 9x in seven years, the reality is that most emerging managers simply don’t have much money.

Are women venture capitalists who run their own microfunds more likely to invest in amazing women founders than Tier 1 funds with few or no women investing partners? Yes. Will it take them a long time to compete with those Tier 1 funds in terms of check size? Yes.

This is why it matters so much when leading funds hire or promote women to the partner level. Not only does it give women founders a better shot at funding from high-signal shops, but the moves that top funds make are key signals to others in the ecosystem: In venture capital, women investors don’t have to sit at the kids’ table.

Why we must hire women investing partners

We all know that great returns in early-stage venture capital come from making big bets on great ideas that others aren’t betting on. That is why VC investing is contrarian by definition. Thanks to our increasingly globalized world and clear data showing the importance of diverse teams to make good decisions to get those returns, no one in 2021 truly believes that single white dudes in Palo Alto have a monopoly on billion-dollar ideas.

However, due to the nature of homophily, venture capital remains a highly homogenous industry, and the social and economic interactions and decisions of human beings remain deeply swayed by these principles. No matter how much work we do, birds of a feather really do flock — and fund — together.

This all leads to one place: The clearest path to funding different kinds of founders with different kinds of ideas is to put different kinds of investors on the investing side of the table. To get more funding to women founders, we need more women who can write checks. That’s why prioritizing the hiring of women investing partners who can write large seed checks is key to fixing the funding crisis for women founders and increasing VC returns worldwide.

#column, #deena-shakir, #funding, #jenny-lefcourt, #maven, #opinion, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #women-in-venture-capital

The Artemis Fund focuses on women founders in underserved communities

The Artemis Fund is a Houston-based firm built by three women with the goal of encouraging more women-led startups. The company launched in 2019 and has raised a $15 million initial fund, which closed earlier this year.

Diana Murakhovskaya, who launched the firm with Stephanie Campbell and Leslie Goldman, says that the three women met over a mutual interest in investing in startups, one that didn’t just write a check and walk away, but that was really involved in helping these companies grow and thrive.

“We launched the fund in 2019, and we were looking to raise a micro VC to invest in about 15 companies, and keep a concentrated portfolio where we can really help these companies,” she said. The LPs in the fund are split 50/50 between men and women with an equal capital share among them, she said.

The women recognized that female founders faced an up-hill battle when it came to getting funding. In fact, in 2019 Crunchbase research found that just 13% percent of VC money went to startups with at least one female founder with all female founding teams accounting for just 3% of that.

At the same time, as the women came together in the Houston investing scene, they couldn’t help but notice that it was mostly dominated by older white men. Murakhovskaya, whose background is engineering, connected with Campbell, who has an MBA and they wanted to know why more women weren’t getting involved.

“I said, ‘Where are all the women?’ […] And so we started doing these dinners to bring together women and asking them why they’re not investing, what they’re doing and, and these were all corporate women [who had the money to invest].”

What they found was that either women had never been invited to invest, or like them they were looking to do it, but found angel investing less than satisfying. About this time, they met Goldman, who was a lawyer, and was on the board at the Houston Angel Network. “She’s an active angel in about 50 companies and 11 funds and similarly had this thesis of shifting all of her investing to female founders at the time,” Murakhovskaya said.

The three women with distinctly different professional backgrounds decided to come together and the idea for The Artemis Fund began to take shape. “We thought it was the perfect [mix] — kind of what happens when an engineer, an MBA and a lawyer get together. So, we find that our backgrounds are unique, and that helps a lot of our portfolio companies in a lot of different ways,” she said.

That meant they wanted to be involved with the founders and help them grow the businesses. “And so that was one thing we wanted to make sure that differentiates us from the other female-focused VCs. We would invest nationally, we would lead or co-lead most of our rounds and really help the companies along the capital stack. And that meant running a much more concentrated portfolio.”

The fund focuses on startups with female founders, who are in large potential markets, but ones that conventional male-dominated VCs might not see the potential in. Among the portfolio companies is UNest, a company that helps families take advantage of tax-exempt college savings accounts to save money for their kids’ college education and Upgrade, a maker of custom wigs and extensions. These businesses checked each of these boxes of being run by a woman in a large market that had been mostly ignored by the traditional investment community.

Murakhovskaya says so far the firm has invested in 11 companies with plans to invest 4-5 more and then raise the next fund. She says while it’s about helping nurture and build these companies, it’s also about finding companies that continue to grow into their Series A, B and beyond, while delivering a good return for the company’s partners.

“This is not a charity or philanthropy. We really believe that women and diverse teams in particular will outperform, on top of bringing together a different set of companies and products and services that are just not being met for the consumers that they’re trying to serve.”

#diversity, #female-founders, #tc, #the-artemis-fund, #venture-capital, #women-in-venture-capital

Startup fundraising is the most tangible gender gap. How can we overcome it?

Year-in, year-out, the gender gap in venture capital investment continues to be a problem women founders face. While the gender gap in other areas (such as the number of women entering tech in general) may be on the right path, this disparity in funding seems to be stagnant. There has been little movement in the amount of VC dollars going to women-founded companies since 2012.

In fintech, the problem is especially prominent: Women-founded fintechs have raised a meager 1% of total fintech investment in the last 10 years. This should come as no surprise, given that fintech combines two sectors traditionally dominated by men: finance and technology. Though by no means does this mean that women aren’t doing incredible work in the field and it’s only right that women founders receive their fair share of VC investment.

In the short term, women founders can take action to boost their chances at VC success in the current investment climate, including leveraging their community and support network and building the necessary self-belief to thrive. In the long term, there needs to be foundational change to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. VC funds must look at ways they can bring in more women decision-makers, all the way up to the top.

Let’s dive into the state of gender bias in VC investing as it stands, and what founders, stakeholders and funds themselves can do to close the gap.

Venture capital is far from a level playing field

In 2019, less than 3% of all VC investment went to women-led companies, and only one-fifth of U.S. VC went to startups with at least one woman on the founder team. The average deal size for female-founded or female co-founded companies is less than half that of only male-founded startups. This is especially concerning when you consider that women make up a much bigger portion of the founder community than proportionately receive investment (around 28% of founders are women). Add in the intersection of race and ethnicity, and the figures become bleaker: Black women founders received 0.6% of the funding raised since 2009, while Latinx female founders saw only 0.4% of total investment dollars.

The statistics paint a stark picture, but it’s a disparity that I’ve faced on a personal level too. I have been faced with VC investors who ask my co-founder — in front of me — why I was doing the talking instead of him. On another occasion, a potential investor asked my co-founder who he was getting into business with, because “he needed to know who he’d be going to the bar with when the day was up.”

This demonstrates a clear expectation on the part of VC investors to have a male counterpart within the founding team of their portfolio companies, and that they often — whether subconsciously or consciously — value men’s input over that of the women on the leadership team.

So, if you’re a female founder faced with the prospect of pitching to VCs — what steps can you take to set yourself up for success?

Get funded, as a woman

Women founders looking to receive VC investment can take a number of steps to increase their chances in this seemingly hostile environment. My first piece of advice is to leverage your own community and support network, especially any mentors and role models you may have, to introduce you to potential investors. Contacts that know and trust your business may be willing to help — any potential VC is much more likely to pay you attention if you come as a personal recommendation.

If you feel like you’re lacking in a strong support network, you can seek out female-founder and startup groups and start to build your community. For example, The Next Women is a global network of women leaders from progress-driven companies, while Women Tech Founders is a grassroots organization on a mission to connect and support women in technology.

Confidence is key when it comes to fundraising. It’s essential to make sure your sales, pitch and negotiation skills are on point. If you feel like you need some extra training in this area, seek out workshops or mentorship opportunities to make sure you have these skills down before you pitch for funding.

When talking with top male VCs and executives, there may be moments where you feel like they’re responding to you differently because of your gender. In these moments, channeling your self-belief and inner strength is vital: The only way that they’re going to see you as a promising, credible founder is if you believe you are one too.

At the end of the day, women founders must also realize that we are the first generation of our gender playing the VC game — and there’s something exciting about that, no matter how challenging it may be. Even when faced with unconscious bias, it’s vital to remember that the process is a learning curve, and those that come after us won’t succeed if we simply hand the task over to our male co-founder(s).

More women in VC means more funding for female founders

While there are actions that women can take on an individual level, barriers cannot be overcome without change within the VC firms themselves. One of the biggest reasons why women receive less VC investment than men is that so few of them make up decision-makers in VC funds.

A study by Harvard Business Review concluded that investors often make investment decisions based on gender and ask women founders different questions than their male counterparts. There are countless stories of women not being taken seriously by male investors, and subsequently not being seen as a worthwhile investment opportunity. As a result of this disparity in VC leadership teams, women-focused funds are emerging as a way to bridge the funding gender gap. It’s also worth noting that women VCs are not only more likely to invest in women-founded companies, but also those founded by Black entrepreneurs. In addition to embracing women and minority-focused investors, the VC community as a whole should ensure they’re bringing in more women leaders into top positions.

Gender equality in VC makes more business sense

From day one, the Prometeo team has made concerted efforts to have both men and women in decision-maker roles. Having women in the founding team and in leadership positions has been crucial in not only helping to fight the unconscious bias that might take place, but also in creating a more dynamic work environment, where diversity of thought powers better business decisions.

Striving for gender equality, both within the walls of VC funds and in the founder community, is also better for businesses’ bottom line. In fact, a study by Boston Consulting Group found that women-founded startups generate 78% for every dollar invested, compared to 31% from men-founded companies.

Here in Latin America, women founders receive a higher proportion of VC investment than anywhere else in the world, so it’s no surprise that women are leading the region’s fintech revolution. Having more women in leadership positions is ultimately a better bet for business.

Closing the gender gap in VC funding is no simple task, but it’s one that must be undertaken. With the help of internal VC reform and external initiatives like community building, training opportunities and women-focused support networks, we can work toward finally making the VC game more equitable for all.

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