It’s no secret that the venture capital industry is too male-dominated, which is a result of many factors – unconscious biases, stereotypes, the ‘motherhood penalty’, not recruiting enough candidates from non-traditional paths, and many more.
According to a 2020 report from Women in VC – the world’s largest community for female investors, only 4.9% of VC partners in the U.S. are female. Of that percentage, the majority are still white. Just 0.2% of VC partners are Latinx women and 0.2% are Black women. We need to do more and do better to change this. The diversity numbers for founding women partners also require significant improvement – only 0.8% are women of color, which is less than 1% of all VC partners in the U.S. But, it’s not all that grim – this research has found that over the last five years, the number of women-led funds has nearly quadrupled, and there is evidence this rise is accelerating.
A more inclusive venture capital industry means more opportunities for under-represented founders and more wealth for everyone. Featured below are eight female investors and businesswomen who are shaping the future of the venture capital space, paving the way for the next generation of female investors as role models and mentors.
Anastasiya Giarletta, Principal at the R42 Group
Anastasiya Giarletta is a Principal at R42, investing in and mentoring the next generation of founders in longevity and artificial intelligence. R42 is a $16 million seed fund led by Dr. Ronjon Nag, focused on AI and longevity companies at the intersection of biology and computer science. The Silicon Valley and U.K.-based fund was launched in January 2021 and also offers a 12-week AI Fellowship and an incubation program through the R42 Institute. Anastasiya champions female founders, including SENISCA, a recent addition to the R42 portfolio in the longevity biotech space.
“Biotech, in particular, is a very exciting field, and in great need of investment. It is notoriously expensive and takes a long time, but the results of success are world-changing. Who really wants their parents to die from age-related disease? Or themselves? The cure will come from this industry. Human biology, and the biochemistry of aging and disease, are becoming an engineering discipline. We see that mathematics and computer science are accelerating breakthroughs in this field, while also making the realization of new medicines far less costly than before,” she shares with me in an email.
Getting into the VC space is hard, so Anastasiya shared some advice about that, too. “Have a genuine willingness to help others without the quid pro quo, be at the center of the startup ecosystem and continuously cultivate your network among founders and investors. Open the doors to entrepreneurs and founders who are not part of an established network or come through ‘warm introductions’ only.”
Bao-Y Van Cong, Investment Director for Target Global
Based out of London, Van Cong invests in European and Israeli early growth scale-ups, with more than $1.5 billion in assets under management. The Target Global portfolio includes some of the global tech champions such as Auto1, Delivery Hero, Rapyd, Omio, Reef, TravelPerk, WeFox, and Zego.
Van Cong firmly believes that some of the key themes arising from the global pandemic are here to stay: an increase in remote and new work models (freelancing, micro-businesses), a surge in e-commerce penetration, and entire sectors such as food and groceries shifting to online. “The importance of tech for billions of consumers and numerous enterprises has significantly increased. We see this reflected in the valuations of public tech companies as they are rallying from high to higher. More and more VC funding is going into tech. Some of the big tech companies (such as Shopify) were created and, or became incredibly successful during the last global financial crisis. I’m convinced that some of the next generations, ground-breaking tech companies are created during this crisis.”
For women entering both the tech and the VC space, the two worlds may seem opaque from the outside. Van Cong is convinced that the best way to break through these barriers is to look for allies and experienced operators and investors who are happy and willing to share this knowledge. “I often see male founders building advisor networks with people who are willing to open doors for them. We as VCs should see it as our responsibility to encourage more high-profile under-represented individuals to become founders in the first place. Too often VCs subconsciously use biased signals for their decision-making that reiterates the status quo of white male successful founders. I am convinced that this is going to change with more and more women entering the venture capital space hand in hand with a greater consciousness for the benefit of diversity. I believe that ultimately the change to back more underrepresented founders should be supported and accelerated from both the VC and the LP community.”
Christina Jenkins MD, Venture Partner at Phoenix Venture Partners Seed Fund
Dr. Jenkins co-leads the Life Science practice of Phoenix Venture Partners Seed Fund, writing $250,000-$500,000 first checks for deep-tech platform companies that transform the way we diagnose, monitor, or treat health conditions. PVP SF builds upon the success of three prior early-stage funds and invests in teams that make people healthier, healthcare costs lower, and our planet more sustainable through products and technologies using advanced materials, sensors, optics, bioprocesses, and other, primarily hardware-enabled tools. She sees rich opportunity in telehealth and remote patient monitoring, noting “We believe that winning solutions will increasingly rely on technologies squarely within PVP’s sweet spot: novel sensors, microfluidics, and integrated systems with miniaturized electronics and photonics. We also invest with the belief that technology is not a panacea – it’s only useful if it works within the context of a person’s life or clinician’s workflow.”
Dr. Jenkins also leads investments for Portfolia’s FemTech and Active Aging and Longevity Funds. With Portfolia, she focuses on evidence-backed digital health and device companies targeting women’s health, wellness, and their role as primary health decision-makers and caregivers. “I’m thrilled to lead investments for Portfolia, a venture community of 90+% women limited partners. So far, the first two funds are top quartile performers for their vintage year.”
As a seasoned investor, she notes some of the recent changes in the venture ecosystem. “More than ever, investors recognize the business benefits of having a diversity of thought, background, and network around the table. We’re proud that PVP’s Seed Fund partners are 50% female and have that very diversity. Over the last decade, 25% of PVP’s founders were women, and 45% came from underrepresented minorities,” she continues. “We applaud new venture funds and investing models succeeding by intentionally investing in overlooked founders, and see larger institutional investors beginning to ask pointed questions about the composition of the general partnerships they support. That’s all terrific, yet at this pace, we won’t achieve meaningful change in my lifetime. Obtaining venture funding is hard for everyone. Right now, the path to funding for underrepresented or female founders is even harder. My advice is to be relentless in cultivating a network of experts who understand what you’re solving and can write checks, acknowledging that for now, you’ll probably have to pitch many more times than average, and resolving that when you succeed, you will pay it forward to others.”
Deepali Nangia, Venture Partner at Speedinvest
Deepali Nangia is a seasoned angel investor with over a decade of experience in private equity, investment banking, and corporate operational roles. As an avid supporter of diversity in tech, she co-founded Alma Angels in 2019, an angel community in support of female founders. Last year, she also joined the second cohort of Atomico’s Angel Program – a project launched in 2018 to activate a new generation of angel investors who are well placed to discover the most innovative and ambitious founders at the start of their journey. In 2021, she was invited to continue to invest for the next two years as a part of Atomico’s 2021 angel alum program. As an angel investor, Nangia has invested in female founders across many verticals such as digital health (Okko), women’s health (Juno Bio, Bia.care, Parla), sustainability (Planera, Shellworks), fintech (PensionBee), future of work (Flown), and more.
In January this year, Nangia joined Vienna-based early-stage venture capital fund Speedinvest as a Venture Partner with a focus on female founders. Speedinvest is one of Europe’s most active early-stage, value-add investors, with $500 million assets under management, a portfolio of nearly 200 startups, 40 investors, and offices in Berlin, London, Munich, Paris, Vienna, and San Francisco. Industries and verticals they invest in are deep tech, fintech, industrial tech, digital health, consumer tech, and marketplaces.
“In my view, female founders will see more capital once we see more exits and returns and we have success stories and role models to talk about and share. LPs will play a large part in driving this change since they hold the purse strings to the funds that are ultimately deployed. More female investors will also drive change but in my view, we can’t wait for this – men need to play a key and large role (and Alma Angels has both men and women!) given they are 90% of the VC world and 50% of the population! And when that happens diversity and inclusion will no longer be a category we spend time and effort on but will be commonplace.”
Maria Velissaris, Founding Partner of SteelSky Ventures
Maria Velissaris is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and the Founding Partner of SteelSky Ventures, an innovative New York-based venture fund that invests in women’s health tech solutions. Velissaris, who is passionate about developing a funding pipeline for female founders, is also a member of Pipeline Angels and Golden Seeds, angel investing groups that invest in women-led teams.
Some of SteelSky’s portfolio companies include 23andMe, Zipline, Lark, Twentyeight Health, Motivo, Origin, OnCall, with the majority of the fund allocated to late seed and Series A investments, with the typical investment size of $1 million.
“Post-Covid tailwinds have accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare. Prior, telehealth and remote access to care were nice to have, and now it has become a necessity. We continue to see growth in both investment dollars and innovation in the category. We invest in these types of technologies, with a lens toward women’s healthcare and believe that women’s healthcare is an underserved category and is primed for growth. 2/3 of the founders of women’s health companies are women. However, these founders receive less than 3% of venture capital investment dollars. In order to truly move the category forward and progress the state of women’s health, we need investors that understand the problems these founders are tackling and the immense financial potential that these opportunities can create,” she explains.
Maria Salamanca, Principal at Unshackled Ventures
Maria Salamanca is a Principal at Unshackled Ventures, a fund that fills a unique space in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, funding teams with immigrant founders at pre-seed. Salamanca joined the fund close to its formation in 2015, and during her time she has been involved in 50+ investments. Since joining Unshackled, Maria has helped create a safe space for immigrant founders, removing barriers to entry to grant them access to the capital and support they need to succeed. Over her five years with the fund, she’s helped complete investments for immigrants from 25 countries.
In 2018, she was the first Latina named Forbes 30 Under 30 for Venture Capital. Previous to joining Unshackled, Maria worked at FWD.us an immigration lobbying group founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Ron Conway, Reid Hoffman, and other tech leaders.
“Unshackled invests in early-stage immigrant founders with high conviction and provides them with immigration support. We aim to be the first to check supporting founders as close to company formation as possible, for most of our companies we come in pre-product in what we consider pre-seed. Although the fund is sector agnostic, I’m particularly passionate about consumer-facing products and consumer social. I’m excited to meet founders building online communities that are authentic, creative, and collaborative. There is a new generation of consumers that reflect very different values from the last wave of social that was focused on likes and broadcasting. New organizations such as All Raise, LatinxVC, BLCKVC, and HBCUvc aim to help the next generation of investors, and young professionals and students that are thinking about a venture capital career should take advantage of the various resources and programs these organizations have.”
Trish Costello, Founder and CEO of Portfolia
Trish Costello is the founder and CEO of Portfolia, a venture capital fund with a special focus on markets where women are either the target consumers or experts, for example, women’s health, consumer goods, active aging, and many more. The main goal of setting up Portfolia’s funds for Costello was to get more women and underrepresented groups involved in investing, by raising awareness about areas that have been overlooked in the past, such as sexual and female health, the gender gap in medical research, financial literacy, etc. By activating their capital and influence, Portfolia’s investors are fueling the kinds of companies they want to see in the market, and pursuing financial returns in the process.
Portfolia’s first fund launched in 2015, introducing a new, disruptive way for groups of women to invest in venture capital. Portfolia has a total of 10 funds in the market, with its FemTech II Fund currently open to new investors. Each fund invests in 8-10 companies on average, from seed to later stages. Currently investing funds include the Active Aging and Longevity Fund, Rising America Fund (investing directly in early-stage and growth companies in the U.S. where people of color and LGBTQ investors see an opportunity for returns and market impact), and its FemTech II Fund (which focuses on emerging technologies, products and services that improve women’s health and wellness throughout their lives – from fertility solutions to menopausal care, to conditions specific to women.)
Costello is also co-founder and CEO Emeritus of the Kauffman Fellows Program, Center for Venture Education, the global educational institute preparing the leaders of the venture capital industry.
“Nearly all new innovation and technology in the U.S. comes from the start-up ecosystem, and the fuel for that innovation comes from venture capital. But less than 5% of VC partners are women, and while women control half of the personal wealth in the U.S. and make 80% of the healthcare decisions, less than 1% invest in entrepreneurial companies. For women to have the best innovation and approaches to enhance their health and wellness, we must become entrepreneurial investors. There has never been a more important time for women and our allies to be investing in the solutions we know we need in the world, and we can pursue promising returns by doing so. When there is not enough diversity among VC decision-makers, VCs invest in only a sliver of the opportunity that exists — based on recommendations from known networks and experiences. It’s critical for women to step up and get involved.”
Yvonne Bajela, Founding Member and Principal at Impact X Capital
Recognized last year in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Yvonne is a Founding Member and Principal at Impact X Capital, a UK-based venture capital fund founded to invest in companies led by underrepresented entrepreneurs across Europe. Over the last five years, Yvonne has invested over $250 million in startups across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Impact X Capital invests predominantly at the Seed and Series A stages, and since launching in 2018, the fund has invested in a wide range of companies including Marshmallow, R.Grid, and Pace.
A board member and passionate leader, Yvonne is a champion for female entrepreneurship, an advocate for female empowerment, and is also an avid angel investor and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
“More gender and ethnic diversity are required at all levels of the ecosystem from entrepreneurs to board members to investors. At the moment the level of diversity remains weak, and although research has proven time and time again that individuals tend to invest in “people like them”, it’s not surprising there are still huge disparities in funding. While this may be viewed as a massive challenge, I see it as an opportunity for emerging investors, which is why I’m excited about the various angel investor programs emerging in the U.K. and initiatives such as the Angel Investing School, run by Andy Ayim, which seeks to demystify angel investing. The more gender and ethnic diversity in the investor base, the more diverse founding teams will get funded at the very early stages. I’m optimistic about the future!”