Walk the Walk: Female Venture Capitalists Transform Global Economies
Women entrepreneurs remain underrepresented in the innovation economy. This is a global issue that requires a collective call to action. But, to understand what that call to action needs to be, we must go back a few years in U.S. history, to October 25, 1988—the day the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, a landmark piece of legislation, was enacted. The Women’s Business Ownership Act, among other things, put an end to state laws requiring women to have male relatives sign business loans and authorize access to capital.
Also significant and stemming from this law was the creation of the National Women’ Business Council (NWBC), a bi-partisan council consisting of women entrepreneurs and women’s organizations that advises the president and Congress on policy relevant to women business owners. On July 3, 2013, I had the honor of being appointed to the NWBC in the Obama Administration for a three-year term, which allowed me to go from simply talking about the critical impact that female entrepreneurs can collectively have on our economies to digging into the reason for the biggest hurdle female entrepreneurs face when it comes to successfully launching and scaling businesses –lack of access to capital.
The underrepresentation of women in tech and entrepreneurship isn’t just a women’s issue for the U.S. economy. Diversity matters to the overall health of the tech industry worldwide because it drives and accelerates innovation, and research has shown that a workforce in which women are full participants and contributors to the economy better identifies holistic solutions for everyone, not just a select few. The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows that where the gender gap is smaller in a range of areas—including access to education, health survivability, economic participation, and political participation—countries and economies are more competitive and prosperous. While closing the gender gap enhances economies and our long-term global competitiveness, it’s more personal than that. Technology is the greatest equalizer of the 21st century, but without women in tech, there is no equality.
The Case for Female Entrepreneurs
There is a direct correlation between the number of women on boards and the generation of higher corporate profits. Companies with more women board directors outperform others by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital, by 53 percent in terms of return on equity, and by 42 percent in terms of return on sales. Another study indicates that one-third of executives reported increased profits on their investments from employing women in emerging markets.
Even with such a strong business case for diversity and inclusion, the only thing harder than being an entrepreneur is being a female entrepreneur. Despite all the blood, sweat, and tears that founders pour into their start-ups, our research at the NWBC shows statistics indicating that female entrepreneurs still start their companies with 50 percent less capital than their male counterparts. Other studies including the Canadian Task Force for Women’s Business Growth have shown that women do not have the same access to capital or the information necessary to seek the capital that is the gateway to entering new markets.
According to the Harvard Business Review, women entrepreneurs only receive 4.2 percent of venture capital (VC) funding. Further, the number of women in high-level positions in VC firms has actually declined from 10 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2014. These dismal stats, combined with my own first-hand fundraising experience as an entrepreneur, made it an easy choice for me for me to transition from the role of reactive entrepreneur waiting for someone to say “yes” to that of a proactive venture capitalist seeking to drive gender diversity across the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The VC Stereotype
The term venture capitalist conjures a stereotype of a male investor who only invests in other men. With a few exceptions, this perception is reality. Male angel investors and venture capitalists invest in other men because they tend to skew towards what they know, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the unconscious male bias. When a female investor is involved in the investment decision-making process, female founders are 2.5 times more likely to receive funding. It’s pretty simple: in order for more female-led startups to succeed, we need more women to be involved at the highest levels of investment decisions. Period. This means that more firms must make the active decision to hire female investors and walk the walk of putting money in ideas, companies, and teams founded and led by female entrepreneurs. Not an investment of time, talk, or giving direction, but real money that will provide the runway from which women-owned businesses take flight.
My move into venture capital is driven by my vision of “Venture-as-a-Service” (VAAS) which allows me to:
- serve my fellow female entrepreneurs by connecting them with the access to capital they need to scale and grow their startups;
- educate investors who are missing out on an entire segment of exceptional talent and a vastly untapped emerging market. From an investor’s standpoint, diversity in a portfolio is an indisputable advantage, and that includes gender diversity;
- strengthen global economies through a more nimble investor ecosystem in which there is active investment in women-owned businesses. Lack of capital and information can also have a longer term negative effect impacting risk assessments relating to growth or opportunities.
Call to Action: Walk the Walk
The only way to start moving toward parity in funding is to put venture money into female-led startups. Only 15 percent of VC-backed companies have a female on the executive team and yet, as mentioned above, female-led companies outperform others by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital. All this to say there is ample research to prove that female entrepreneurs are underrepresented and under undercapitalized. It’s time to go beyond talk, and walk the walk.
The rise of female investors is key to connecting women with access to capital. The purpose of our firm’s female-focused fund, the Shatter Fund (“Shatter”), is to provide women who meet our investment criteria with the basic infrastructure they need to close the opportunity gap, including:
- access to capital at the Series A and B levels, because this is the point at which female entrepreneurs fall off the cliff;
- access to markets; and
- accelerated distribution of products.
With Shatter, the ultimate hope is to lead by example and drive more women to become engaged in funding businesses for all women. Because if we don’t do this for each other, who will?
Shelly Kapoor Collins is a female venture capitalist who works at the intersection of global technology and innovation, with a focus on investing in female led and founded technology startups at the Series A and B levels. After founding and running her own company and founding a couple of products, Shelly made the leap from entrepreneur to VC to have a greater impact on the emerging market of female entrepreneurs, to help them scale their companies and become 100% participants in the innovation economy.
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