These 15 U.K.-based angels and venture capital investors are worth following on the topic of … [+]
* This article is the first in the series of highlighting investors supporting underrepresented founders. In this first story, the focus will be on the London and U.K. tech ecosystem.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to female founders or people of color fundraising, it’s always been hard. It doesn’t matter if we are in the middle of a tech renaissance or in a market downturn, if you are a woman, a BIPOC founder, an LGBTQIA+ founder, or a founder with a disability, you’ll kiss a lot of frogs before you get that cheque.
Recently, Pitchbook Data reported that, during the first half of 2022, “U.S. startups with one or more female founders raised $20.8 billion of venture funding, a figure representing more than 93% of the deal value raised in the first half of 2021—a record year for VC funding for female founders in the U.S.”.
But this amount is far from equitable. According to Crunchbase, companies with female founders raised just 2.2% of all venture funding in 2021. VC funding for diverse female founders is even more insufficient, with Black female startup founders receiving just 0.34% of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. last year. So the conclusion is that we still have a lot of work to do here.
Nevertheless, there are investors out there who made it their mission to change the status quo for those who might not be in a privileged position to raise funds easily, and who care about equal distribution of funds to those who deserve them.
Below, in alphabetical order, are 15 U.K.-based angels and venture capital investors worth following on this topic.
Alina’s mission is to grow the pie for everyone by diversifying the impact investor base and matching capital to overlooked founders who are building and scaling solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and societal issues. When she started out as an angel, she admits she was predominantly looking at female impact businesses. Both the female and the impact angle were driven by the fact that she was seeing so little diversity in the tech space and so her inner activist was activated and she decided to do something about this lack of diversity.
Through her work at Impact Shakers, her thesis has evolved and she now supports underrepresented founders building scalable impact solutions tackling climate change and/or social justice issues. “We look for solutions that have the potential to make us, as Tom Husson puts it, “impact billionaires”, i.e. have the potential to positively impact one billion lives. Every day, I am blown away by the founders I meet in this space because they have a real love for the problem and their products, they know the communities they are solving for better than anyone else and they all have had to beat the odds in life, which makes them incredibly resourceful and resilient,” she shares with me.
She is adamant we need collaboration along the entire funding ladder – that includes individuals, VCs, corporates, government, and NGOs. To move the dial, there needs to be a clear path to scale for impactful solutions, one that doesn’t depend on your gender, your ethnicity, or where/whether you went to university. “Governments need to make investing in impact easier and more attractive – from investment regulations to tax relief for investors, it should be easier and more beneficial to invest in solutions that are good for people and the planet. Financial innovation is hard, so let’s nurture it rather than regulate it to death and scare people off even talking about money.”
Finally, and perhaps controversially, investors and governmental bodies that wield large sums of money should have diversity quotas. Whilst she is not a big fan of these, she highlights that “we only really started seeing women and BIPOC in board rooms once it became mandatory to include them, so why not do the same for the investment industry.” I couldn’t agree more.
Before moving to London, Bao was one of Math for America’s earliest cohorts in New York City teaching underprivileged kids STEM, with a passion for encouraging young girls to study STEM and getting them interested in the tech industry. Even after moving to London, she is still involved in education-related projects such as Said Foundation’s social enterprise, BecomeMe School, which provides mentorship for young people.
However, after meeting more and more female and other underrepresented founders she quickly realized education alone wouldn’t democratize all the opportunities for women as the glass ceiling eventually hits at some point, particularly for female entrepreneurs, including underrepresented founders, during their fundraising journey. “So I decided to do something about this, which is why I joined Simsan Ventures. The root of the problem, when it comes to why so little funding goes to underrepresented founders, is much deeper, and more needs to be done than “female founders’ office hours”,” she explains.
At Simsan, she aims to engage as many stakeholders to generate the necessary impact to drive the diversity movement and to increase funding to underrepresented founders including women, BAME, and LGBTQ+, according to Bao, “we need to engage with investors who share the same investment thesis, and who are largely from the same community as those founders.”
She firmly believes deep tech defines our future and helps solve some of the urgent issues we are facing particularly climate change, healthcare crisis, and supply shortage. Deep tech also improves our lives and democratizes resources and opportunities for all, such as the future of work, fintech, and smart cities. “I also recognize a lot of female and underrepresented founders care deeply about certain social and environmental challenges and therefore we at Simsan partner with communities and accelerators, such as Climate Mosaic and Zinc that address those issues and aim to create maximum impact.
Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) is Europe’s leading early-stage tech for good VC, backing ambitious founders using tech to tackle pressing social and environmental challenges at scale. At BGV, Sathianathan leads on community and networks, driving BGV’s efforts to act with integrity on diversity, equity, and inclusion and fuel the broader tech for good movement across the UK. She also sits on the steering committee of VentureESG, the world’s largest community of VCs and LPs stewarding better-shared learning and practices to integrate ESG and impact at the fund level and beyond.
BGV’s investment thesis is focused on backing founders building tech for good businesses to achieve material positive outcomes for people and the planet. “We want to back founders who contribute to a sustainable planet, a better society, and healthy lives. This requires us to support founders who understand the complexities of some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges, which naturally means we need to back founders from all walks of life. Seeing that a lot of social and environmental issues have a disproportionate effect on underrepresented communities, there’s all the more reason to back founders who have perhaps the lived experience or a unique perspective in understanding the problem and see the urgency in addressing these challenges for a better world,” she explains.
Sathianathan believes change is afoot in the investment sector. When she started in VC, she admits she was often one of the few women of color (for lack of a better term) in the room. Now she sees more representation at the fund level and investment in underrepresented founders, though it can always be better. “What we can all do is continuously advocate for positive change. If you’re working at a fund, revisit your investment approach, make it 100% open and ditch warm intros. If you’re an exited founder, consider making angel investments and ditch warm intros. If you don’t have the power to write checks, consider how you can use your influence and voice to support founders in other meaningful ways,” she continues.
If we want to get more women to invest, we need to close the gender pay gap – and we don’t have 132 years to wait around for it to happen. Closing the gender pay gap allows more women to accumulate wealth and therefore consider investing some of that wealth into businesses. “If you’re already in a position where you can afford to invest, many initiatives will help you find amazing female founders to invest in such as Alma Angels, HERmesa, Angel Academe, and many more,” she concludes.
The Conduit Connect thesis is to support entrepreneurs in solving the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges. “We look for high-impact businesses with scalable business models and believe that talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not; so we make our best efforts to ensure that we see great ideas and solutions regardless of the founders’ ethnicity, gender, location, or background,” shares Dimitriadis, who joined the Conduit Connect in July 2019. She admits that she and her team strive to have a fair and diverse portfolio with every single investment they make. At the moment, 40% of the companies invested in by the Conduit EIS Impact Fund have at least one female founder, and out of 79 of their portfolio companies they recently surveyed, 18 (22%) have ethnic founders. Four of those (5%) have Black founders. When it comes to sectors, Conduit’s investments tend to cluster around four key impact themes – Climate, Education, Health & Wellbeing, and Financial Inclusion.
“These are some of the investments I am most excited about from the last year, many of whom are founded by the female founder(s)” she reveals excitedly, such as Sojo, a startup aiming to reduce fashion waste by encouraging us to reuse, repair, and re-wear our clothes for longer, Amlo Biosciences, which is on a mission to improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost associated to late diagnosis of cancer by developing a range of cancer biomarkers, and Foodsteps, a company measuring and publishing the carbon footprint of food allowing consumers to make better choices for the environment.
She highlights that, unfortunately, women are indeed less likely to invest than men, but when they do, data shows that their investments tend to outperform men. “I am very passionate about empowering women to invest with confidence.” This year The Conduit Connect launched an Impact Investing Academy with exactly a 50/50 split in its first intake. “In our Conduit EIS Impact Fund, we are very proud that 34 out of a hundred fund investors are women. In a way, this is not surprising when you read the research that women are more likely to invest in businesses that have a positive impact. The best way for us to keep moving this needle up is to provide education and confidence.”
In order to support underrepresented founders, Dimitriadis is adamant there needs to be adequate signposting from investors to make them feel welcome. “We have an unwritten rule at Conduit Connect that any opportunities with a female focus will be reviewed by a female investment manager. After all, how can a man be expected to properly diligence a company that focuses on menopause, or period products?”.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are extremely important to Feike Du and are a driving force in her career. As a mixed-race woman (half Chinese, half Dutch), she never really saw anyone who looked like her in a leadership position – it inspired her to be her own role model and to help other underrepresented people be theirs too, by helping them get access to funding.
Diversity and inclusion have grown to become an important factor when making investment decisions at MMC Ventures, where she and the rest of the team track founder background, gender, and source of opportunity for all companies they meet. “Our data goes back to 2015 and it’s encouraging to see that the percentage of female-founded companies we’ve assessed has increased by 50% since then. We also actively work with our portfolio to improve and track diversity across the organization, in leadership roles, and at the board level. Some of our largest portfolio companies, such as Gousto and Bloom & Wild, have gender-balanced leadership teams (female representation of over 50%). However, much work remains, especially at the early stage, and many of the boards I sit on are still behind in terms of diversity,” she explains.
As Du points out, a lot of events, talks, and networking opportunities are focused on women in tech and investment communities, which is great, but those are typically attended only by women. The majority of leadership roles in the VC and tech industry are held by men and we need to do more work on getting these men actively involved in and pushing the diversity agenda. “The data doesn’t lie: diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams. I’m hopeful that with a strong pipeline of women in junior functions, and ever more women being promoted to partners, senior leadership across the investment industry will look different in a few years. Whether you are already in finance or an operator, angel and public market investing are great ways to build experience as an investor.
Du believes it’s really important that investors include diversity in their investment framework, both when assessing investments as well as post-investment at the board level. For example, this means tracking diversity across the organization and over time, but also challenging founders when they make (especially senior) hires and what their hiring process looked like. Another important aspect is inclusivity – a company may have good diversity on paper, but is the culture set up to allow actual influence? “There are interesting start-ups being built to address these issues: e.g. Equal Time (note: MMC nor Du have invested in this company], a Zoom plugin which measures who takes speaking time during meetings and when people are interrupted – an interesting way to make teams more aware of voices heard in meetings.”
Nyarko always thought of investing, and ultimately helping to support enterprise, as one of the key ways that we can all look to solve injustices in the world. For her, entrepreneurship is alchemic, it’s about creating something out of nothing, and investing helps fuel this process. As people create businesses they can create change, and when led by underrepresented founders these changes can help achieve things such as alleviating poverty, reinvesting into communities, and reducing inequality.
Her investment thesis focuses on investments that sit at the intersection of diversity and sustainability. Impact investing focused on female and underrepresented founders is very important to Nyarko because she identifies with both groups – she is both a woman and of African heritage, and therefore, knows firsthand that many business opportunities are being missed every year due to investors not identifying with the founders simply because they are not from the same background or cannot identify with their product offering.
Many statistics highlight the need for more investment in people of color and women-led businesses. But for Nyarko, her main focus is ensuring that these diverse groups are not missed in the emerging green economy, which, according to her, is “the next biggest economic opportunity after waves like the Dotcom boom”. “The green economy and my work at Start Up Discovery School is a testament to that. I’ve seen some truly innovative ideas in the green sector such as energy solutions that are off-grid providing affordable energy to low-income homes and underserved communities, solutions that address climate justice for underserved communities such as air pollution to tackle poor health, agritech solutions supporting food security, and new innovative tech to help the growing global population and green hydrogen production,” she adds.
Nyarko recently launched Sustainable Women’s Network, a network of female founders in the sustainability sector, and off the back of this she hopes to also help encourage investment into these women – hopefully in a syndicate-type format. “I’d like to see more involvement from the Government which has a role to play in being creative when thinking about creating incentives to encourage women to invest. Much like the SEIS/EIS scheme launched a few years ago to great success, there could be more done to possibly encourage female investors under a similar scheme.”
As a VC fund focused on pre-seed startups in the U.S. and Europe, the company is aiming at replacing the friends and family round and re-writing the networks in the venture. “We invest early and open doors for the visionary founders of the future, and believe the founders of the next decade will look fundamentally different: more female, more diverse, and more distributed,” starts Bannon.
Backing founders based on their tenacity and ambition, not their pedigrees or who they know, is essential to Bannon. January Ventures closed a $21 million Fund II in March 2022, and out of the 50 investments in their portfolio, over 90% have a female founder, 30% have a female technical cofounder or CTO, 54% have a founder of color, 32% have a Black or Latinx founder and 42% have an immigrant founder.
There is a lot of talk about funding underrepresented founders, but the actual funding behind them is still very small, admits Bannon. 2019 January Ventures research study found that for every $1 a male founder raises at the early stage, a female founder raises just $0.38 and a black female founder raises just $0.02. Female and underrepresented founders are undercapitalized from the start, and so they have to work harder to reach venture scale metrics.
One of the most powerful things is the trend of women starting their own funds. As these funds are successful and raise more capital, I believe it will be one of the most powerful ways to move the needle for the funding gap. There is also a trend towards more women in partner roles at VC firms. The key though is having women in GP roles where they have the authority to deploy capital. “I believe the biggest things behind the funding gap are the lack of female check writers, a lack of diverse LPs, and a lack of LP money focused on this issue. Finally, venture is a network-driven business and for the industry to change, new networks need to be built. We need more opportunities for women to get into venture capital and investing. At January Ventures, we do this through our Venture Fellows program and our Operator Network. We are also building the next generation of LPs by making our fund accessible to a diverse group of investors. 60% of our January Ventures LPs are women,” highlights Bannon.
Investing in female founders started very organically for Ghosn – her first angel investments were all in women. They took place several years ago from today as female friends and colleagues who she deeply admired and respected were leaving companies they worked at together (McKinsey, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) to start businesses. “I was bullish on their success and wanted to contribute to it. To me, investing in them was a no-brainer (and turned out to be a great investment thesis!),” she shares with me.
As she got more involved in the angel investing world, she learned of the vast and unsettling gender gaps on many levels and became passionate about doing what she could to close that gap for future generations. She has also firsthand experienced a lot of the bias that goes into angel investing. “I distinctly remember a day when two male angels who I often co-invest with, shared a pre-product male-founded mental health deal with me. The company was just a concept and a deck. They were very bullish on the opportunity.” The next day, she shared a pre-product female-founded mental health deal that she had decided to invest in after several weeks of discussion with the female founder and her team. They had a $10M ARR deal pipeline after just a few months in business. “My male co-investors’ response? “This is too early for us”. Why is it too early when it’s female-founded (despite there being meaningful product traction) but worth the bet when it’s male-founded (despite it only being an idea)? Of course, many other factors went into the decision but the stark contrast was notable and has been a humbling reminder for me to pay attention to how I make angel investments.”
65% of her portfolio is female-founded: for Ghosn, it makes business sense – women build more successful businesses, purpose-driven companies are more likely to be female-founded, and on top of that, she is especially excited about spaces that have been historically overlooked or stigmatized and considered “niche” but have significant potential, such as mental health, eating disorders, addiction, gut health, peripartum, sexual health – and these businesses tend to be built by women, inspired by direct or indirect lived experience.
Ghosn is a strong believer that the doorway to success or progress in any area of your life swings inward. Building greater self-awareness around our biases is the key to becoming more conscious investors. “For example, a groundbreaking docsend report showed us that both male and female investors tend to spend the same amount of time- on average- looking at pitch decks of female vs. male-founded companies, but use that time very differently. For male-founded companies, investors focus on product and market, whereas for female-founded companies, investors focus on the team and traction slides. That says it all. And there’s so much that each of us as investors – male or female or otherwise – can internalize and reflect on next time they open a pitch deck,” she concludes.
“My whole career has been solving problems and connecting the dots needed to fix them. This is where underrepresented founders and female founders come into the conversation. There are still investment opportunities with the untapped potential of these founders that haven’t been given the same opportunities in the past,” starts his story McNally.
For him, founders are not made of one type of person, so diversity is key because people experience the world differently and therefore have different views on how to solve the problem, which sometimes leads to the problem being solved in a way no one else approaches the problem giving them the edge. “Through the years I have seen founders come from all around the world bringing culture, experience, expertise, and network from all sectors to solving problems that we may not have known existed let alone know how to solve.”
This was also one of the reasons why he joined Goddess Gaia Ventures. “Priya Oberoi-Cattai, Aya Suzuki, and Alex Lemacon were investing in P4’s women’s health-focused companies and are now creating the largest women’s health-focused fund in Europe. Once I heard about the mission and worked with them for over 18 months I had to join,” he adds. He also highlights there are some great underrepresented founders and female founders with very similar businesses to their male counterparts and they either take longer to receive investment because they have to convince more people and overcome hurdles that don’t seem to exist or are easier to break through than others. 80% of female-centered healthcare start-ups are founded by women who receive less than 3% of venture capital funding.
But no matter who we are, McNally admits that we all have underlying biases, and our own experiences shape our decisions and opinions, so the more we work on diversifying decision makers the more we will see diverse decisions being made. “I hope there are more advocates coming through that see it as a moral obligation but also an opportunity as an untapped market. Investors should proactively seek to diversify their pipeline to unearth opportunities that can make a difference. We need society to continue to strive for parity, this will lead to opportunities for underrepresented people in the professional sector, more women in decision-making positions and further increasing angel groups giving more exposure to investing which may not have been present historically.”
As a founding partner of Apiary Capital, Boyd invests in established owner-managed businesses with high levels of recurring revenue – downside protection – and operating in a fragmented market – “so we can accelerate growth through a buy and build strategy”. Their focus and expertise are in the education, healthcare, financial, business and technology services sectors. While she is proud that Apiary is extremely diverse internally, female and underrepresented founders remain in the minority in the leadership of its portfolio companies, so they are actively focused on addressing this at the leadership level and throughout the companies themselves.
“It was partly this lack of diversity that inspired me to take action and start investing in female founders personally. I have a relatively broad portfolio as I was a bit unfocused to start with – principally looking for inspirational founders across sectors – but have since honed in on a handful of sectors, being healthcare (primarily mental health/ psychedelics), sustainability, and agtech,” she shares. Her investments include funds such as Neo Kuma (psychedelics), and direct investments (Ethena – compliance training platform, Compare Ethics – supply chain compliance, Dai – comfortable and sustainable womenswear).
She admits she used to think it was enough to be a role model, but having been in the minority her whole career as both a founder and an investor, she also realized the scale of the challenge and real barriers that are hindering female and underrepresented founders at every stage of building a company. “Beyond money, I also make a point of giving time and where possible opportunities to such individuals, and continually try and educate male colleagues – it is as important for them to shift mindset and behavior to make a real difference at scale.”
Boyd is on the board of Level 20, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2015, with the aim of improving gender diversity in the industry, and is also a member of Alma Angels, one of the largest angel investing groups in the U.K. which is focused on supporting female founders. “I think these (and many other similar organizations) are critical, both to encourage women to become VC investors as well as become angel investors, either professionally or moonlighting! I have spoken to many women who were intimidated/thought there were large minimum cheque sizes to do angel investing and spent a lot of time debunking this myth.”
Rupa Ganatra Popat is passionate about investing in female and underrepresented founders for several reasons: as a startup founder in 2013 herself, she found it extremely challenging to raise funds for her company. “There is no doubt it has improved especially from my own experience as a founder a decade ago but given the current statistics that still less than 3% of venture funding goes to women, we still have a very long way to go.”
Ganatra Popat believes there are many opportunities to improve the lives of women and women are best positioned to solve them – investing in diversity is smart as female founders have proven to outperform male founders even when having raised fewer funds. So far, she invested in pre-seed and seed stage startups shaping the future of life, work, and health, with sectors including fintech, health tech, edtech, consumer, and B2B SaaS. She also invests in venture funds founded by first and second-time female and under-represented GPs, and currently has 40 companies and seven venture funds in her portfolio.
For Ganatra Popat, representation at the investor level is key to driving change. With 76% of the venture capitalist firms in the U.K. being surveyed as white and 70% as men, introducing diversity in venture capital is essential, especially when female venture capitalists have been proven to be two times more likely to invest in female founders than their male counterparts. “We need to support the emergence of venture capital funds founded by women and under-represented founders and we need to encourage and educate more women about angel investing, something I am extremely passionate about. When I first explored angel investment in 2015, I was deterred when I was told that you needed to have large minimum ticket sizes, extensive technical knowledge, and a huge established network. It was only in 2019, when I closed my first angel investment, that I realized that that wasn’t the case. That’s why we need education and encouragement for women and why I have partnered with WeAreRadikl to launch Halo, a new angel investment education program for women,” she adds.
Women’s health is a very exciting sector for her, from contraception to fertility and chronic conditions to menopause, and she has made several investments so far in this sector including Jude, the healthcare company smashing bladder taboos, women’s telehealth platform Naytal and the Lowdown, U.K.’s leading sexual and reproductive health platform that recently raised $2.5 million. Another area that she is very interested in is startups closing the gender knowledge gap. “Women have traditionally been shut out from the world of investing and engineering but with platforms like Your Juno, Alpher and Code First Girls emerging, there are lots of opportunities here to drive real change,” she concludes.
For Bhojwani, it’s all about backing female founders, simply because it’s a massive commercial opportunity – “every VC fund wants to back the underdogs that end up outperforming,” she says. “Female founders are one such example of these underdogs, and we’ve developed the right networks to access the highest caliber female founders, win allocation in their rounds, and bring them into the VC fund pipeline.”
She shares how Dana Kanze, a thought leader in this field and an advisor to Pink Salt Ventures, published compelling research on the topic, concluding that the questions women get asked in pitch conversations vs. those men get asked are different. VC funds can standardize the way they ask questions (the majority of the questions people use to probe an early-stage business are the same in intent) to eliminate some of that effect. “In collaboration with Dana, we at PSV are also conducting primary research on the market inefficiency that leads to the funding gap, surveying female founders and gender-diverse teams on their fundraising experience. The results will hopefully shed light on actionable changes.”
She admits that, from an LP perspective, there are now several LPs, some U.S.-centric and some international, that have identified and executed this market opportunity. For example, Pivotal Ventures, First Close Partners, Insight Partners’ Vision Capital Fund, Include Ventures, etc. There are also great initiatives like Beyond the Billion that mobilize capital for female founders and fund managers. “From a fund perspective, there are plenty of great funds that have emerged with a diverse focus and thesis – examples include January Ventures, Astia, 10×10, Blackseed, and Ada Ventures. But relative to the industry, these are small funds, more needs to happen, and faster,” she adds. She is aware it will take decades to see changes in the statistics, so every little counts at this stage, but the more underrepresented founders that have exited, the more exit capital is plowed back into the ecosystem, and the more these “underrepresented” founders become well-represented.
Some of the areas she is most excited about, investment-wise, are health tech – and within that, digital health across mental health and women’s health (women’s health for the obvious reason that it’s a massive market opportunity and also has a large proportion of overlooked female founders building solutions based on their own (usually negative) experiences). Then there’s the future of work, as employees will become more driven by the impact of the company they work for, remote and flexible working arrangements, and how employees are cared for by the company. “We’re also excited by unbundling within media technology, particularly the creator economy. Creators can distribute and monetize their content directly like Substack, which unbundles journalists from newspapers, or Cameo which allows celebrities to sell social capital. But this also presents the opportunity for technology solutions that cater to creators – the enabling technologies, or picks and shovels. And refreshingly, this is a female-dominated industry. High-quality content creation tools allow creators, business leaders, and solopreneurs, to communicate effectively with their audiences,” she concludes.
Personally and professionally, Mackin believes we need more women as investors and CEOs because “the world would be a better place and businesses would be more effective with more women in power”. He highlights that we also need more diversity in general because that makes us stronger in our companies and communities. “I grew up with my mom being the breadwinner in my family and never understood that women would not be advanced professionally. My mom had it very tough growing up and for most of her life, just making ends meet. When, at age 50, she had a chance to finally do something for herself, she got a real estate and then brokerage license and started her own successful firm, which she ran until she was 78,” he shares with me.
At Denham Capital, Mackin and the team believe there are tremendous opportunities in sustainable infrastructure, particularly around the energy transition space. Being a growth versus buyout-oriented fund, this means they work with management teams to develop and build more infrastructure assets. Denham has invested all over the world with local, thus diverse, teams and significant female representation in leadership, and the results have been great. “I think the key is to hire the right recruiters, who have done the work to recruit diverse candidates as opposed to going to the same well, over and over, and then wondering why you get the same results,” he adds.
Personally, in his spare time, he is an active angel investor, focusing mostly on female founders – although he has made two significant investments in the energy transition technology space and across other sectors, with diverse male founders. “Over time, I have built a diverse personal portfolio of women-led startups, following the thesis of Marc Andreessen that you need 60 or more investments to maximize the outlier potential.” His investments cover a variety of sectors: SaaS, Future of Work, new marketplaces in the Circular Economy, FinTech, Food and Beverage, Health, ESG, EdTech, Parent Coaching, and so on.
“There are incremental steps being taken in the VC world to chip away at what are horrible stats for diverse founders being funded, but those steps should be celebrated. I believe that momentum is everything in life. In the VC world, funds like January Ventures, Zinc, Cornerstone, Auxxo, ImpactX, and others are proving that focusing on diverse founders can generate great returns. Groups like Alma Angels and HERmesa move the needle,” concludes Mackin.
At Anthemis, Mitra sits on the Female Innovators Lab fund, focused on first cheque investments into female and non-binary founded businesses in North America, the UK & Europe. She is a firm believer that cultivating resilient and sustainable change across our ecosystem will need virtuous cycle outcomes. The more companies founded by underrepresented founders that scale, the more we create representation and level the playing field. “For this reason, our investments in portfolio companies are accompanied by the customized support of a venture studio – from business to product design, we focus on supporting founding teams through all aspects of their zero-to-one journey that are fundamental to scale,” she shares.
Anthemis’ investment focus is positioned along two vectors – the key subsectors of financial services (payments, consumer finance, wealth management, etc.), and the industry verticals where fintech can serve as a horizontal when embedded into core business models (in supply chains, mobility, energy, media, agriculture, healthcare, and many more industries). DEI is core to Anthemis’ DNA – by bringing together team members from a range of backgrounds and strengths, from both inside and outside of the financial services industry, they have been able to deploy 48% of their capital across all funds into the hands of women or people of color.
When it comes to improving the state of funding, Mitra adds that looking at representation levels throughout the ecosystem might give us a clue as to where interventions are needed. Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields: comprising only 1.7% of graduates in ICT versus 8.2% men, and 6.6% in Engineering versus 24.6% men. The skills gap in high-growth industries shows up in women’s participation in the workforce. When we look at the % of women influencing and allocating capital, the gap plays a part too – only 15% GPs in Europe are women, and even fewer (9%) hold firepower. “I am hopeful that some trends that we’re seeing in the market might be positive accelerators in driving representation, some of them being having more underrepresented founder-focused funds than we have had in the last decade, and also more women starting their own businesses at a faster rate than men – in 2020, globally, the share of female founders grew by 45% versus 32% for male founders,” she adds.
She highlights that there are many practical ways we can increase diversity and inclusion in the VC space, and consequently, the amount of capital that goes to underrepresented founders – “building relationships outside of the closed-loop circles that VC sits in, measuring the underlying data behind our decision-making, recognizing that the diversity dividend is not theoretical (diverse teams yield better results), admitting bias, acknowledging systemic burdens such as caregiving, and developing equitable working structures for female and minority investors, and more”.
Linamagi and her team have been working hard at Sie Ventures to move the needle for female founders. Since they launched the Sie Ventures Catalyst program in 2021, they have seen more than 40 checks written from their investor community, resulting in their founders have collectively raised more than £28 million within one year. “There are great networks but also new diversity-focused funds like January Ventures, Auxxo, Ada Ventures, and Cornerstone Partners. Many VC funds in the U.K. have also signed up for Investing in Women Code, a commitment by financial services firms to improving female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources, and finance,” Linamagi shares with me.
For her, there is no doubt about a significant untapped potential across huge markets where female founders are creating innovative solutions, such as the future of work, fintech, sustainability, and healthcare. Women are also building companies that are solving real-world problems and societal issues. The businesses founded by women also tend to focus more on long-term sustainable growth, as opposed to short-term growth strategies. “We are at the inflection point, whereby over $30 trillion of wealth will transfer over to women in the next decade. Women will control more than half the world’s wealth, becoming primary financial decision makers and they want to know the best way to invest it,” she explains. This is why Sie has invested in companies such as Juno, an educational investment platform for gen-Z women, and Jude, a healthcare company redefining healthy aging with bladder care as an entry point. Our primary focus is on the future of work, fintech, healthcare, and sustainability but they are always open to speaking to founders beyond these sectors.Female investors are twice as likely to invest in female-led businesses. At Sie, they have recognized the need to create a network of investors (male and female) dedicated to closing the gender funding gap and giving the opportunity to angels to invest as little as $5000 in their companies. “Women often invest in smaller tickets, there’s a need for a platform that gives small ticket angel investors better access to highly vetted deals, collective knowledge, and an option to get on cap tables of the best-performing companies that they otherwise wouldn’t see. That is what we are doing at Sie Ventures.”
Despite the vast majority of investors claiming they want to invest in female-led businesses, many feel held back by the team or structure of their fund. What has improved is the number of women we see working in venture capital but Linamagi is not fully confident it helps to drive more capital to diverse founding teams unless female investors are in the position of the decision maker and able to write checks. “In order to see a bigger shift in the industry, we need more women to deploy capital. We need LPs to back more female GPs, we need more women to have the power to make decisions within VCs and we need more women to invest as angels. Yet, it’s not all about women. We need to get all investors in the room despite gender or background, talk about the opportunities we see, share more deals, and open up our networks. I also believe we need to bring more transparency to venture capital, an industry that operates in silos so that founders understand how to navigate their fundraising journey,” she concludes.
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