Conversations alone are not enough
1 June 2021
What inspired you to pursue a career in venture capital (VC)?
My background was originally in law – I spent six years at Osborne Clarke, an international legal firm, training and qualifying into its banking and finance team. I then moved to San Francisco early in 2008 and was surrounded by technology innovators but I was struck by the inequity in the deployment of capital. So instead of remaining within law, I joined Astia in 2008 to address the disparity in VC being invested into teams that include women. The reason I entered into VC was – and still is – to challenge the traditional venture capital model until there is equity in the capital invested.
What is your current role and how do you uphold Astia’s values?
I’m Managing Director of the Astia Fund, one of four Astia investment team members deploying a new $100M fund investing in high growth companies with women in positions of power, equity and influence. I’m responsible for deal flow curation, deal execution and portfolio management.
I learnt from a young age that when something isn’t right, you need to take a stand, take action and fix it. That remains important to me today. The conversations around diversity and inclusion are often not easy or comfortable to have but without having them, change will not happen. In my specific field, conversations alone are not enough. Investment capital needs to follow those conversations.
Tell us about Astia and your approach
Founded in 1999 as a nonprofit organisation, Astia works globally to level the investment playing field for high-growth startups led by women.
At Astia we have pioneered a creative, proven approach for venture capital investment via the Astia Expert Sift™, a process developed to eradicate sources of bias that perpetuate gender and race disparities in funding, and to reliably identify and cultivate success for the highest potential ventures. The Astia Expert SiftTM, has been in use for the past 15 years and harnesses the wisdom of a curated group of over 5,000 experts in the Astia community.
How accessible is the world of venture capital to women now?
I am sincerely hoping the industry is becoming more accessible, because when Diversity VC launched their findings in 2017 the industry didn’t seem very reflective of society as “women represent just 13% of decision makers in U.K. venture capital” when we were 48% of the UK labour force. It is important for innovation and society that the industry is accessible to women as the research shows that when women are at the investment table more funding flows to diverse teams (for example research by Kauffman Fellows Research Center concluded “Women VC partners invest in more female founders than their male counterparts.”)
Why do you think investment in women fell in 2020?
In general women have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, within the high growth ecosystem, women especially have been hurt by the pandemic. The amount of venture capital invested in companies including women leaders reduced (even further, it was already unacceptably low). On top of that, the inclusive teams that did secure investment from the venture capital community, their fundraise was smaller in size than male-only teams. When you come into a crisis, people tend to retrench into what they know, what feels safe, familiar. Therefore when it comes to underrepresented founders receiving capital from the venture capital community, the pandemic has not helped. This fall in investment should not be attributable to the companies themselves. At Astia, we see no shortage of dealflow. We do things differently and have for 20 years communicated our commitment to start-ups led by women.
Many cite the female funding gap as a pipeline issue – in your opinion, is this the case?
When you look at venture capital investment into companies that include women anywhere in the founding or leadership team (9%) and into women CEOs (less than 2%), the numbers are dire. From my own experience working at Astia, where we saw over $1bn of investment opportunity just last year, this isn’t a pipeline issue. Within the venture capital community, we need to do a better job of being intentionally open to investment opportunities from traditionally underfunded founders.
What advice would you give to female founders looking for funding?
Even when you are not fundraising for your company, you are fundraising. Always. Whilst it might not take significant time as it does when you’re closing a round, always be in the mindset that you are fundraising. Build those relationships well before you need them and continue to cultivate them over time, whether that is with investors themselves or individuals within the ecosystem that can help connect you to investors. Do make sure you research investors to the extent you can to be sure you’re spending your time wisely: do you fit in terms of stage, sector, geography.