2.2 percent. That hyped Pitchbook figure shows the dismal state, comparatively, of venture investment capital raised by female-founded startups in the U.S. in 2018. TechCrunch journalist Kate Clark has noted that fewer than 10 percent of decision-makers at VC funds are women. And in a March report for the Center for American Entrepreneurship, economist Ian Hathaway observed that, along with addressing structural issues of discrimination and gendered processes at home, work and in society, the fastest and surest way to do better by female entrepreneurs is to have more female VCs.
New tools are cropping up to make those crucial connections between potential partners. Founders looking to match with investors, and vice versa, can now access NFX Guild’s Signal database of 370 top female VCs or check out Pitchbook’s VC Female Founders Dashboard. Here we’ve highlighted a mix of top performers and relative mavericks to watch in the VC space, with a common denominator of workplace innovation. They’re being the changemakers we wish to see.
Sarah Kunst – Managing Director, Cleo Capital
Who she is: Angel investor and entrepreneur Sarah Kunst has worked at Apple, Red Bull, Chanel and Mohr Davidow Ventures, and joined Sequoia Capital as a scout in 2018.
Notable investments: This August, Kunst closed the $3.5 million fund, focused on developing women in VC. The majority of Cleo’s scouts, who will independently seek deal flow, are women, including Birchbox co-founder Mollie Chen and Melody McCloskey, CEO and co-founder of beauty appointment booking platform StyleSeat.
What about work? As Kunst told Marie Claire, “There’s a lot of data that shows that when women invest, you make more money. So I’m going to go out and focus on women who have access to really interesting investments, but don’t have money to fund them themselves.”
Masha Drokova – Partner, Day One Ventures
Who she is: Before launching Day One, Masha Drokova was an angel investor and founder of a PR studio that worked with companies like Houzz, HotelTonight, Gett and Toptal. Masha is an advisor to Oceanic Global, a nonprofit using VR to bring attention to issues impacting our oceans.
Notable investments: On Day One’s radar are “hard-to-imitate tech and community-driven businesses that will fundamentally change industries, and solve some of today’s biggest challenges across business and society.” To date, those include LvI5, a Y Combinator company which creates HD maps for self-driving cars; DigitalGenius, a provider of machine learning tech for customer service; and Piper, an edtech company that makes DIY computer kits for children.
What about work? Day One is pioneering a new model in VC by also leading the public relations, marketing and communications for its portfolio companies.
Brianne Kimmel – Partner, Work Life Ventures
Who she is: Angel investor Brianne Kimmel led go-to-market strategy at Zendesk, and sourced enterprise deals with SaaS School, an invite-only workshop she created to educate early-stage SaaS (Software as a Service) founders on growth, monetization, sales and customer success.
Notable investments: “The desire for the fund is to take a step back and imagine how do we build great consumer experiences in the workplace,” Kimmel told TechCrunch. Kimmel has backed three companies via the fund to date: Tandem, developer of a virtual office for remote teams valued at more than $30 million; recruitment software company Dover; and Command E, creator of a tool that facilitates search across multiple desktop applications.
What about work? “Investing in tools and services for people at work,” WLV is inspired by well-designed email, note-taking apps and more as proof that there’s demand for easy-to-use B2B products.
Arian Simone – Founding Partner & CEO, Fearless Fund
Who she is: Serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, angel investor, author and marketing specialist Arian Simone founded Fearless Magazine and its platform in 2010 with a mission of inspiring entrepreneurial women. She teamed up with Keisha Knight Pulliam, investing in women-of-color–led businesses seeking pre-seed, seed level or series A financing.
Notable investments: Fearless Fund’s portfolio includes Enrichher, a lending platform for women-led businesses; Reset, a platform for flexible, drop-in workplace accessibility; and 100 Black Angels, “the first fund created with an investment thesis for the development of a scalable tech, startup and venture ecosystem infrastructure as a sustainable platform to ensure that black people have equitable access to create multigenerational wealth in the future of work and fourth industrial revolution. Strategically, the fund’s accredited limited partners invest $50K over a two-year period, that also connects them to a platform for their continued business and professional growth.”
What about work? As reported in Hypepotamus, Simone and Pulliam’s wide network in entertainment affords the firm a unique cache. In addition to recruiting actors and celebrities as investors, The Fearless Fund will incorporate an influencer marketing component for portfolio companies, connecting startups with celebrities.
Allison Lami Sawyer – Co-Founder, The League of Worthwhile Ventures
Who she is: For nine years, Allison Lami Sawyer’s Rebellion Photonics technology has monitored facilities in the oil and gas sector, using the world’s only gas cloud imaging cameras that see and quantify leaks before they cause explosions or unnecessary emissions. Founded in Houston in 2018, Sawyer’s League of Worthwhile Ventures invests in startups that leverage machine learning to create entirely new business models in large industries.
Notable investments: In its early days, the League’s investment checklist includes: startups that leverage machine learning to create new business models; startups that sell directly to end users; multi-billion-dollar markets that don’t traditionally have CTOs or CIOs; founders with domain experience and a passion for the customer problem; and low-capital, highly-scalable thin companies.
What about work? Believing in the power of machine learning to fundamentally change business, the League’s motto is “We fund the Davids in this next battle with the Goliaths.”
Aileen Lee – Founder & Partner, Cowboy Ventures
Who she is: Founder of the seed-stage-focused fund Cowboy Ventures, Aileen Lee backs exceptional teams building tech that reimagines work and personal life in large and growing markets — aka “Life 2.0.” Along with 33 other senior female VCs, Lee founded All Raise, a nonprofit that engages women and minorities in the founding and funding of tech-driven companies, in 2017.
Notable investments: Cowboy’s first investment was Dollar Shave Club in 2012, and having closed their third fund of $95 million in 2018, they’ve supported numerous companies, including Crunchbase and Textio. Lee’s personal investments include women-founded companies ADAY and Brit + Co.
What about work? Cowboy is “a community of founders, team members and advisors that supports each other to share lessons learned and build products that millions of customers love to use.”
Theresia Gouw – Co-Founder, Aspect Ventures
Who she is: Engineer, entrepreneur and investor Theresia Gouw, a former partner at Accel, focuses on security, data analytics and consumer opportunities in the new mobility space. A first-generation immigrant, Gouw is a passionate supporter of educational causes and increasing diversity in the tech industry.
Notable investments: Cato Networks, Exabeam, ForeScout, The Muse, SelfScore, BirchBox and BaubleBar are among Aspect’s investments since 2014. Aspect’s unique focus is in bridging the funding gap between angels and the larger multi-stage VC platforms through collaboration and diversity.
What about work? Aspect provides capital for companies in enterprise software, cybersecurity, digital health and solutions that address the future of work.
Pocket Sun and Elizabeth Galbut – Founders, SoGal
Who they are: “Not your typical venture capitalists,” NYC-based SoGal Ventures is the first female-led millennial VC fund, founded by startup veteran Pocket Sun and business designer Elizabeth Galbut, which invests in diverse entrepreneurs at seed and pre-A stage in the U.S. and Asia. What’s more, the SoGal community features more than 40 chapters worldwide, where local entrepreneurs and investors connect to inspire and learn from each other.
Notable investments: SoGal is often the first institutional investor for their portfolio companies, including cruelty-free makeup and skincare brand Winky Lux, technical womenswear brand ADAY and customized hair care startup Function of Beauty.
What about work? SoGal believes in the power of diversity, borderless businesses, next generation commerce and human-centric design. Galvanizing millennial and Gen Z women and minorities to “take central stage in entrepreneurship and creation,” SoGal invests in the future of how we live, work and stay healthy.
Jess Lee – Partner, Sequoia Capital
Who she is: Before becoming the first female investing partner at Sequoia Capital, Jess Lee was the co-founder and CEO of fashion e-commerce site Polyvore, acquired by Yahoo for $200 million.
Notable investments: Current Sequoia investments include Wonolo, an on-demand staffing platform for businesses to fill their immediate labor needs; Faire, which helps retailers find and buy wholesale merchandise for their stores; and TuneIn, an on-demand streaming platform.
What about work? Along with other female VCs, Lee offers guidance to up-and-coming female entrepreneurs via Female Founder Office Hours. There, female founders can get assistance with building and managing companies, securing funding and creating effective pitches.
Martina Welkhoff – Founding Partner, Women in XR
Who she is: Martina Welkhoff is a serial entrepreneur; founding partner at the WXR Fund, a venture fund focused on women-led AR/VR companies; and a venture partner at Jump Canon, a San Francisco fund focused on underrepresented founders in emerging tech.
Notable investments: The WXR Fund invests in early-stage companies with significant female leadership that are creating solutions for the next wave of computing. Writing their first checks in fall 2019, the current WXR Accelerator cohort includes AvatarMedic, working on real time remote relief in emergency scenarios; SensXR, “weaving contextually immersive experiences into the fabric of our lives,” Tvori, offering VR animation and storytelling software, and more.
What about work? The WXR Fund invests in startups in the XR (cross reality) industry that are committed to balanced gender representation, and provides community infrastructure to support women leaders in immersive tech. As Welkhoff told GeekWire, “Our investment thesis is rooted in both social and economic impact: WXR aims to build a more inclusive industry from the ground up, as well as leverage the unique economic opportunity that current demographic imbalances create.”
Sutian Dong and Anu Duggal – Founding Partners, Female Founders Fund
Who they are: Anu Duggal is the founding partner of Female Founders Fund, an early-stage fund investing in technology companies started by women, who has been praised for her impact in diversifying VC. Sutian Dong is a partner at F3, and previously at FirstMark Capital, with broad investments across the internet and cloud landscape, including sectors such as health care IT, fintech, enterprise SaaS and e-commerce.
What about work? In an interview with Yonah.org, Dong explains how F3’s mission to help women create valuable businesses resonated with her: “The opportunity with Female Founders Fund was unique in spotting a non-obvious opportunity, as well [as] to say there are more and more women starting unicorns, or billion-dollar business opportunities that will change markets or create new ones.” Says Duggal: “I want to prove that when you invest in women you get a great return.”
Trish Costello – Founder, Portfolia
Who she is: As the co-founder, long-time CEO and now CEO Emeritus of the Kauffman Fellows Program, the premier global leadership program for venture capitalists, Costello mentored hundreds of the world’s top VCs. In 2014 she launched the venture investing platform Portfolia, with a vision to activate the capital of women to invest in the companies we want in the world.
Notable investments: Portfolia aims to make startup investing a smart, empowering and enjoyable experience, with member investments starting as low as $10,000. Today Portfolia has seven funds and has made 37 investments in top innovative companies.
What about work? Trish’s lifelong passion has been in two areas: supporting and investing in innovative entrepreneurs and unlocking the personal and professional talents of women. “If women want specific companies in the world that address their needs, the only way to do that is for women to become the investors,” said Costello. Her innovative platform enables that by connecting investors, leaders and founders.
Edith Dorsen – Managing Director, Women’s Venture Capital Fund
Who she is: Previously a principal at Insights, LLC, Edith Dorsen launched Portland-based Women’s Venture Capital Fund in 2011 to support high-growth sectors including enterprise SaaS, consumer internet and educational technology. The fund is committed to funding Series A/B companies with gender inclusive leadership.
Notable investments: Nvoicepay, which automates accounts payable; Newsela, an instructional content platform that supercharges reading engagement and learning; HopSkipDrive, a ride service for families; and The Riveter.
What about work? Tech trends Dorsen is watching include digital-first brands in consumer product categories, or the intersection of physical and digital retail; AI to help human labor work smarter and more effectively; and holistic, personalized active patient input in the health and wellness space.
Tina Eskridge, Angel Investor
Who she is: Tina Eskridge is Senior Director of Supply Chain Channel Operations at Microsoft, and a member of Pipeline Angels, whose angel investor bootcamp creates capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs. Members serve as the friends and family round for entrepreneurs who may not have support at that stage. As GeekWire reports in a profile of more than 50 women VCs and angel investors in the Pacific Northwest, Eskridge explains: “My investment approach/thesis is founded in supporting enterprises that are led by individuals that are often unknowingly systematically marginalized due to gender and/or ethnic bias.”
What about work? As Eskridge told GeekWire: “I’m often astounded by how much increased access to data has changed our entire existence over a very short time. I get excited about the convergence of data and technology that is used to responsibly enhance the way in which we live and leave our environment.”
Amy McCullough – Managing Director, Investment Team, Trilogy Equity Partners
Who she is: Following time at Microsoft and four years in the investment bank JPMorgan Chase in New York, Amy McCullough joined Trilogy’s investment team, focusing on seed and Series A startups, principally in the Pacific Northwest.
Notable investments: Owlet, a proactive health monitor that allows parents to view their child’s vital signs in real time; Skilljar, a customer training platform for enterprises to accelerate product adoption and improve customer retention; and Boundless, which helps families navigate the immigration system.
What about work? In addition to information data from wearables that informs consumer action, and the shifting landscape of e-commerce, what excites McCullough about tech, as told to GeekWire is: “The rapidly changing world of ‘work’ in a gig economy and the new businesses that are growing in many sectors that utilize dormant, human capital in unexpected ways is exciting and has implications for so many industries and society as a whole.”
Rachel Shimp is a copy editor with a background in journalism on arts and culture.