Women in Venture: Why We Gather

Our 2nd Annual Comfort Food & Conversation VC and Founder dinner @ Husk Nashville during the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, sponsored by Cooley LLP & Live Oak Bank

The ongoing and ever-evolving discussion around diversity is a complex one, and will likely continue to be. The implications of a lack of diversity in every industry run deep (case and point for the private sector, the Table Stakes Study analyzing the gender equity gap). When it comes to venture capital, the blatant lack of representation across decision-makers and the founders receiving capital has finally taken center stage in the past year or so. I wrote about this in a TechCrunch article where I shared what it meant to me personally to have a “seat” at the VC table.

I write this while flying to the annual All Raise VC Summit, where nearly 600 women in venture will convene for two days. All Raise kicked down the doors with their Forbes cover article in April 2018 — the first to feature a picture of exclusively female VCs — and continues to be the largest platform for connecting female investors across the U.S. and around the globe.

When I moved to Nashville two years ago after working in venture capital for several years in my hometown of Los Angeles, a common question people asked was, “what is it like to be a young, female VC in Nashville?” My favorite answer has been, “well, it involves answering this question on a regular basis.” One of the first steps I took after traveling around the broader Southeast region to meet with founders, investors, and ecosystem builders, was to launch Build In SE (fka ModernCapital) as a platform to empower local up-and-coming talent to engage with their local startup ecosystem. Our approach has been to take a closer look at the unique benefits and challenges of the Southeast as a whole, where we believe the density and the close proximity of growing startup ecosystems will benefit in the next 10–20 years from regional collaboration.

The second thing I did after moving to Nashville was to collaborate with our Build In SE team to gather data on Tennessee’s female founder and investor ecosystem. We simply did not have any data on the volume of funding into female-led local startups, so we created it ourselves and shared our findings (thanks to Inc. for featuring our work). The data told a very clear story in-line with early data shared by All Raise, with a few highlights including:

  1. Chattanooga-based The JumpFund was responsible for doubling the number of female investment partners (in-line with All Raise’s finding that “new fund formation accounts for the fastest growth of women in VC.”
  2. While Tennessee’s overall number of venture-backed startups with at least one female founder has increased year-over-year, the percentage at the end of 2017 (~15%) still fell behind the United States (~20% according to Pitchbook). However, starting in 2015, Tennessee’s growth began to outpace national growth.

The third thing I did was to contact our friends at Launch Tennessee and Cooley about hosting a special dinner for women in VC from across the country during the 2018 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival. We set out to host 15 people at Nashville’s beautiful restaurant Husk, which led to 23 women representing 12 cities and 8 states coming together. A special thanks to Cooley for believing in this mission from the very start.

Our 1st Annual Comfort Food & Conversation VC dinner @ Husk Nashville during the 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, sponsored by Cooley LLP

So, why do we gather?

When I first started in venture capital back in 2013, I honestly did not know the first thing about how the broader VC community operated. I joined a startup first-time fund and dove headfirst into an industry I would come to love. I did not fully appreciate how isolated it was to be a woman in venture back then. There were so many points in time where I could have thrown up my hands and decided to choose a different career path because of the difficulties along the way. It was so clearly a male-dominated industry and finding women as mentors and as a peer group seemed futile.

Years later and the doors are blown wide open, and now I find myself flying to an event with nearly 600 female VCs who are all contributing unique perspectives, expertise, and experiences for the collective greater good. These conversations are happening in Oakland and the broader Bay Area, in my native LA, in NYC, Chicago, and increasingly all around the world.

Investment theses and processes are being tested to pose the question, “what opportunities have the venture capital industry overlooked traditionally, and how do we close this gap?”

We gather because the need for representation in VC is urgent.

We gather because visibility matters, so we can see each other and be seen for the work we are doing as part of an industry directing $100B+ into high-growth startups every year in the U.S. alone.

We gather so we can share the best ideas and practices for elevating new voices in VC to accelerate more equal representation.

We gather to make new, life-long friends and comrades as we navigate this ironically very lonely role as a VC.

We gather to create a safe space for all to participate and to be heard.

We gather so we can do deals and ultimately create value for our founders and LPs.

We gather so we can get new ideas into the world to improve the quality of everyday life (especially in critical industries like healthcare, financial services, education, and housing, to name a few).

I love that, while progress can feel painstaking at times, I now have a community, and a quickly growing one at that. I no longer feel the immense isolation I did back in 2013.

It’s quite the opposite, in fact — I feel I belong. Period.

It’s critical that we extend this progress into every nook and cranny of the broader list of startup ecosystems beyond SF, LA, and NYC. I’m proud to share that since launching our Build In SE efforts in 2018, we expanded on our initial report of Tennessee’s female founder ecosystem and recently launched the Southeast Female Founder Directory in partnership with The JumpFund. We are excited to develop programming and safe spaces for founders to convene and get to know one another as a collective peer group choosing to #BuildInSE.

We also hosted our second annual 36|86 dinner this past August for 36 attendees representing 17 cities and 12 states from coast to coast, all coming together in Nashville for comfort food and conversation. A month later, Mucker co-hosted a special breakfast for women in VC during Venture Atlanta with our friends at Embarc Collective (Tampa Bay), Engage (Atlanta), Loeb.atl (Atlanta and New York), and The JumpFund (Chattanooga).

Women in VC @ Venture Atlanta 2019

Although the industry has a long way to go, we are now equipped with data and a growing (and entirely fun and powerhouse) community. Here’s to 2020 and a bright future for a more inclusive venture capital landscape.

See you soon, All Raise!