I’m new here, in a sense.
The lingo, people and culture of my day-to-day work has shifted. Nerd that I am, one of my first orders of business when I joined Dave (Neal) and Chris (Heivly) at The Startup Factory was to read everything I could get my hands on about venture finance, seed funding, accelerators and startup communities. The heavy box that landed with a thud on my porch served as a tangible reminder of facts I needed to learn.
I expected change, but somehow missed the memo about how different my day-to-day would be. My world at UNC was full of other women, from professors to staff, to students. One minute I was emailing with Michele Bolas, who cranks the engine of Innovate Carolina with Judith Cone, the next I was asking Mary Napier, then Executive Director at the Kenan Institute, for advice. Then, I would hash out the content for the upcoming Minor in Entrepreneurship newsletter with an (unintentionally) all-female student marketing team. The American Underground at the ATC bustles with a different mix of people than Gardner Hall, notably more men.
Second order of business was to find myself a few good role models. As I sipped coffee with investors this fall, I asked who people admired in venture capital, especially the women in the Triangle investment community who lent me their time. They told me their stories, and helped point me toward women like Christine Tsai, who runs the 500 Startups accelerator and fund in Silicon Valley with Dave McClure.
The September report (executive summary) from the Diana Project at Babson College notes a 4 percent decline in the total number of women partners from the 10 percent the same institute reported in 1999. And those women are all at the partner level. Dan Primack, author of the weekly GetTermSheet for Fortune, slices and dices the data with nearly the same result in an update of data he published last year.
My anecdotal experience of poring over fund websites, supports these data. I see an encouraging number of Dayna Grayson (Partner at NEA), Cindy Padnos (Founder and Managing Partner at Illuminate) and Heidi Roizen (Operating Partner at DJF) level women at major firms, each of whom has decades of experience as a founder and investor. The occasional woman closer to my stage stands out in the large associate pool of a big West Coast VC. Yet, most often the title that pops up when I click a woman’s profile references operations, not investing. There are no publicly available numbers of up-and-coming women in VC that I can find.
The Babson report also reveals that the composition of a VC firm can (and statistically speaking, does) influence where they place their bets.
A trend away from representational ratios inside venture firms strikes me as less than positive, and the combination of the two findings has scary implications for women in entrepreneurship. If there are fewer women with the power to write checks (partner rank or higher, generally speaking) and 14 years of data highlight a connection between women getting funded and a woman being in a position of authority in the firm, then I could reasonably draw the conclusion that women raising money may be pitching to audiences who are less likely to fund them as time goes on.
This one report can’t responsibly be taken as the whole picture of gender in venture capital, but this data fits into the larger conversation about women’s experiences in tech and entrepreneurship. Even this week’s news is a mixed bag. On one hand Techstars named Nicole Glaros a partner in its new fund announcement; on the other, Newsweek's cover showed a cursor lifting a woman’s dress and the associated story shares sordid details of Silicon Valley sexism in action. The juxtaposition is laden with conflict and meaning, and I’m planning on learning all I can about this new angle on a world that has so much potential. While maybe not an omen, I joined the team at The Startup Factory five days after the Babson report dropped.
Thankfully, Durham is not the Valley. Back in our own startup community, we’re doing better by the numbers.
Half of the students enrolled in UNC’s Minor in Entrepreneurship and Duke’s undergrad entrepreneurship programs are women. One-third of The Startup Factory’s companies are female-led, including Hostel Rocket and Orate, which both closed substantial seed rounds this fall.
So, here I am with a stack of annotated books, gallons of coffee swilled, a startup community working to be more accessible, and a lot more to see and do as a woman in VC. I’ll write about these topics periodically here.