DURHAM – A handpicked group of venture capitalists (VC) from some of the top Silicon Valley firms took center stage at Bull City Venture Partners’ Entrepreneurs Series on Tuesday.
They also happened to all be women.
That was intentional, said Bull City Venture Partners co-founder Jason Caplain.
“Absolutely. There’s a shortage of diversity in our industry. We’re no strangers to that as a problem in the industry, and we’re trying to make sure that we focus on that,” he said.
The panelists included Joanne Chen, a partner at Foundation Capital in San Francisco; Ashley Brasier, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners; Monique Villa, an investor at Mucker Capital; and Janey Hoe, vice president at Cisco Investments.
“All of them are from the West Coast. They have a sincere interest of investing into our local ecosystem, and we see them all coming regularly into our market on an on-going basis,” he said.
VC world still dominated by men
Still, they are considered to be a rarity.
According to a recent analysis by Axios, the VC world is still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Women make up fewer than 9 percent of all investors across U.S. venture capital firms.
And, while the number of women-owned businesses is on the rise, women are still not getting as much VC funding as their male counterparts.
A BCG study founded that investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged $935,000, which is less than half the average $2.1 million invested in companies founded by male entrepreneurs.
It’s about opportunities overlooked, not gender
For the most part, the panel’s discussion focused more on the tricks of the trade, than the personal experiences of the women VCs themselves.
Ashley Brasier, a partner at Lightspeed, talked about some of the challenges facing VCs in the market today.
“There’s so much money coming into the market now. It’s really about how do you get to the best deals the fastest, and how do you show your value,” she said. “For us, we’ve been trying to figure out more ways to put data into the conversation, what data out there is available for us to use to identify companies, and vet out the companies that we want to win.”
But then it was question time. An audience member remarked on the unusual sight — an all-female panel of VCs. The crowd applauded in support. Then he asked: “Why invest in diversity and female leadership?”
But he might not have gotten the answer he was expecting.
“We just invest in the best companies, in our opinion,” replied Monique Villa, Mucker Capital investor.
Instead, she turned the question around: “I think the big burning question is: Is there opportunity that has been overlooked traditionally? And the answer is yes.”
After the discussion, Joanne Chen, a Raleigh native now living in San Francisco and a partner at Foundation Capital, opened up about what it’s like being a female VC.
“Women are still a minority percentage of all investors, but I think the percentage is increasing quite a bit,” she said. “When I was in high school, I didn’t have a female CEO taking a company public. When you create an ecosystem of role models, people who are younger tend to think they can do that as well,” she said.
She said female VCs make the industry more “approachable.” She’s also focused on increasing the diversity of founders, and started an annual female-founders event in 2014.
“I’m personally motivated to help that,” she said.
But in terms of picking investments, she said they are “fairly blind.”
“We’re not focused a specific gender. We’re focused on entrepreneurs who are going to chance the world. Period.
Still, she admitted that she tends to have a better network with female founders “because I may know a lot of them.”
“If I see a lot of them, the chances of me investing in them increases a little bit.”
Firm takes a stand
Apart from showcasing diversity on the series panel, Bull City Venture is displaying this in the makeup of its firm.
It recently hired a female associate, Mahati Sridhar, in March, and it’s advertising to fill another associate/chief of staff role in the coming months.
Caplain wouldn’t say if they’re targeting a specific person to fill the position.
However, he did mention one positive difference he noticed working with female VCs.
“They present a different mindset from the buyer’s perspective. But otherwise, I don’t really see difference,” he said.