Look at the numbers of women founding startups and you probably won't jump for joy, but you will see grounds for optimism.
"I have seen an increase in the number of women entrepreneurs in the course of my 15 years [in the VC industry] and a big acceleration in the last five years. Probably 30 percent, whereas it used to be less than 10 percent," Theresia Gouw, a VC that recently left Accel to form a new firm, Aspect Ventures, with her friend and fellow experienced investor Jennifer Fonstad, told Inc.com.
But the statistics about venture capitalists themselves are hard to characterize as anything but dismal.
"The venture stats are going the other way," Gouw continues. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to see more diversity among investors, but according to Fonstad and Gouw it might actually be good news for their new firm, allowing them unique advantages as two women in a male-dominated world.
Good for the Investor...
There first not-so-secret weapon is their networks, according to Gouw. "People generally go into a venture firm to raise money through a referral," she points out, "so just being different and having different networks, we will probably have a different set of relationships."
Not only is this pair bringing broader connections to their new firm, they’re also bringing their experience as female consumers, which they hope will allow them to see opportunities that are undervalued by other VCs.
"There are some markets that women are more likely than men to find interesting and appealing -- something like Birchbox, which happens to be the largest paid subscription ecommerce business out there, but it’s focused on beauty samples. It’s unlikely that two dudes would have started that business," Gouw says.
Like everyone else in the world of VC, the Aspect partners are firmly focused on returns, and see diversity as a means to higher performance. "Diversity -- not in every aspect but in some situations -- will bring value added to the bottom line and that’s what we’re all interested in," Gouw stresses.
"It’s about finding the opportunities when it is both valuable for the business, the company, the investors, and the returns," she says. "The interesting thing is there are more and more situations where that turns out to be true. Performance and investment returns and diversity are not at orthogonal angles to each other. In fact, many times, they are additive to one another."
… and Good for the Ecosystem
But don’t think that these hard-nosed business considerations are the only thing that excites Gouw and Fonstad about starting their female-led VC firm.
"We do think this is an opportunity for us to be role models," Fonstad says. More visible women investors will help to begin to turn around the dreadful track record of diversity in venture capital, they hope.
"I happen to be fortunate to work with some very ambitious, successful and dynamic women founders and I know that as they think about the future, they may be serial entrepreneurs, but they also see [that investing] is interesting. Maybe they will ask me, hey, you were an entrepreneur once and now you’re on the investing side, what do you think about that?" Gouw adds, hopefully.
It’s not just women who will be affected by more diverse examples and more visible proof of the benefits of a more gender balanced team. "As male entrepreneurs, as well as female entrepreneurs, are more articulate about how important the diversity around the table is to them and to their companies, both in terms of attracting talent as well as increasing options and improving decision making, I think you will find people asking for it," Fonstad concludes.