As the co-founder of Monarq, an incubator for women entrepreneurs, Diana Murakhovskaya didn't need to be convinced that women face an unfair playing field when it comes to venture capital. She recalls one founding team, a man and a woman, who told her that when they pitched a particular firm, they were asked for nine references each. Every single one of the woman's references were contacted. Not one of the man's were.
"We believe great companies are being built by women," says Murakhovskaya. "But there is a lack of funding going their way."
Investors in venture funds "see the numbers" showing that women-only teams get 2.2 percent of venture capital, "and they’re shocked by them, but they don’t change it," says Murakhovskaya. "It's only when someone has a high-net-worth family office and a daughter in the workforce that they finally start to see the problem."
Murakhovskaya sees Houston as an opportune place to try to turn things around. Unlike in Silicon Valley, she says, Houston has many people with money who haven't considered investing in startups. "We started talking to people about the prospect of investing, and realized most had just never been asked, or didn't know it was an option," she says. So Murakhovskaya, formerly a commodities trader, teamed up with Leslie Goldman, a corporate lawyer, and Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network, to raise a $20 million fund.
The fund is called Artemis and looks to invest in seed and A-stage deals. Their favored industries are fintech; consumer products and experiential commerce; so-called lifetech (technology for aging and babies, and "anything that helps reduce friction for household CEOs"); and energy and sustainability. The partners plan to lead about two-thirds of their deals, take board seats, and help create funding syndicates. About two-thirds of the fund will be reserved for follow-on financing.
While Murakhovskaya and her partners are still raising money for Artemis, they had their first close in July, and announced their first investment that same month. It's uNest, a company that helps families create tax-advantaged college savings accounts.