It's common knowledge that female founders receive far less funding for their startups than men. What is surprising is just how far behind women really are.
In 2017, women-led companies received only two percent of the venture capital injected into the startup economy, according to PitchBook. In stark contrast, companies run by men received 79 percent of the $85 billion that VCs invested last year.
The gender gap is wide. Female founders receive funding at lower levels than men--PitchBook reported that while the average deal size for companies led by men was $12 million in 2017, for women-led companies, that average fell to only $5 million.
Thankfully, some in Silicon Valley are responding to these statistics in earnest and committing to leveling the playing field for female founders. One of these allies is Adam Quinton, Founder and CEO of Lucas Point Ventures, a seed and early-stage investment company that focuses on diverse founding teams.
Project Entrepreneur sat down with Quinton to discuss diversity in the VC space, the characteristics he looks for before investing in a startup, and his advice for early-stage founders.
Project Entrepreneur: You're a champion for diversity in tech, specifically as it relates to women. Tell us why you're passionate about that.
Adam Quinton: Tech is vitally important to the health of the economy, it represents the growth industries of the future. Yet it is surely missing something, to the detriment all of us, by not fully capturing the talents and expertise of a very diverse population. So there is a "business case" for diversity at a high level, and also one at the level of individual investors too. Because if their minds are closed to opportunities from folks they are less familiar, that don't look like them, they will lose out.
In addition to that, and more importantly in some ways, there is clearly an issue of fairness, or rather lack of, here. When it comes to the people-side of the business across many dimensions, including gender, race, and age, tech, which should be a progressive agent for equality and fairness, comes up short all too often. Anyone who believes either or both of those things can decide if they want to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.
Your portfolio is quite diverse. How do you decide what companies are worth the investment?
My goal is financial return--I don't have any other metric. [But] early stage investing is especially uncertain, and there is no easy route to deciding which company to invest in. At a high level, I have three screens:
Can "it" be big? Does the venture seem to address a really large market opportunity, does it have a compelling solution to a real pain point in that market and does the timing seem right for success?
Does "it" have the right team? Do the founders, in particular, have the right characteristics, experience, expertise, commitment, integrity, etc., to make the venture a success? And where they have gaps on the team, do they have awareness and clarity as to how to fill them?
Does "it" have compelling traction? Is there evidence, commensurate with the stage of the business, that there really is a solution that the market wants and the team is executing on their visions?
The percentage of women partners at the top 100 venture firms was only 8 percent in 2017. Why do you believe there are still challenges in this area?
VC is a very insular and self-referential business in many ways. Its makeup is very homogenous (mostly white and Asian guys), and as such, whether it's potential partners or founders who receive funding, VC is a "mirrorocracy" not a meritocracy. Venture capital claims to objectively select the best people from wherever they may come from, but in reality, it really likes what it sees in the mirror and acts accordingly.
The tech industry continues to struggle when it comes to diversity. What role do you feel investors should play when it comes to moving the needle of change?
The Googles and Facebooks of tomorrow are the tiny start-ups of today. Investors have an utterly vital role in driving tech diversity because unless they fund diverse founding teams, then the current status quo is locked in place for years - especially at the leadership level from which company culture comes. A depressing data point from the Babson Athena research: over a three year period, only 3 percent of venture-backed companies had women CEOs. That needs to change, and only investors can make that happen.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to early-stage entrepreneurs?
Take advice, but never follow the advice. Suck all the insights and advice from all the smart people you can to help you make better-informed decisions, but never blindly follow anyone, whatever their reputation or experience. Only you know what is truly best for you and your business, and you need to both make and own that decision accordingly.