March 22, 2021

It’s 2021, yet women business owners are less likely to get capital because of inherent gender biases. Last year, PitchBook reported that VC funding for female founders dropped to a three-year low. In Q3, it was reported that firms had invested a total of US$434 million, the lowest figure since the second quarter of 2017. Other data showed that more than 800 female-founded start-ups across the globe received a total of $4.9 billion in venture funding in 2020 (through mid-December), reflecting a 27 per cent decrease since 2019.

While only 12 per cent of venture capitalists are women (and over two-thirds of firms do not have any female partners), a new wave of VCs is pushing to increase the female quotient and provide more funding to female-led start-ups. In 2020, Backstage Capital, founded by Arlan Hamilton announced the formation of a US$36 million fund to invest in black women, while SoGal Ventures led by Pocket Sun and Elizabeth Galbut, fully closed its debut fund of US$15 million in late 2019 and is eyeing a second fund this year. In light of International Women’s Day earlier this month, here are five female venture capitalists who are paving the way for greater gender parity and racial diversity in the start-up ecosystem.

Anu Duggal

Launched in 2014, Anu Duggal is a founding partner of Female Founders Fund (FFF) that provides early-stage funding to female-founded start-ups—aimed at championing and promoting more female entrepreneurs in tech. With almost 40 companies under its wing, including Billie, Co-Star, Kama, Real, Rent The Runway and Zola, FFF has also helped NYC-based start-up Lex (a text-based social app for queer and trans communities) close its seed round of US$1.5 million in March last year. During that period, they successfully raised a US$45 million Series C for Maven, a virtual clinic for women and families and closed a US$12 million Series A for Peanut, a social-networking app to help connect like-minded women across motherhood and fertility, two months later.

In spite of the economic downturn, Duggal is constantly on the lookout for female founders to invest in, especially in the areas of healthcare or platforms that could elevate the work-from-home experience. “I want to prove that when you invest in women you get a great return,” says Duggal.

Martina Welkhoff

Serial entrepreneur Martina Welkhoff is not only the founding partner at the WXR Fund (a venture fund focused on women-led VR companies), but also a venture partner at Jump Canon. Some of WXR’s most noteworthy investments include early-stage immersive tech companies with outstanding female leaders like AvatarMedic, which focuses on real-time remote relief in emergency scenarios; SensXR and Tvori, which offers VR animation software. In a bid to create more balanced gender representation, Welkhoff provides community infrastructure to support women leaders in tech.

As a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Council, Welkhoff is a firm believer in letting underrepresented founders have a chance to take centre stage. According to her, WXR hopes to “build a more inclusive industry from the ground up, as well as leverage the unique economic opportunity that current demographic imbalances create.”

Aileen Lee

In 2012, industry veteran Aileen Lee left Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers after 13 years to start her own seed-stage-focused fund, Cowboy Ventures, which was one of the first-ever VC firms to be launched by a woman. And their very first investment was Dollar Shave Club. Although Lee’s portfolio of companies includes Bloom Energy, Rent the Runway, Crunchbase and Textio, she is known to personally invest in women-founded companies such as ADAY and Brit + Co.

From day one, Lee has been trying to advocate for greater racial and gender diversity in Silicon Valley. In 2017, she reached out to other female investors and together, they collectively founded All Raise, a nonprofit that offers one-on-one mentorship for female entrepreneurs and investors. Their aim? To foster greater diversity and inclusion throughout the tech industry. Apart from women, they fund underrepresented minorities in tech.

Sarah Kunst

Named Pitchbook’s Top Black VC To Watch and recognised by Wall St. Journal as a top woman in VC, managing director of Cleo Capital and angel investor Sarah Kunst also served as a senior advisor at Bumble where she focused on their corporate VC arm Bumble Fund.

The majority of Kunst’s scouts are women, including Birchbox co-founder Mollie Chen and Melody McCloskey, CEO of beauty appointment booking platform StyleSeat. In her opinion, there is plenty of evidence to prove that when women invest, companies make more money, inspiring her to focus on women who had exciting ideas but lacked funds to make them a reality. Kunst isn’t shy about sharing the difficulty of being a female VC: “Fundraising for a debut VC fund is incredibly hard. Fundraising as a Black woman is infinitely harder. My $3.5M fund was the second largest first-time fund by a Black woman VC in America ever.”

Despite the challenges, Kunst remains undeterred and continues to introduce initiatives to help the community. Last April, she started a six-week fellowship called Chrysalis, for people who lost their jobs due to Covid-19. This programme brings together top talents that have been laid off from companies, teaching them how to pitch, structure a cap table and plan for a fundraiser.

Ann Miura-Ko

Ann Miura-Ko, who was labelled “the most powerful woman in start-ups” by Forbes, is currently a partner at Floodgate which focuses on seed investments. Apart from dealing with investments, she lectures on entrepreneurship at Stanford University. As a teenager, Miura-Ko was always fascinated with technology (inspired by her Rocket Scientist father) and went on to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from Yale. Later on, she and her partner Mike Maples invested in Lyft, Ayasdi, Xamarin, Refinery29, Chloe and Isabel, Maker Media, Wanelo, TaskRabbit, and Modcloth.

Each summer, the engineering enthusiast hosts a computer science camp at her house for three weeks, giving students an opportunity to lean on her wisdom and pick up skills from her. When asked about her success, the female game changer cites her work ethic as “willing to outwork and outdo every competitor who walked in through that door.”