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Venture Capital Firms Doubling Down on Investing In Female Founders

Here’s how you find the modern investors proudly backing women entrepreneurs.

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BY Lisa Calhoun - 09 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Crunchbase just released an update to its report on how women entrepreneurs are faring when it comes to closing venture capital funding. While only 10% of venture capital is invested in female-led startups, some 20% of startups pitching for capital are women-led.

The venture capital industry is experiencing extreme embarrassment from closer scrutiny of the industry's overall pattern of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. In fact, eight firms in the top 100 venture capital firms finally bolted on a female partner last year, including Benchmark, Bessemer Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Sequoia Capital in the U.S. Overall, the 2017 report shows the trends are in the right direction for closing the gap--but how do you make the numbers work for you?

2 new rules of fundraising for female founders

If you're a female founder, the Crunchbase numbers light the clearest path to finding professional funding. First, check out crowdfunding--where women entrepreneurs are outperforming male founders--and of course, being funded by your customers. But if fundraising is the way to build, focus on modern venture capital firms with gender-diverse leadership. "The small number of venture firms with female founders and/or an unusually high percentage of female partners invest at elevated levels in female entrepreneurs," concluded Gene Teare and Ned Desmond, the report's authors.

Micro-VCs are the best first option funding women-led startups

By the report numbers, focus on getting your first equity funding from a female-led seed or micro fund. Micro venture firms across the board are funding female-led or co-founded firms at almost par--16% of micro VC capital was invested last year in startups with women founders or co-founders. Plus, one in five new venture firms is founded by a woman general partner, according to Crunchbase. My firm, Valor Ventures, was one of hundreds of micro-VCs called out in the article.

Look at the venture firm's track record for backing female founders

As female-founded startups grow, the access to capital gets even harder. Last year, for example, women-led firms raised 17% of seed dollars--pretty much on par, But only 13% of early-stage dollars (Series A, B) and just 7% of late-stage dollars. Understanding the investing biases of venture firms as you continue to grow your business can help you save time--and frustration.

For larger checks or next rounds, consider heading to a venture capital firm already over-indexing for investing in women-founded firms or with a significant number of female investing partners. Knowing a portfolio with 20% women-led startups would be "normal," how's the portfolio composition at the venture firms you're thinking of pitching? Venture firms with 1/3 or more women investors include Scale, GSR, Qiming, Canaan Partners, Social Capital and SoftechVC. There are also firms with track records of investing in startups regardless of gender, like Kirsten Green at Forerunner, whose portfolio is 43% female-led, and Freada Kapor at Kapor Capital, whose portfolio is 37% female-led. The list of top, active venture capital firms actively investing in includes Upfront Ventures (24% of the portfolio), Thrive Capital (24% of the portfolio), Lux Capital (24%), ZhenFund (22%), and Canaan Partners (21%).

It's great to see seed capital for female founders picking up, although there's still a big innovation gap to close when it comes to gender.

Last year, for example, $94 billion was invested in male-only founder teams. $10 billion was invested in women co-founded firms. If you're looking for capital, the bottom line for your bottom line is to do your research on VCs. Crunchbase is a free tool that makes it somewhat straightforward to do quick searches for investors and startups in your sector. Knowing an investor's track record with female founders can help you pinpoint the growing number of venture capital firms with a track record of investment across genders--and avoid those who have such a narrow filter that they miss the growing number of female-cofounded rockstar tech companies like Cisco, Houzz, Cardlytics, and Cardlytics, and Kabbage.