19 April 2016

Outside the norm: Being a 25 y/o female Venture Capitalist

Outside the norm: Being a 25 y/o female Venture Capitalist

Graduating from Dublin City University in September 2014 with a Masters in Electronic Commerce, I had no clue what I wanted to do next. I’ve been an Investment Analyst for close to 18 months now and to put it lightly, it’s been a very steep learning curve. I haven’t founded a billion dollar company or been the 10th employee at Facebook, nor have I been a management consultant or investment banker with Goldman Sachs. Oh, and I’m a woman.

A lot of people would conclude at this stage that I don’t have the typical qualifications or attributes of a venture capitalist. I want to prove you wrong.

Women today control more wealth than ever in history. Almost 40% of women are the primary breadwinner in their household and women owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all US companies. Women have been building wealth for the past 30 years, quietly and consistently taking one-half to one percent of the share of U.S. wealth each year. Women buy 85 percent of consumer products and are responsible for 60 percent of business purchases. The new generation of wealthy women are educated, experienced, sophisticated and confident.

So where are these confident and experienced women in the investing world? Where are the brilliant decision makers and influencers? Why are they not sitting at the table where capital is allocated and pushing to make their voices heard? I can assure you that these people do exist, but unfortunately, we are the minority.

A Babson College study found that the total number of female partners in venture capital firms has declined from 10 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2014. We are being outnumbered in an industry that decides how and where to deploy the funds that fuel entrepreneurial growth. This doesn’t make sense and it has to change. Women need to have their voices heard in the industry; lack of access to capital and lack of awareness around this issue have been the main factors preventing women from getting the investment opportunities they deserve.

Whether people are aware of it or not, women-owned businesses are excelling. Data collected in 2013 shows that more than 8.6 million businesses in the United States are owned by women, and these businesses are generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing almost 7.8 million people.

If you look across the world at the female population, it’s easy to see that we represent the largest investment opportunity there is and I’m glad to say that this is slowly but surely beginning to be recognised, spurred by organizations like Lean In, Girls Who Code, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and many more. Despite all odds, the percentage of women-led, venture-backed companies has increased from 5% in 1999 to 18% in 2015. VC funds aimed at investing in women led companies such as Female Founders Fund, SoGal Ventures and Golden Seeds are starting to emerge. Even though it has taken a long time, progress is starting to be made.

At Atlantic Bridge, one third of the investment team are women, and I’m proud to say I am part of that team. Having great role models in a male dominated industry is so important and is something that has been hugely influential on my career. It is less about what you can learn from them and more about gaining the confidence to make the right decisions, which is a huge part of investments. Being in the minority presents its challenges but it also brings many opportunities. Being part of such a great network is rewarding and you get the chance to build some great relationships with some great people.

From my own experience, I’ve come to realise that the expected and often perceived background of a VC is typically in the areas of engineering, accounting, computer science etc. However, I’ve also realised that coming from an unconventional background is not a bad thing in this industry because you bring unique perspectives to the table, that could be missed otherwise. To further highlight some of these unique perspectives, I am speaking to some superstar women in the VC industry to prove that the typical attributes of a venture capitalist are not always what you think, and that these attributes, biases, values and beliefs are slowly but surely starting to change. Stay tuned! 

Kathy Kelly - Investment Analyst