By Norman Rozenberg, Contributor
‘It’s time to share a more equal voice’ for female entrepreneurs, angel investor says
Despite interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao losing her workplace discrimination case against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the suit brought attention to the gender gap and lack of diversity in venture capital firms and the tech industry as a whole.
Several studies have shown how the gender gap affects the industry. Between 2011 and 2013, only 985 of 6,793 venture capital-funded companies (15 percent) had a woman on the executive team, according to a study by the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College. Out of all the companies, only 2.7 percent of the companies had a female CEO.
“The structure of investing practices has also been shown to be a barrier for women starting and growing their businesses,” Patricia Greene, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson and one of the lead authors of the study, told Power More.
Venture capital and angel investments are a major way for startups with few resources to grow. In 2014, venture capital firms invested $48 billion in startups, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
Given the massive opportunity for entrepreneurs, a few organizations have made it their mission to invest in more women-led startups, including 37 Angels. The firm is made up entirely of women investors who are helping men and women founders get ahead. It also offers training programs for women interested in angel investing as well.
“Women-focused organizations help draw attention to the fact that there are great women-led companies in which to invest and to help build out that network,” Greene said.
The company’s founder, Angela Lee, said she hopes to bring the number of women in angel investing up 37 percent, from 13 percent to 50 percent (hence the name 37 Angels).
Power More caught up with one of the firm’s angel investors, Diane Henry, to get a better look at how the organization is helping women. Henry is the president of Red Commercial Real Estate in New York City.
How did you get from commercial real estate to angel investing in tech with 37 Angels?
I have owned the commercial real estate brokerage for 10 years, and many of my clients are technology firms. I first got into angel investing because of how closely I worked with technology companies looking to expand in New York. I am now in a position to help others start their own companies. I actually met Angela [37 Angels’ founder] at a technology conference, and we began to talk about women in investment. At that point, I already wanted to be an angel, but 37 Angels attracted me to investing in technology. Although we invest in both men- and women-led companies, we are in a position to offer equal opportunities. Women control a large amount of capital these days but are not in control of investment decisions, and 37 Angels is helping create that bridge. I wanted to be a part of a growing group of women investors bringing a powerful voice in changing the typical way of investing. Now is the time to share a more equal voice as it happens in real time.
“Angel investing has helped me learn just how profoundly the world is changing and how rapidly. I feel in touch with the trajectory. The world of business is ever-changing, and understanding how the world is evolving is a powerful thing.”
— Diane Henry, 37 Angels investor
I love working with technology and being on the edge of what is happening in the field. It is like having an insider seat on what the future is going to hold. Being in touch with the future as it is unrolling is exciting, and I wanted to endorse leaders early in their career and company growth. I now invest in a handful of firms yearly, both as an angel for 37 Angels and as a private investor — about four to seven investments per year. You need a portfolio of enough companies to see a return on that investment, which is what makes angel investing so risky compared to venture capital. The number of companies that exit the stage of angel investing and venture capital is quite low, but the successes are where the angels can get their returns.
One of the most exciting technology startups that I am invested in as part of 37 Angels is Stylinity, an app that helps reimburse fashion influencers that help sell fashion labels — that technology is now patented and moving forward in an exciting way. In addition, I am also a private investor in Partpic, an imaging company that is involved in product part imaging. You simply take a picture of a part, and the manufacturer sends you the replacement you need. It’s been getting a lot of attention and higher up investment recently.
What have you learned from being an angel, and how are you helping elevate women?
Angel investing has helped me learn just how profoundly the world is changing and how rapidly. I feel in touch with the trajectory. The world of business is ever-changing, and understanding how the world is evolving is a powerful thing. Everyone needs to learn as they go and take fundamental wisdoms with them, but still be open to the changing world.
That understanding is important for women, and investing and funding women-led startups is a great start. We teach each other a lot because each angel in 37 Angels is an expert in so many different fields. We can call on each other for help. We are helping to create an environment that allows for women to enter the stage by creating relationships between members and portfolio companies. 37 Angels’ boot camp is a place that helps train future women angel investors, something that is unique in this space. There is no school for angel investing and people just go for it, but the boot camp makes it less intimidating and allows people to learn what they need to learn. This is huge for women and for what 37 Angels’ members are doing for one another.
What are some of the biggest challenges for women in technology, and how can we help them succeed?
There is a cultural stigma against women that is a recurring theme, I have noticed. Women are not getting hired into technology firms, and the women who are hired are challenged by the cultural fit in those companies. I am seeing and hearing a lot about these issues, but they do not simply stop at gender — there is a narrow scope of where the talent pool lies and who gets funded. This comes down to not only gender but geography — certain people from certain institutions are constantly getting tapped, but the available talent in other regions of the country and women go ignored. Technology cannot be location-dependent, and we need to move out of those same institutions and talent pools by giving fairer access to the industry outside of the traditional narrow pipelines. To see the best and the brightest, we need to open up the scope and where we look for talent.