Women in Tech Network hosted five outstanding women angel/venture investors at General Assembly/Cross Campus Wednesday November 13, 2013. The investor panel was featured to discuss the following items:
How they discover new startups
What they look for in startups
Their levels of investment
Trends in the LA Startup “scene”
Panelists included: Renee LaBran (early stage investor primarily in consumer products at Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners), Victoria Cheng (early stage investor in financial services technology at Core Innovation Capital), Alyse Killeen (investor and fund operations strategy support for Clearstone Venture Partners), Alexa Fischer (investor and fund analytic support for Correlation Ventures), and Eva Ho (an active angel investor for her own early stage technology fund, Susa Ventures).
Web sites for their firms: http://www.rcfontis.com/, http://www.corevc.com/, http://www.clearstone.com/, http://correlationvc.com/, and http://www.susaventures.com/.
Any one of these individuals would have made a complete evening speaking about her experiences and her perspectives. Perhaps one day we will learn to give women the full stage they have deserved to convey their insight. Logically, in the approximately one and one-half hour window of this event, we had an average of 18 minutes with each investor – barely enough time to scratch the surface of their wisdom. Of course, that doesn’t even include the time spent announcing sponsors, the moderator, and the moderator’s introductory statements.
The best discussions started with the question from the floor, “What three things do each of you look for from an entrepreneur’s business and pitch?” Even though we’ve discussed this many times before, the surprising part was that women investors expect many, if not all, of the same things as male investors. Perhaps that is because money essentially is neutral and that businesses that desire to tap investment capital probably should be neutral as well.
In the opinion of one attendee, perhaps women were not asking the right questions to move forward. Better questions might focus on what entrepreneurs should be asking or doing to get investor's attention – one of the prime reasons attendees came to this event. The panelists clearly were eager to be as responsive as possible in terms of insight into the investment process.
Another good suggestion was that the organizers might have polled attendees before the event so the moderator could pose questions to which attendees really wanted the answers. The moderator’s introduction focused on statistics about the low status of women in STEM fields according to the World Economic Forum data. While the WEF ratings are important, and certainly worth acknowledging that women in tech (and venture) are highly underrepresented, the consensus from conversations afterwards was that it would be better to concentrate the discussion on, specifically, how we can help women change those ratings.
Interesting data from the Kaufman Foundation’s research into women and venture capital suggests that women entrepreneurs who DO pursue investment funding received money in roughly equal percentages to their male counterparts, but a major challenge is that there is a shortage in the number of women entrepreneurs coming into the queue, itself. If we could generate more prospective deals from women entrepreneurs, we might expect to see more women funded.
Toward the end, questioners were presenting hypotheses and asking the panelists to comment. One line of inquiry suggested that women in technology are less willing to accept an offer to collaborate on a project or enterprise compared to men. Clearly, choices about whom to team with depend very much on the leadership, the quality of the other team members, and the specifics of the project or deal. Over-generalizing might miss the nuances of the specific offer.
We do recognize the high propensity of women entrepreneurs to remain sole proprietors, to not hire on a par with male entrepreneurs, and to hire fewer employees overall. There are many possible causes and explanations, not the least of which is the escalating costs and overhead currently associated with employees compared to even five or ten years ago. Women’s differential perceptions of risk might also be an explanatory factor – real risks related to women’s average earning levels and experience. Such risk-management strategies might turn out to be quite appropriate to their circumstances and fundamentally sound in the long term.
Above all else, it is satisfying to see five talented angel/venture capitalists who just happen to be women and who are making great strides building viable investment funds, themselves, while also making it possible for entrepreneurs (women and men) to succeed in today’s very challenging marketplace.