As part of our Sci-Tech 100 listing, here are nine investors who have the means and capability to make a difference.
Black, lesbian and proud, Arlan Hamilton heads up Backstage Capital and is on a mission to address an anomaly whereby only 0.2pc of venture capital funding in America goes to black women. A guest of Inspirefest for the past two years, her new $36m fund will invest in black women founders for $1m at a time.
“They’re calling it a ‘diversity fund’. I’m calling it an IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund,” Hamilton tweeted when news of the fund broke. Backstage Capital has collected support from some of the giants of investment in Silicon Valley, including David Rose, Marc Andreessen, Aaron Levie, Swati Mylavarapu and Crystal English.
Wicklow native Claire Lee is one of the most influential Irish people in the Silicon Valley investment scene. She is the head of early-stage banking at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), which has lent $160m to more than 20 Irish tech and life sciences businesses since 2012.
Prior to joining SVB, Lee worked with Microsoft and before that with IBM, where she started her career as a graduate. She has advised the US Department of State and is also an active mentor and adviser to industry platforms such as Astia Global, and sits on the board of FreeFrom, aiming to rehabilitate victims of domestic violence through financial freedom and entrepreneurship.
“Women entrepreneurs do not need to be fixed. We are not broken.” With those words at Inspirefest 2017, Yuka Nagashima sounded a clarion call to women entrepreneurs struggling in the face of an investor mindset stuck in its ways.
A former president of Astia and now a member of its global advisory board, Nagashima was a co-founder of LavaNet, one of Hawaii’s first internet service providers, before she led Hawaii’s innovation efforts as the executive director of the High Technology Development Corporation for seven years.
Speaking this year to Siliconrepublic.com, she said: “Silicon Valley’s structure is being touted as a kind of gold standard for the capitalist world to follow. But yet, when you look at the methodologies and the way things are done and how a small group of powerful people know each other, it is very provincial.”
Edel Coen leads international venture capital firm Draper Esprit’s focus on high-growth technology businesses across Ireland and Europe. She previously worked at Irish investment firm BVP, making early-stage investments in technology companies with a focus on sustainability and, in that role, led investments in companies such as HealthBeacon, UrbanVolt and Parkpnp.
Coen is now seeking out the best start-ups across Ireland and broader Europe, telling Siliconrepublic.com, “What I’d love to see … is companies born in Ireland with more firepower to expand globally – but, for me, that’s the job of firms like Draper Esprit and other VC funds.”
Lisa Suennen is head of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP’s digital and technology businesses and the firm’s venture capital fund. Up until earlier this year, she was the senior managing director at GE Ventures’ healthcare venture fund. She was named Top Digital Health Evangelist of 2018 by Goldman Sachs, Rock Health and Silicon Valley Bank. Suennen is also the founder of CSweetener, a not-for-profit company focused on matching women in and nearing the healthcare C-suite with experienced mentors.
Focused in the healthcare space, Suennen has vented her frustrations with the some of the key issues in the US market. “I feel that, especially, the economic misalignment is really great for some bad decision-making and bad behaviour in healthcare,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.
Sarah-Jane Larkin is the director general of the Irish Venture Capital Association (IVCA) whose members have invested €3.6bn in 1,450 Irish SMEs since the onset of the credit crunch in 2008, helping create 20,000 jobs.
Larkin believes a new kind of approach to seed funding is needed to avoid future potholes and ensure start-ups aren’t affected when funds close. With this and other items on her agenda, she and the IVCA face a challenging year ahead. “In Ireland, we really need now to look at the whole landscape, the threat to our economic model around Brexit, the likelihood of FDI continuing with US tax changes, and a trade war between EU and US,” she told Siliconrepublic.com this summer. “It is a good time to take a look back at all the supports we have in place and make sure we are eliminating any gaps.”
Julie Sinnamon became the CEO of Enterprise Ireland in 2013 and has seen it evolve into one of the most significant venture capital investment bodies in Europe.
Sinnamon’s leadership has been characterised by a methodical and disciplined approach to ensuring more women founders and women-led start-ups succeed. “The first thing we did was look at what the problem was. In 2011, just 7pc of our high-potential start-ups [HPSUs] had a female member of the founding team. Today for HPSUs, it is 28pc,” she told Siliconrepublic.com at a Start-up Showcase earlier this year.
Bill Liao is a partner at SOSV, which has $300m in assets under management. He was recently listed in the Financial Times and Inclusive Boards’ list of the UK’s top 100 black and minority ethnic leaders in technology.
An influential investor and co-founder of the CoderDojo movement with James Whelton, Liao is passionate about the potential for synthetic biology and he recently pointed out to Siliconrepublic.com that the costs of engineering biological systems have reduced 10m-fold in 12 years – making Moore’s Law look like a flat line.
SOSV’s IndieBio synbio accelerator topped CB Insights’ 2017 list of the most active investors in this new space for disruption. “Our ability to harness the power of life as precision engineering is going to determine our future as a species,” said Liao.
Marc Benioff is the founder, CEO and chair of Salesforce, one of America’s most highly valued cloud computing companies. Benioff is also an investor in dozens of start-ups, including Irish company Nuritas. As a Silicon Valley leader, he has been outspoken about the need for diversity in the tech industry, and has implemented policies to close wage gaps in his own company. According to Benioff, “There is no finish line when it comes to equality.”
Benioff has also been a vocal critic of his peers, most recently opposing fellow tech CEOs such as Jack Dorsey by favouring a tax on businesses (including Salesforce) intended to help mitigate San Francisco’s homelessness problem.
Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic