“Shut your mouth and write the cheque,” said Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, at the recent Inspirefest 2016, as she tackled the fact that just 7pc of venture capital investments went to women founders, and that a corresponding percentage of venture capital firms have women partners.
Astia is a community of experts committed to propelling women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fuelling innovation and driving economic growth.
Vosmek has been an outspoken critic of the low rate of investment by Silicon Valley and international venture capital investors in women-led enterprises and, once again, she challenged this culture.
At Inspirefest 2016, Vosmek used a metaphor of a road sign at a busy intersection in LA, which irritated drivers as they got closer, that read “you are the traffic”.
‘My observation is that it is actually hardest for women in Silicon Valley where people scream the loudest that it is a meritocracy and, I think, therein lies the issue’
– SHARON VOSMEK, ASTIA
She said the same is true for venture capital investors who fail to make the investment in women-led start-ups.
Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com at the Astia Venture Showcase in Dublin, which took place as part of Inspirefest 2016, Vosmek explained that Astia, which was founded 15 years ago with the aim of investing in women-led businesses, has invested in 46 companies. The organisation has invested over $11m of its own money and over $100m in syndication with other investors in promising start-ups.
Normally held in Silicon Valley, New York and London, this was the second time that Astia has held a Venture Showcase in Ireland. Four women-led companies presented to investors, including Santina Doherty’s Unravel Analytics, Rowan Gardner’s Ozo Innovations, Vicky Brock’s Clear Returns and Diane Janknegt’s WizeNoze.
Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Vosmek said that women are starting businesses at five times the rate of men, but investors remain blind.
“We’ve been tracking this for 15 years. It is a long-running problem. The number of women venture partners as a percentage tends to track exactly to the percentage of investment dollars flowing to women.
“Over our entire 15-year span, only 2pc of venture capital was invested in women-led deals. Today we are at around 5pc. Interestingly, at the height of the dot-com bubble, 8pc of venture partners were women and subsequently only 8pc of venture capital dollars were invested in women-led technology deals.”
At Inspirefest 2015, Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures said that the fundamental problem, especially in Silicon Valley, is that it loves to think it’s a meritocracy, “which is bull. It’s not. It’s a mirror-ocracy”!
Vosmek agreed. “I do think pattern recognition is part of the problem. What is the solution? I have great clarity on this: the solution is for us investors, it is ours to fix.
“Our call to action is to invest. It is not to just mentor women, support women, not even to dive into the numbers, our job is to say ‘why do I not have women in my portfolio? What am I going to do to make sure I have a diverse portfolio’?
“Diversity in a portfolio is an unarguable advantage, and that includes gender diversity.
“If we are investors and are true to what we know as investors, then our call to action is to invest!”
It makes business sense to invest in women, says Astia’s Sharon Vosmek
I point out to Vosmek that, regardless of the investment climate, many women entrepreneurs are just going for it.
“I think you are highlighting the truth of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurs don’t care what the investors are doing.
‘Investors are missing out and economies will suffer because it is taking those women-led start-ups too long to grow’
– SHARON VOSMEK, ASTIA
“The people missing out are not the entrepreneurs, they are going forward and doing it. By some accounts at five-times the rate of men.
“The difference is they are growing their businesses without the benefit of our capital and we are missing out on those investment opportunities.
“Investors are missing out and economies will suffer because it is taking those women-led start-ups too long to grow.”
Vosmek’s view is that Silicon Valley – which basks in a kind of delusion that it is a meritocracy – is the worst offender when it comes to under-investment in women.
“My observation is that it is actually hardest for women in Silicon Valley where people scream the loudest that it is a meritocracy and, I think, therein lies the issue. It is really difficult to do reflection when you have a belief system that tells you that you don’t need to reflect on yourself because you are already doing it so well.”
Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM