26 great people spearheading change in tech investment

11 Jan 2016

These investors and influencers are going against the tide to change the face of the tech industry

Weary of waiting for change in the tech industry, these impatient instigators are making changes to what receives investment.

Research shows diversity is good for business – take your pick from Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, McKinsey & Company and many more. Yet fundamental change in any industry can take time.

We’ve all seen the statistics. Tech investment in women and minorities is lacking, and while Silicon Valley is building a bubble-like paddock for unicorns, outside-the-commercial-box ideas with real social impact can be drowned out by all the eyeballs lighting up with dollar signs and ringing out ‘cha-ching’.

Discussion on diversity in industries was rampant throughout 2015, prompting the establishment of committees and policies, and the promotion of diversity leaders. Some of these efforts merely pay lip service to the cause, but some champions of diversity are taking definitive action.

The change that’s on the horizon is in no small part led by these inspiring individuals. Some are investors cognisant of the homogenous face of the tech industry and actively working to augment it. Others are attempting to change the game completely with new models of investment, while others are driving the diversity debate in the right direction.


Eileen Burbridge

1. Eileen Burbidge

A partner with VC company Passion Capital, Eileen Burbidge has been called the queen of the start-up investment scene in the UK.

Refusing to invest in ‘jerks’, Burbidge recently said that her experience from a decade working in software in Silicon Valley (before upping sticks to make waves in London) showed her that “life’s just too short to work with people who we find objectionable, offensive or even plainly rude”.

Claiming the tech scene is a meritocracy, Burbidge thinks companies underestimate women in tech “at their own peril.”


Kesha Cash

2. Kesha Cash

As one of the few black women VCs in America, Kesha Cash has already found herself one of the most admired investors for her efforts to narrow the gap for people of colour in the US.

In 2010, Cash launched Jalia Ventures to achieve these aims, managing the deployment of $5m into start-ups led by entrepreneurs of colour.

She now finds herself as the founder and general partner of the Impact America Fund to improve Americans’ quality of life through entrepreneurship. Focusing on the intersection of technology and the needs of low-to-moderate income communities, this fund seeks out businesses targeting underserved markets in the sectors of education, health and wellness, and emerging marketplaces.

Photo via keshacashiafund/Twitter


Elaine Coughlan

3. Elaine Coughlan

A general partner at VC firm Atlantic Bridge, Irishwoman Elaine Coughlan is at the forefront of EU start-up funding at the moment.

Exclusively looking into tech-based operations, Coughlan has spoken in the past of the need for greater gender diversity among business leaders in the industry, while also coming out against the Irish tax system with regards engendering innovative start-ups.

She previously worked with Going for Growth and DCU Ryan Academy’s Female Propellor programme – both initiatives with Irish Government support for the advancement of women entrepreneurs in Ireland.

Photo via Going for Growth


William Crowder

4. William Crowder

Leader of the Catalyst Fund – a fund that exclusively invests in tech companies founded by ethnic minority entrepreneurs – and MD at DreamIt Ventures, William Crowder sees immense value in supporting diverse founders.

“Innovation and creativity exist in our world in abundance. They are not exclusively reserved for a select group,” he proclaims in his Catalyst Fund bio.

Speaking at a Washington Post summit for millennial entrepreneurs in late 2015, Crowder talked about how the current spotlight on diversity in tech is changing assumptions about the face of entrepreneurship, but that more needs to be done to encourage underrepresented minorities to start in the industry.

Photo via Catalyst Fund


Anu Duggal

5. Anu Duggal

Anu Duggal is the founding partner at Female Founders Fund (F Cubed), which, operating under the idea that women “experience greater successes – and fewer failures – than their male counterparts”, invests seed funding and mentoring in exceptional female talent from start-up level.

“I want to prove that when you invest in women you get a great return,” Duggal told ZDNet. And she should know. Duggal is an entrepreneur herself, having started India’s first wine bar at the age of 25, and co-founded Exclusively.In, an e-commerce site for south Asian fashion.

Photo via anuduggalnyc/Twitter


Esther Dyson

6. Esther Dyson

Perhaps one of the best-known female investors on the planet, Esther Dyson – daughter of Prof Freeman Dyson – has been called a “digital guru” by the CEO of WPP, Sir Martin Sordell, due to the amount of demand for her services on investor boards.

Unlike many investors, Dyson got bored dealing with run-of-the-mill social media start-ups and has focused her efforts on more left-of-field ideas, including space tourism (no surprise, given her previous attempts to travel into space).

One of her current focuses is HICCup, an initiative investing in technology for the betterment of people’s health, as well as established health companies such as genetic researchers, 23andMe.

Photo via Esther Dyson/Flickr


Brad Feld

7. Brad Feld

In the investment game since 1987, Brad Feld has co-founded a number of major VC firms, such as the incredibly influential Foundry Group and Mobius Venture Capital.

Feld now devotes a lot of his time to helping those typically outside of access to VC funding to get what they need. In particular, he serves as co-founder and MD of the National Centre for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).

Using his blog to challenge the norm within the VC sector – and tech, for that matter – he writes: “I’ve learned that one of the powerful things men can do in the gender equality discussion is be a male advocate”.

Photo via John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/Flickr


Arlan Hamilton

8. Arlan Hamilton

Arlan Hamilton came to public attention in the summer of 2015 when she penned an open letter entitled Dear White Venture Capitalists.

A black LGBT woman, Hamilton has intimate knowledge of the bias in tech investing that skews towards the straight white male. This is something she’s trying to combat, setting up her own VC fund and doing it with a difference.

With Backstage Capital, Hamilton aims to start small – with investments starting at $25,000 – and roll up to something larger, supporting companies led by black, Latino, gay or female founders.

Speaking to Ebony late last year, she said: “Let’s create something new instead of teaching the old guard how to treat us.”

Photo via ArlanWasHere/Twitter


Kelly Hoey

9. Kelly Hoey

Kelly Hoey’s Twitter bio states, “Invest in the change you want to see in the world,” and it is a suitable mantra for this investor, strategist and social innovator.

Named by Forbes as one of five women changing the world in terms of VC and entrepreneurship, New York-based Hoey, who will speak at Inspirefest 2016, started her career as a lawyer before switching to investment in 2009.

In 2011, she co-founded the first start-up accelerator focused exclusively on early-stage mobile technology ventures with gender-diverse founding teams. She continues to advise and mentor start-ups, while serving as the chief technology ambassador for the YWCA of NYC’s Geek Girls Club and mentoring on career platform Levo.


Claudia Iannazzo

10. Claudia Iannazzo

Claudia Iannazzo is a partner at Prereg Ventures, a fund investing in entrepreneurs with ideas to transform the world of marketing.

Iannazzo will be one of the investors speaking at Inspirefest 2016 in Dublin this summer. Her 15-year career has spanned five continents and she has facilitated more than $10bn of acquisitions, divestments, investments, IPOs, alliances and partnerships for companies around the globe.

Now, she uses her expertise to help forge commercial arrangements between start-ups and multinationals in North America, Asia and Australia, and she is also an investment committee and advisory board member of several early-stage venture funds.


Bill Liao

11. Bill Liao

A stalwart of the European tech investment scene, Bill Liao is a venture partner with SOSV and a global investor with over 300 investees to its name – more than half of which are based in North America.

The ‘accelerator VC’ runs quick-start programmes for start-ups in Shanghai, Shenzhen, San Francisco, New York and Cork.

Liao is also known as co-founder of CoderDojo, along with James Whelton, and the movement has become a global phenomenon. The not-for-profit, volunteer-led movement has grown to more than 800 dojos operating in 60 countries worldwide.


Susan Lyne

12. Susan Lyne

Susan Lyne stepped down as CEO of AOL’s brand group in 2013 to run BBG Ventures, a New York-based venture company aimed at women-led start-ups. The AOL-seeded fund is focused on next-gen consumer internet products, backing smart entrepreneurs who reflect and understand the consumers driving the fastest-growing areas of the internet.

Formerly CEO and chair of Gilt Groupe, Lyne also served as president and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.


Dave McClure

13. Dave McClure

Founding partner of 500 Startups, Dave McClure is a vocal proponent of workforce diversity as a profitable business model.

His VC business targets start-ups led by minorities, by women or simply from ‘other’ parts of the world, as these offer high-reward options.

“We think they’re under-priced assets that the rest of the world is missing,” he recently said.

Photo via Robert Scoble/Flickr


Hadley Mullin

14. Hadley Mullin

Hadley Mullin is managing director and partner with TSG Consumer Partners, a leading investment firm focused on high-growth consumer brands with more than $2.9bn in equity capital under management.

Instrumental in TSG’s growth, she successfully balanced the swift progress of her career with motherhood, and is an advocate of businesses pursuing gender equality as a competitive advantage.

She has openly challenged the “clubby” nature of the venture capital industry, where only 13.8pc of professionals at VC firms in North America are women.


Marlon Nichols

15. Marlon Nichols

With years of experience at some of the largest VC outfits – including a partner role at Intel Capital – one of the most disruptive firms Marlon Nichols has been with is Cross Culture Ventures.

At Intel Capital, Nichols led investments in women and minority-led start-ups through the company’s Diversity Fund, and he continues to invest in some of the most interesting and disruptive cultural tech on the market.

Nichols said in an interview with 500: “A general partnership that comes from different backgrounds and has diverse interests enables that venture firm to think out of the box and even make educated bets on ‘non-traditional founding teams’.”

Photo via MIT Technology Review/Flickr


Natalia Oberti Noguera

16. Natalia Oberti Noguera

Natalia Oberti Noguera is the outspoken founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, an operation set up to increase the number of investments in female social entrepreneurs.

“I say provocative things,” she said in a 2015 interview. Explaining her business, Oberti Noguera said she asks people if they know of Shark Tank, the US version of Dragons’ Den. When they respond positively, she says: “Well, there’s enough white guy sharks out there. I’m in the business of creating more women sharks.”


Nnamdi Okike

17. Nnamdi Okike

When it comes to VC funding for internet and tech companies, most will replicate established models for success. But, thanks to the likes of Nnamdi Okike, we have VC firms such as 645 Ventures (which he co-founded) going out of its way to fund the non-conventional entrepreneurial projects, particularly those from women and minorities.

Some of his personal highlights include funding ed-tech firm Mindblown Labs, which aims to help young adults learn about finances.

Speaking at Inspirefest 2015, Okike heralded the efforts of women using VC funding to achieve more, despite the unequal amounts typically given to them by VCs.

Photo via Conor McCabe Photography


Ellen Pao

18. Ellen Pao

Former interim CEO at Reddit, Ellen Pao became widely known after she filed a gender discrimination suit against her former employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers – one of the biggest investment firms in Silicon Valley.

The high-profile case sparked much-needed debate around the treatment of women in the tech industry and, though she lost in March 2015, Pao won a moral victory by shining a light on the issue of discrimination in Silicon Valley and encouraging other executives to take a stand.

She has since called out tech’s lack of diversity, most eloquently in an essay she wrote for Lena Dunham’s newsletter. Her LinkedIn profile now simply reads, “Making a difference”.


Adam Quinton

19. Adam Quinton

One of the best speakers at Inspirefest 2015 – where he called “bullsh*t” on Silicon Valley being a meritocracy – Adam Quinton is set to return to the Inspirefest stage in 2016.

Claiming more of a “mirror-ocracy” is at play, Quinton explained that the male-dominated tech industry tends to work with others similar to the majority, to the detriment of diversity.

The founder and CEO of Lucas Point Ventures, Quinton is an active investor and adviser to early-stage companies. He is also a founding angel of Astia Angels, which invests in high-growth women entrepreneurs, and is an adviser to the San Francisco Women’s Startup Lab and the Vinetta Project.

Photo via Conor McCabe Photography


Vicki Saunders

20. Vicki Saunders

Having founded several companies, Canadian entrepreneur Vicki Saunders has a lot of experience in financing a business. These days, though, she’s looking to support entrepreneurs with new forms of financing through SheEO, a funding platform for women.

Last year, The Toronto-based group launched the Radical Generosity programme, seeking to build up a $1m fund for women entrepreneurs from 1,000 donations. The donors will then help select the businesses that get funded.

Hoping to launch in other cities worldwide, Saunders told The Globe and Mail, “Our goal is to get to 1m women by 2020”. We’ll find out how this global ambition is coming along at Inspirefest this summer.


Anne Ravanona

21. Anne Ravanona

Anne Ravanona is founder and CEO of Global Invest Her, a platform that aims to demystify the funding process and support female entrepreneurs as they seek early seed funding.

For Ravanona, the most insidious barrier standing in women’s way is the “myth” that investing in women will only end in a loss. “That’s not true,” she said, speaking at the 2014 Female Founders Forum in Dublin. “When you invest in a women-led business, more often than not you will get a higher return – women-led business in high-tech yields a 35pc higher return on investment.”

Photo via Conor McCabe Photography


Geri Stengel

22. Geri Stengel

Geri Stengel is the president of Ventureneer, a digital media and market research company, as well as a columnist with Forbes.

With Ventureneer, Stengel provides training for small businesses and non-profits, while also helping corporations reach out to these organisations through thought leadership.

“If we hope to solve the world’s problems, we cannot afford to leave out half the population,” she said recently, when speaking about different business ideas of men and women. “What’s good for women is good for the economy.”


Jeanne M Sullivan


23. Jeanne M Sullivan

A true legend in the industry, Sullivan is co-founder of StarVest Partners, a venture capital firm in New York City.

With more than 25 years’ experience in investing, Sullivan is an advocate for women-led businesses. She serves as an adviser for many organisations supporting women entrepreneurs and is on the global board of trustees of Astia, which backs high-growth women-led companies.

Forbes named Sullivan as one of the women VCs changing the world and she was honoured last year by the New York Hall of Science for her work inspiring girls and women in STEM.

An acclaimed speaker, Sullivan is also on the bill for Inspirefest 2016.


Sarah Turner

24. Sarah Turner

Co-founder and CEO at Angel Academe, a pro-women angel investment group, Sarah Turner looked at the low numbers of female investors and the comparatively paltry investments directed towards women-led companies, and realised something had to change.

Turner holds to the ethos that “when you have diverse teams working well together, you have the best decision making”, (TechCityinsider) and this is why those seeking funding through Angel Academe must have at least one woman on their founding team.

For Turner, it’s all about “encouraging more women to make more investments, helping more men to become champions for women, and supporting more female entrepreneurs” (Breakfast with Tiffany).

Photo via Angel Academe


April Underwood

25. April Underwood

At fast-growing enterprise communications player Slack, April Underwood is a tech industry veteran who earned her stripes at some of the biggest tech firms in Silicon Valley. She was part of the Twitter rise to fame and its IPO journey, building some of its advertising and developer products, including the tweet button and Twitter API.

Last year, Underwood formed the #Angels venture investment firm along with Twitter colleagues Chloe Sladden, Jana Messerschmidt, Jessica Verrilli, Katie Jacobs Stanton and Vijaya Gadde. #Angels is an angel investor group formed to fund start-ups and bucks the trend in being an all-female group of investors.


Sharon Vosmek

26. Sharon Vosmek

“An attractive white man is 68pc more likely to receive funding than an attractive white woman.” That was just one of the shocking statistics Sharon Vosmek cited during her keynote presentation at Inspirefest last year.

Vosmek has been the CEO of Astia, a global organisation for women-led start-ups, since 2007, and she is also a board member of Astia Angels.

A recognised thought leader, Vosmek has given lectures on the topic of building inclusive ecosystems at Stanford and MIT and was invited to participate in The White House Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference. In 2011, she was named as a US Delegate to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit.

Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Get your Early Bird tickets now.

Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic

Main being different image via Shutterstock