Venture capital, by definition, is a field that favors large numbers. This is a form of private equity investment available to startups that are likely to experience dramatic growth over the next few years.
It is also an area riddled with dramatic disparities – both in terms of funding and investment.
Ninety percent of venture capitalists are men; 97% of venture capital dollars go to men. Eighty-six percent of all venture-backed startups have all men on their teams.
Worse, notes Caroline Lewis, the majority — 92% — of venture capitalists are white men who attended the same 10 schools.
Lewis is an investor and managing partner of Rogue Women’s Fund, a venture capital firm that specifically funds companies owned by female founders.
Venture capital is, Lewis admits, a small fraction of the overall economy. According to research from the University of Chicago, venture capital investment represents only 0.2% of gross domestic product, but generates 21% of US GDP in revenue. Lewis also notes that venture-backed companies are much more likely to go public.
But not only do female founders only receive 2% of venture capital funds, but the statistics look even worse when filtered out for other demographics, like race or veteran status, Lewis says.
“I realized that if I want to create fundamental change and have an impact on our society, it’s a small but critical aspect of our economy that can really get things done,” Lewis said. Oregon company. “I sincerely believe that the Rogue Women’s Fund and other gender diversity-focused funds help build the businesses of tomorrow that make up our large stock population and portfolio.”
The fund was launched in 2019 under the umbrella of Rogue Venture Partners, a Lake Oswego-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage, early-stage and early-stage companies, particularly in the Northwest .
The founders of RWF aren’t the only ones interested in unsung founders. Black Founders Matter, a Portland-based fund dedicated to funding black-founded startups, announced in March that it had secured the first closing of its first fund, with half of its funds going to men and the other half to women. women. Portland-based Elevate Capital and Next Ventures are also part of a maturing area of Portland VC with an interest in founders their peers might not invite into the room.
Before Lewis came to RVP, she worked in strategy and operations for Nike and as a management consultant. But she got involved with an angel investment group in Portland and met RVP founder Tom Sperry, who asked her to join the company in 2017.
“I had seen ‘Shark Tank.’ I knew the concept of venture capital, but I didn’t really know the inner workings of it,” says Lewis, but she dove into learning as much as possible.
In August, RWF tapped Kerri Leathers, who has held finance leadership roles for a string of fintech and biotech startups, eventually moving into finance leadership roles that put her on the sidelines. of CEOs as they offered VCs to get more funding.
“I was often the only woman in the room and the only black person in the room,” Leathers says.
She considered starting her own startup and also starting her own fund, but found out about a residency program at RWF and decided to apply.
She says Lewis and Sperry supported her in building her own fund, but she feels like they already do.
“Everything I want to do, we already do,” says Leathers.
“Working with startups, there were a lot that were seeded, couldn’t get any money, and now I feel ecstatic and lucky,” adds Leathers. “I’m actually very proud to be a part of the company now – especially the fact that we’re changing the landscape of the company and who can be funded, and the types of products that are funded.”
RWF’s portfolio includes Caregiven, an app designed to help families organize care responsibilities, and AllVoices, an encrypted software platform that allows employees to anonymously report workplace concerns.
“I think any founder will tell you fundraising is hard. It’s a full-time job in itself, that’s for sure,” says Nicole Schmidt, CEO of Source, an online materials marketplace. Prior to founding Source, Schmidt worked as an architect and later in the building materials industry, working as a manufacturer’s representative and doing business development and marketing.
“I ended up learning to code and build the first version of our platform myself, to really alleviate some of those transparency and simplicity issues that we see a lot in building. It’s a very outdated,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt says she met Lewis before starting the company, when she was still formulating the idea, and found her a “great mentor” who helped her learn the ins and outs of venture capital.
Sperry, Lewis and RVP partner Adam Stoll did about a year of research before deciding to launch a venture capital fund specifically for female founders, Stoll told OB.
The creation of the fund is also a natural extension of RVP’s focus on investing in local businesses and taking a more human approach to venture capital, Stoll said.
But that does not make it a philanthropic enterprise. In fact, Stoll, Lewis, and Sperry came to the conclusion that precisely because female founders are overlooked, there was and continues to be “a massive and massive opportunity” to invest in female-led startups. , who are five times more likely to become billionaires. dollar companies and which often generate higher returns and have better operating results, according to RWF data.
“I hate the idea that what because something you’re doing is the right thing to do is charity,” Stoll says.
Yet the fund is rooted in RVP’s focus on investing locally and maintaining a human relationship with funding recipients – and each other.
“I love playing ‘The Floor Is Lava’ with my daughter, and she’s 4,” Leathers laughs, when asked what she does in her spare time.
“I’m very boring right now, because I’m only talking about work or my daughter. But that’s the thing,” Lewis says. “I have been given life’s greatest gift, to be so deeply passionate about and connected to what I do when I wake up every day – even on the most difficult days – absolutely thrilled and honored to do what we do,” Lewis says.
“We think most people who go into this are betting on a huge portfolio, where only one of these companies is the one that’s going to do everything for them. So really, you’re losing a lot of personal contact with the founders,” Stoll says. “I mean, I start every call with a founder who says, ‘How are you and how’s your family? Because if it’s not going well, we know business is not going well. .
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