According to several studies, only 3% of the VC funds money available worldwide in 2019 went to female-led ventures. We spoke to several specialists in Luxembourg and beyond to find out why and what could be done to fix this.
by: Marina Andrieu
photo: Kaori Anne Jolliffe
featured: Marina Andrieu
Listen to article (Part I)
When diversity means performance
We met with Yannick Oswald from Mangrove Capital. Mangrove is an iconic VC in Luxembourg, they are known for their investment in Skype and more recently Wix.
“Looking at a diversity of deal is common sense for a VC. We have always looked at deals internationally. Therefore, looking at gender diversity is equally important. This is part of our DNA.”
Oswald has also been organising several women founder events in Europe. He explained that it is an important way for the firm to be represented and it is part of its outreach work to the broader community. We need to be able to connect to a broader female audience, “VC is a small world and we need to work on this”.
Oswald also notes that their last two investments, Curio.io or Sybel are startups founded by women but it was not part of any specific plan to invest in women founders. “We simply look for the best deals, regardless of whether they come from male or female founders,” he adds.
“Be confident and positive. As a founder, it is important to demonstrate that you are a successful leader.”
Expon Capital is another Luxembourgish VC firm, also known for managing the Luxembourg Digital Tech Fund. Lily Wang, one of few women working in VC in Luxembourg, started to study mathematics as an undergraduate and went on to complete a Masters in Finance in Paris. She started her career in investment banking before moving on to Venture Capital.
“UN SDG goals, including gender equality, are embedded in the Expon Investment thesis, confirms Wang. “We also believe in a diversity of different cultural backgrounds and working experiences”.
Her advice for women seeking funding is “Be confident and positive. As a founder, it is important to demonstrate that you are a successful leader. There are many difficulties during entrepreneurship. In order to lead the team and convince the market, it is important to demonstrate your determination. Don’t be afraid of disagreements or rejections. They are part of the journey. Finally, you are not on your own – ask for help and advice!”
Women taking action
An initiative like “The Billion Dollar Fund for Women” has decided to take the issue seriously, Shelly Porges, the founder is based in Washington DC. She is a serial entrepreneur who could not believe the statistics around funding women worldwide.
The BFFW is not a financial vehicle but an initiative to make a pledge for specific amounts to be invested in female led-projects. “First, I was surprised when we reached our target well before the plan”. Several studies have shown that women led or at least one woman in the team leads to better financial returns. Funds cannot miss that, especially if studies from McKinsey or other professional services firm confirm it.
“The power of networking and women supporting each other has been so important in my journey.”
In France, where 10% of startups are created by women, the issue of financing women is not being taken very seriously by a group of successful entrepreneurs and business women turned Business Angels, including Tatiana Jama (Selectionnist) and Celine Larzothes (Leetchi, Mangopay…). The group has decided to act towards three objectives: “feminizing” the startup teams, feminize investors team, encourage funds to finance women. Sista has launched a social media campaign based on the FaceApp. Several well known women and men have played the game.
This suggests that looking at diversity of partners in the investors teams can also be a part of the answer. Currently, only a small percent of VC staff are women. Moreover, a large majority of VC firms have no women in their funding teams.
Listen to article (Part II)
Where are the women in tech?
In Europe, the EIB, the bank of the European Union has been more active when it comes to gender equality.
Shiva started her career in finance in the US before moving back to Luxembourg to work for a bank. She encourages women to look at EIB’s offerings. While EIB does not loan directly to companies, they co-invest with banks or VCs and encourage more diversity in investments.
Polina Montano from Job Today is the women who raised the most funds for a company based in Luxembourg. With over 30 million raised, Polina might be an exception, “ I am not going to lie, raising funds is really hard – you need to have a big vision to convince investors”, she stated at a Women Founders event in 2019.
“BtoC projects are more difficult to finance – investors are now looking for DeepTech projects.”
Gaëlle Haag from StarTalers just closed a round of financing with the Bourse of Luxembourg and a group of 10 women angels in Luxembourg. She stressed that “The power of networking and women supporting each other has been so important in my journey”. Her app aims to support women to invest in a smarter and more sustainable manner.
While on mission in Tel Aviv, WIDE met with several investors and a group of young women, many working in VC firms, others successful startup founders. Where are the women in tech? asked Michal Seror, the Start-Up Nation Central Community Development Lead. The audience quickly agreed on e-commerce and health education ,which was confirmed by all the women in attendance. The audience emphasized that the industries in which women are asking for funds have changed and include much more than just fashion, retail or e-commerce. Representatives of Women2Women network in collaboration with Start-Uo National Central presented the stats regarding the Israeli startup scene, showcasing that more than 75% of companies are led by men and only 8% by women. The data shows that in Israel, health is the vertical in which women are best represented, with 15 percent of founders.
With only 1.3 percent of the money going to Women in the startup nation in the B round (2 out of 149 companies). Clearly, they all agreed that investors are not so interested in financing beauty or e-commerce projects. “B to C projects are more difficult to finance – investors are now looking for deeptech projects” shares one of them. So looking at the vertical that women choose can also be an explanation as to the lack of funding after certain rounds. Just like in other ecosystems, women creating ventures in fintech and cybersecurity are rare.
While there are still few women studying computer science or engineering, this is probably the beginning of the answer. If you master tech, it is easier to innovate and build your first prototype. In addition, women need to be encouraged to raise funds and ask for big money to be able to take their projects to the next level.
This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Get a copy now!