Meet venture capital’s 2023 Women of Influence

Our third annual list of women who are climbing high in the venture capital industry was chosen from a group of 110 nominees.

It isn’t easy to choose just 10 women from the vast array in the global community of venture capital who are accomplishing great things and having far-reaching impact. For our third annual Women of Influence list, Venture Capital Journal considered 110 nominees, all of them talented and deserving of recognition.

This year’s group consists of fund managers, LPs, a lawyer and an accelerator CEO in cities from New York to Shanghai. We also take an in-depth look at women LPs, many of whom are finding creative ways to funnel more capital to female fund managers. Women GPs, together with other underrepresented managers, are stewards of only 1.4 percent of the $82 trillion managed by alternative asset managers in the US, according to the most recent Knight Foundation report.

In addition to providing capital, female LPs in university endowments, foundations, retirement funds, funds of funds and large family offices are introducing women GPs to networks of fellow investors and others who are making it easier to share ideas, practical advice and even dealflow.

“I’m very proud of the fact that there are many fund managers who received their first seven-figure investment through a warm intro that we made,” says Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Transact Global, whose membership of nearly 500 emerging managers extends to most continents. “It’s truly women helping women.” Read our story.

Ahu Büyükkuşoğlu Serter
Arya Women Investment Platform

A serial entrepreneur and investor, Istanbul-based Ahu Büyükkuşoğlu Serter is the founder of the Arya Women Investment Platform, which supports female founders and invests in women-led businesses. Last year, she established the Arya Venture Capital Investment Fund, which the platform believes to be the first gender-lens impact investment fund in Turkey09. She also serves on the boards of several companies, as well as a number of technology start-ups. Through her efforts to close the gender gap, Büyükkuşoğlu Serter is setting a “new standard for female leadership and responsible investing in Turkey and beyond,” says a peer.

Maëlle Gavet

Maëlle Gavet was appointed as chief executive of pre-seed investor Techstars in 2021. Under her leadership, the firm has since closed its latest institutionally backed fund on $150 million, has grown its portfolio to more than 3,600 companies and now runs 54 accelerator programs.One of Gavet’s focus areas is supporting founders who have historically been overlooked in the tech and venture ecosystem. In 2022, Techstars partnered with JPMorgan on the $80 million Advancing Cities Fund, which aims to create opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Of the 59 companies the fund invested in last year, 50 percent of the founders were diverse and 25 percent identified as women.

Helping MENA founders tackle daunting problems

Noor Sweid, founder of Global Ventures, says Series A rounds for MENA companies are ‘much more affordable’ than those in the US, allowing her to generate ‘10x or 20x on those companies,’ writes David Bogoslaw.

When Noor Sweid launched Global Ventures in Dubai in 2018, only a few hundred million dollars was being invested annually in venture-backed start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa. It was just 0.2 percent of the aggregated gross domestic product for the MENA region, compared with US venture funding, which accounted for 0.7 of the nation’s GDP that year.

“One of the most important things we can do is give access to strategic capital for founders so they can scale their companies, create jobs and success stories,” says Sweid, who has written checks for 56 start-ups in MENA. “I didn’t start the firm in order just to do transactions [but rather] to build a firm that founders across the region could partner with as they grow their companies and scale across the region and the world.”

Sweid is still relatively new to venture capital, having entered the business nine years ago. The Boston College and MIT alum started her career in 2001 as a strategy consultant for Accenture. Later, she helped scale her family’s business, the global interior contracting company Depa that went public in a $1 billion IPO. In 2006, she founded a chain of yoga studios called ZenYoga, which she ran for about seven years before joining Leap Ventures as a GP in 2014. Sweid rounded out her experience with a two-year stint as CIO of the Dubai Future Foundation before founding Global Ventures.

Sweid’s investors include United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, as well as some international family offices. Global Ventures this year began raising its third flagship fund, which has an undisclosed target.

Focusing on the underserved MENA region paid off handsomely for Global Ventures’ Fund I, which closed on $50 million in 2020. The fund has recorded four exits and has achieved a 0.7x DPI multiple and a 2.7x TVPI multiple, putting it in the “top decile” of returns, Sweid says. Fund II, which a source estimated to be $150 million, is a “top quartile” performer, she adds.

One factor boosting returns is the firm’s ability to invest in start-ups at much lower multiples than they command in the US. “Our Series As are much more affordable [going] into a much more mature company than a US Series A, allowing you to get 10x or 20x on those companies even if it’s just a regional market size,” Sweid says. When companies scale globally, “there’s an arbitrage because they’re able to command US multiples. And that return justifies the additional risk taken for investing in these markets.”

Sustainability for viability

Unlike companies in more developed regions, those based in the Middle East and Africa tend to view sustainability as intrinsic to their business models and a pre-requisite for long-term viability, not a targeted outcome. People in these countries need to solve basic needs like feeding their families and getting access to affordable healthcare and mobility amid insufficient infrastructure. That forces start-ups to find workarounds for unreliable and costly energy, inadequate clean water and unavailable roads.

One of Global Ventures’ bets is Max, a Nigerian mobility company that settled on building solar-powered three-wheelers for local Uber drivers after realizing their biggest pain point was affordable vehicles and access to gasoline. “Now they have thousands of these [vehicles] on the road and people love them,” Sweid says. “But they weren’t solving for climate. They were solving for mobility.”

Another portfolio company, Red Sea Farms, found a way to reduce energy consumption for desalinating water with an alternate method and also by identifying produce that is more tolerant of salt water. This has turned “vertical farming from something that needs to be subsidized to something that’s wildly [earnings-] positive,” she notes. But it was for the sake of food security, not the climate.

Lacking infrastructure and demographics “breeds this unique dynamic where founders can solve massive problems because infrastructure hasn’t, because heavy industry’s not there” and because lobbyists and regulators aren’t hindering development, says Sweid.

Nisa Leung
Qiming Venture Partners

Nisa Leung, managing partner at Qiming Venture Partners, was an early proponent of China’s healthcare innovation scene. Today, she heads healthcare investments at the firm, with nearly 200 portfolio companies spanning the biopharmaceutical, diagnostics, medical devices, services and healthtech sectors. Leung has supported her team and the firm’s fundraising and investment activities through challenging macro conditions, while also guiding portfolio companies through IPO processes. Last July, Qiming held the final close for its USD Fund VIII on $2.5 billion and held a first close on $700 million for RMB Fund VII. Leung also promotes the DE&I agenda – as of 2022, over half of Qiming’s team members and 40 percent of partners are women.

Shing Lo
Latham & Watkins

A partner in law firm Latham & Watkins’ London office, Shing Lo has worked with a range of VC funds and tech companies over the course of her career. Recent mandates include representing artificial intelligence-based contract management platform Robin AI on its $10.5 million Series A round and advising venture firm Atomico on a $120 million Series C funding round for HR tech platform Factorial. Her dedication to supporting female founders and investors in the European tech ecosystem shines through at all levels. For example, Lo was instrumental in stocking Latham’s London office with sanitary products from a femtech start-up led by two women from minority backgrounds.

The accidental venture capitalist

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis didn’t set out to be a venture capitalist, but she and Seven Seven Six are changing the way VC firms work with founders, writes Ryan Hibbison.

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis likes to say she has “lived many lives.” When in her early 20s, she founded a healthcare e-commerce and media company in Miami, then went on to start an online English learning platform in Barcelona, Spain. She returned to the US in 2018 after she was promoted to global head of customer engagement at Typeform, a cloud-based web application developer, then later joined content platform developer Contentful as head of customer growth.

She hit the pause button in the fall of 2019 to take some time to figure out what she wanted to do next.

“I have a personal philosophy that every 10 years you should reexamine your life and your work and see if it still sets fire to your soul,” Georgoulakis tells Venture Capital Journal. “I had reached a really good point, but I felt like there was more. Two days after I made the decision [to leave Contentful] I found out I was pregnant, but I decided to stick to my decision. I was pregnant during covid and gave birth during covid. It was a big adventure. After that, I decided that I wanted to start exploring new options.”

When she was figuring out her next move, she came across Seven Seven Six, a venture firm launched during the pandemic by Alexis Ohanian, who previously co-founded and was executive chairman of Reddit. Named after the year of the first Olympic Games, 776 BC, the firm invests in early-stage software and tech companies and quickly raised $450 million combined for its first two funds. It’s now in the market targeting $520 million for its third flagship.

Georgoulakis applied for Seven Seven Six’s inaugural operator-in-residence program. She felt like it was a longshot, given she didn’t have an Ivy League education (she has a bachelor’s in international relations from Florida International University and MBA from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). She also felt like she didn’t improve her odds when she wrote in her application that she “had no desire to work in VC.” Nonetheless, she was one of just three people chosen from 1,100 applicants.

During her stint as an operator in residence, “I realized I did want to be an investor because I want to change who is heard, who is seen and how people perform,” she says. “Not because I’m necessarily going to help them perform better, but I really understand that importance of true support at the right time with the right tool can help people unlock their own power.”

Impressed with Georgoulakis’s work, Seven Seven Six invited her to join the firm as a partner in January 2022. She now serves as its portfolio and founder outcomes partner, a role she designed, spending her time focusing on the firm’s founders and their individual journeys.

To say the job keeps her busy would be an understatement. In her short time with the firm, she has led 30 workshops, 100-plus check-ins and more than 270 mini-board meetings for founders. She also pioneered the firm’s “founder voice” report. The report asks the firm’s founders open-ended questions to help the firm make sure that all of its services provide value to founders. Georgoulakis says her goal is to put “the founders at the center of everything we do.”

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of how she and Seven Seven Six operate is their focus on founders whose companies have failed. At the earliest stages of venture investing, it is an accepted fact the large majority of investments won’t succeed, and a firm’s success is usually tied to one or two investments.

While most firms take the loss and move on, Georgoulakis and the firm see an opportunity to turn losses into wins. “Most successful founders are not first-time founders,” she says. “That means that they try, they fail, they get up and they do it again. We want to make sure that they aren’t feeling defeated if their company closes, because the odds are their company will close. It’s just math. The success rate of repeat founders is extremely high, so it just makes business sense to make sure that we are taking care of the experience of failed founders so that the next time they come around they want to work with us.”

Felicity O’Kelly
Climate Investment

As a principal at Climate Investment, previously known as OGCI Climate Investments, O’Kelly is focused on driving change in the climate tech venture space. She recently sourced, led, structured and closed the $30 million Series B funding round for Aeroseal – a patented sealing solution that can reduce building energy consumption by 30 percent – alongside other climate investors. O’Kelly also champions greater diversity within the climate tech landscape. She is a founding investor supporter at Climate Mosaic, a consortium that aims to empower underrepresented founders and investors tackling the climate crisis.

Evgenia Plotnikova
Dawn Capital

General partner Evgenia Plotnikova has helped raise more than $1 billion for Dawn Capital’s portfolio companies since joining the firm in 2018. Drawing on more than a decade’s experience, Plotnikova leads on software-as-a-service deals and plays an instrumental role in advising Dawn’s portfolio of 40 companies on how best to navigate and scale in the current operating environment. As well as overseeing the day-to-day firm strategy and development of the team, Plotnikova is dedicated to maintaining Dawn’s diversity and culture, and also shares her expertise with aspiring tech entrepreneurs through her role as a Techstars mentor.

Rudina Seseri
Glasswing Ventures

Rudina Seseri is founder and managing partner at Glasswing Ventures, which invests in start-ups that apply artificial intelligence and frontier technology to enterprise and cybersecurity markets. In the past year, the firm closed its second fund on $158 million in capital commitments, and provided pre-seed and seed funding to 11 AI start-ups. Glasswing was one of the earliest VCs to become a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, and Seseri’s DE&I efforts have helped ensure diverse leadership is a priority at the firm and throughout its portfolio. In 73 percent of its new investments in 2022, at least half the founding teams were from underrepresented backgrounds.

A master connector

GPs who work with Seyonne Kang of StepStone say she is a valuable LP because ‘she can put you in touch with the right people at the right time,’ writes Lawrence Aragon.

Seyonne Kang has a warm personality that makes her easy to talk to. We have only spoken once before on the phone, but as we chat outside a French bakery on a warm spring day in Palo Alto, we instantly connect like old friends. I am there to interview her, but it quickly turns into a conversation, and she has as many questions for me as I have for her. Laughter frequently breaks free from our tête-à-tête.

Kang is a partner and member of StepStone Group’s venture capital and growth equity team, which emerged from the $138 billion asset manager’s acquisition of VC fund of funds manager Greenspring Associates in 2021. Greenspring was among the first to pursue a flywheel strategy of blending VC fund, direct and secondary investments, and StepStone’s VC and growth equity team continues to pursue that strategy today, managing about $30 billion committed to funds, companies and secondaries globally.

Partners at venture funds where Kang is an LP use words like “authentic” and “kind” to describe her.

Neil Sequeira, founder of Defy VC, calls Kang a master “connector” who introduced him to a couple of new investors who became LPs in his third fund, which closed on $300 million in January. “She can put you in touch with the right people at the right time,” he says. “I feel like the GP/LP relationship can be strained sometimes, but what she’s really good at is making it more of a partnership.”

Fan base

Dana Settle, co-founder and managing partner of Greycroft, is also a fan of Kang. “Of all our LPs, she’s the person I consistently reach out to if I’m thinking about a new strategy or hiring someone,” Settle says. “She’s a great sounding board and adviser. She’s so thoughtful about the industry and someone who is always looking around corners. She’s not just following the status quo.”

Starting with Fund III in 2012, Greenspring and StepStone have committed to all Greycroft funds, including its early-stage Fund VII and fourth growth fund, which closed in April. Greycroft is among more than 20 firms where Kang is a member of the limited partner advisory committee. All those annual meetings give her insight into the start-ups VCs are most bullish about.

“Our whole model is we have this lens into these companies from the earliest stages because we invest in all these seed managers and pre-seed managers,” Kang says. “We’re on a lot of LPACs, so we’re watching [the companies] over time and it gives us an advantage to do direct investing later.”

That is how StepStone learned about Draftea, a Latin American fantasy sports platform backed by a host of brand-name VCs, including Sequoia Capital. Kang was introduced to Draftea by Bullpen Capital and led a $20 million Series A in the company on behalf of StepStone in September 2022.

Another buzzy start-up that entered Kang’s radar through her VC relationships is Timescale, an open-source database company she met through Redpoint Ventures. She led a $25 million investment in the company on behalf of StepStone shortly after it raised a $110 million Series C led by Tiger Global in February that Timescale said gave it a valuation of more than $1 billion.

When it comes to funds, Kang is particularly interested in veteran GPs who have spun out of successful firms. A good example is David Pakman, who was a partner at Venrock for nearly 15 years, then launched his own firm, CoinFund, in 2021 to focus on investing in crypto and blockchain technologies. StepStone’s decision to back CoinFund had less to do with the sector than it did with Pakman’s depth of experience.

As co-head of StepStone’s Diversity Fund Committee for the venture and growth team, Kang is also on the lookout for compelling diverse managers. Since March of last year, she has led investments in four emerging managers, including three led by diverse partners and one focused on sustainability.

“Seyonne has been really influential in Greenspring, Stepstone and the broader industry in supporting efforts around diversity and doing it from a very thoughtful place,” Settle says. “It’s not just throwing money into diverse managers. You’re investing in great managers who are successful – and success begets success.”