Year in Review: Firms aim to correct gender imbalance

In early December, FirstMark Capital announced that it hired Beth Ferreira as managing director. And just like that, women made up 40 percent of the firm’s investment team.

Ferreira arrived just a couple of months after FirstMark added Catherine Ulrich as a managing director on the team. Ferreira and Ulrich now sit alongside three men, Managing Directors Rick HeitzmannAmish Jani and Matt Turck.

“One day a woman will be hired and the news won’t be about gender.” Ferreira told VCJ. “My hire or the hire of other female VCs isn’t news. The women being hired [in VC] are incredibly talented.”

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Beth Ferreira, managing director, FirstMark Capital. Photo courtesy of the firm.

For now, moves like this are news. But gradually more women are making their way into the senior-level VC positions. And firms like FirstMark are stocking their partnership rosters with female investors, by hiring operators-as-first-time-VCs, attracting GPs from other firms or promoting from within. In some cases, the hire of a woman GP in 2017 represented a first for a few of the firms.

“Everyone has noticed how firms have addressed the gender imbalance, and it’s a positive development,” said Kate Mitchell, co-founder and partner at Scale Venture Partners and founder of the diversity and inclusion task force at the National Venture Capital Association.

Ferreira and Ulrich join FirstMark as the firm is scaling, increasing its footprint in its home area of New York and nationally. In 2016, the firm, which has invested in PinterestShopifyRiot Games, InVision and others, raised $275 million for its fourth main early-stage fund, as well as a $205 million second opportunity fund.

An experienced operator and investor, Ferreira had founded WME Ventures in New York. She told VCJ that at FirstMark she’ll leverage her consumer background to focus on e-commerce, marketplace and services. Ulrich, meanwhile, most recently was chief product officer at Shutterstock and before that held a similar role at Weight Watchers.

NVCA’s Mitchell noted that it takes time to climb a venture firm’s ranks to reach partner. She said the industry’s recent hires are not token, but are experienced operators or established investors. She said the hires are also a direct response to two things in the venture community: the several sexual-harassment allegations against various male VCs and the realization by investors that having women on the decision-making team improves a firm’s stature and helps bring in more qualified deals.

Kate Mitchell
Kate Mitchell, co-founder and partner, Scale Venture Partners. Photo courtesy of the firm.

“It used to be considered somewhat neutral if a firm had no woman on its team and a positive if they did,” Mitchell said. “Now entrepreneurs consider it negative if a firm has no women.”

Among the new female VCs and firms making a difference, Mitchell points to Jess Lee. In late 2016, Sequoia Capital hired Lee as its first female investment partner in the firm’s U.S. operations. It was an amazing development for the firm, which has now been around for more than 45 years.

Perhaps, then, having a well-known venture firm as Sequoia hire a female partner opened the doors for other women. In 2017, a number of others announced similar hires or promoted within its ranks.

In addition to Ferreira and Ulrich at FirstMark, other female investors who moved up in 2017 are:

  • First Round Capital named Hayley Barna as a general partner, promoting her from venture partner. She previously was co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox.
  • Onetime Pinterest product manager Sarah Tavel joined Benchmark as its first female general partner. Tavel came to the firm from Greylock Partners, where she was a partner.
  • Union Square Ventures added Rebecca Kaden as a general partner. Kaden joins New York-based USV from Maveron in Seattle, where she was also a general partner.
  • San Francisco-based Fuel Capital, which raised a little less than $50 million in 2016 for its second fund, named TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque as its second general partner. Founding Partner Chris Howard, said that he and Busque “share the same ethos of putting founders first.
  • Accel promotes London-based Luciana Lixandru to partner. Previously a principal at the firm, Lixandru focuses on investments in consumer Internet, marketplace and software companies.Jocelyn Goldfein, an angel investor and a onetime engineering executive at Facebook and VMware, joined San Francisco-based Zetta Venture Partners as a partner in January.
  • Early-stage venture firm ff Venture Capital hired Kathryn Hume as a venture partner to advise portfolio companies and teams, drawing on her business background in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Hume joins ffVC from, a Toronto-based SaaS artificial intelligence platform company.
  • General Catalyst hired Holly Maloney McConnell as a managing director in its Boston office. McConnell joined the firm from North Bridge Growth Equity, which rebranded as Guidepost Growth Equity.
  • GV quietly promoted Laura Melahn as a partner on its investing team. She joined the corporate VC in 2011 and previously established GV’s marketing function.
  • IVP promoted Roseanne Wincek to principal. Wincek works with such IVP investments as Compass, Glossier and Qubole. She joined the firm in 2015 from Canaan Partners, where she was a principal.
  • In late December, Aspect Ventures names Lauren Kolodny as a partner at the firm. Kolodny joined the firm at its inception in 2014. Previously, she worked in product marketing at Google.
  • Scale Venture Partners promoted Susan Liu to principal. She came on board the Foster City, California-based firm in 2012.
  • Draper Associates added Siri Srinivas to its team as an investment analyst. Srinivas was most recently a venture analyst at FundersClub and before that was a reporter covering money and business at The Guardian in New York.
  • Canvas Ventures promoted Jennifer Kaehms to associate from analyst, in which she has focused on digital health, SaaS, AI and consumer products. She joined in September 2016. Prior to Canvas, she was a business consultant.
  • Storm Ventures, which raised $180 million for its fifth early-stage fund in 2015, added Pascale Diaine as a principal. She previously was founder and lead for San Francisco’s Orange Fab, a startup accelerator. At Storm, she will focus on artificial intelligence and augmented reality solutions targeting the enterprise.
  • Jessica Straus joined GE Ventures as an entrepreneur-in-residence. She was with the NVCA for three years and helped produce a report on diversity and inclusion in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • Menlo Park, California-based Amplify Partners hired Sarah Catanzaro as a principal. Catanzaro was previously a data partner at Canvas Ventures, which she joined in mid-2016. Prior to joining Amplify, she was head of data at Mattermark. She told VCJ that she will lead deals at Amplify, which raised $125 million for its second fund in 2015.

Catanzaro agrees that VC firms are cognizant of gender imbalances among its rank and that they’re taking steps to address it.

But she also noted that venture firms continually go through generational shifts as older VCs retire and newer ones, with different specializations, move in.

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Sarah Catanzaro, principal at Amplify Partners. Archive photo courtesy of Canvas Ventures.

“My generation realizes that specialization is the way to get ahead,” she said. “I wanted to focus more on my passions of machine intelligence and enterprise infrastructure, specialized sectors that are more in line with what Amplify focuses on.”

In mid-2016, VCJ partnered with Women.VC to survey the industry and reported that 253 women were active venture capitalists nationwide. That’s 15 percent below the five-year high of 296 in 2014.

The report shows that almost 20 percent of active women venture investors work for corporate VC funds. And Women.VC found that female investors are more likely to be found in healthtech and life sciences than in software. The list focuses on active partners who make investment decisions and does not include marketing partners, CFOs and similar non-investment roles.

Renata George, co-founder of Women.VC and managing director of Zenmen Venture Fund, said that the number of female GPs has grown in 2017, but the overall change is slight.

“I wish the venture capital community opened the doors to women wider because it recognizes our abilities as equal business partners, and not as a response to the sexual harassment and gender inequality news,” George said. “Having more women with a ‘partner’ title on business cards is not enough.”

Photo illustration courtesy of gmast3r/iStock/Getty Images