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Venture Capital - Women

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Crashing the VC glass ceiling by building ecosystems  

Published 5 June 2024 in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion • 9 min read

Fostering women-led VC (venture capital) communities, changing recruiting requirements, and expanding education and mentorship opportunities are crucial to closing the global VC gender gap, writes Bedy Yang, managing partner at 500 Global — a VC firm with $2.4bn in assets under management that invests in founders building fast-growing technology companies.

VC funding has surged overall in recent years, but the numbers haven’t leaped forward for female founders at the same pace. According to PitchBook data, in 2023, companies founded solely by women garnered just 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the U.S. The entire VC power structure and deal flow is still predominantly controlled and managed by white male hands.

So, how can we break their hold on the industry? We need to start from the very top, with investors and limited partners (LPs). This will involve taking concrete steps to increase the diversity of investors and LPs by changing the recruiting requirements, being intentional about investing in startups with at least one female co-founder and providing mentorship and education opportunities.

As a managing partner at 500 Global, I oversee the company’s ecosystem development programs, including investor education courses in partnership with top institutions such as Stanford, Berkeley, and INSEAD. I have helped launch strategic partnerships and accelerator programs globally and have led 500 Global’s corporate startup innovation and consultancy, which has taken 500 Global acceleration programs to more than 20 countries.

When it comes to recruiting women in the VC industry, it’s really tough at the start of the supply chain, as female candidates often do not have a long enough track record. This is why we started looking for very different types of profiles: women with a really outstanding reputation and network among entrepreneurs.

The scarcity of female investors — those who are part of senior leadership, lead deals, and make investment decisions — is also a big challenge. But when money is put into the hands of female investors, they tend to invest in entrepreneurs from more diverse backgrounds which has a massive positive multiplying effect.

Some say there is no deal flow and pipeline of women entrepreneurs, and that they do not want to lower the quality of their investments; this is such a lazy comment. At 500 Global, many of our top-performing companies are led by women entrepreneurs — Canva CEO Melanie Perkins built an iconic company with over 185 million users — so we did not have to lower the bar in our investment decision.

I currently work very closely with our Middle East accelerator programs on a global level, and 65% of the companies have at least one female co-founder. We don’t have a specific quota or requirements from investors; it is possible when you hire the right team and set the right intention and direction.

Change and empowerment
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is investing in founders and talent with the potential to change the world.”

Building ecosystems for innovation

What is the secret recipe to rise to the top of the VC industry? For me, it’s all about finding your passion and building an ecosystem. What really drives me is the ability to transform someone’s life. Each time I touch new networks, wonderful things happen that can benefit people from diverse backgrounds. It has become a kind of obsession for me to build communities and generate value for them. Prior to starting my career in tech, I worked on income generation for women in tribes in Brazil and Southwest China, and I consulted for global companies on go-to-market strategies for Brazil. I think I have a superpower to find good people and unlock their potential. I love to find rough diamonds.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is investing in founders and talent with the potential to change the world. As someone privileged to deploy capital, I find supporting entrepreneurs driven by passion and vision incredibly fulfilling. I joined 500 Global in 2011 to pilot international investments before expanding my role to managing partner and ecosystem development.

But my journey really began when I founded Brazil Innovators, a network of people passionate about innovation. The goal was to create an ecosystem where like-minded individuals could connect, share ideas, and collaborate on projects that drive change. Over time, we grew to over 5,000 members, finding the “multipliers” and “super connectors” who could spread our mission’s energy and enthusiasm. As I advanced in my career, I took on the challenge of building a network of founders beyond the United States, particularly in Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. H2Global is another network of global operators; it’s made up of people who have extensive experience in market expansion. 500 Global has done more than 150 accelerator programs for founders and over 40 programs for investors, building a guild of founders and investors across 80 countries.

Some tips for building a successful ecosystem are to focus on diversity and collaboration from the start. Be intentional about adding value. Expanding women-led VC communities means networking, mentorship, technical assistance, and other support. There are several initiatives already implemented around the world, such as Women in VC, a global community for women to connect and collaborate; All Raise, an organization dedicated to accelerating the success of women founders and funders; and the Female Founders Fund, an early-stage fund that offers pitching resources and technical help for women-led tech startups.

“Ultimately, this isn't about me; it's about the power of leadership that focuses on innovation and raising all boats.”

Investing in talent and creating opportunities

I obtained my BA at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paolo and MLA from the University of Pennsylvania, and I am fluent in four languages, including Portuguese, English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. The people I’ve met along my life journey serve as a constant reminder of why leadership is about lifting others. Amal Dokhan is a shining example. She was recently promoted to managing partner of 500 MENA, a region where women’s roles are often limited. Despite lacking a traditional track record, Amal had the drive and community support to succeed. Now, she’s listed in Forbes MENA as one of the most powerful women in the Middle East, a testament to the transformative power of leadership that invests in people.

We also run investor education programs called VC Unlocked, and our Executive Director of Education, Paulina Szymer, also runs specific scholarships to make the composition of the emerging fund managers more diverse.

Money talks. Investing capital in the right people is crucial, and so is education and mentorship. Mentorship is an incredibly powerful tool to empower others. For me, leadership has always been about finding people’s true north — their passion, drive, and what makes them tick. If you can tap into that and provide the support they need, you’ll create a ripple effect that benefits everyone involved. People might easily dismiss me as a woman, Latina, and Asian, but my passion and relentless commitment to helping others succeed have been my guiding lights.

Ultimately, this isn’t about me; it’s about the power of leadership that focuses on innovation and raising all boats. It’s about creating opportunities for others to thrive and building a future where everyone has a chance to succeed. Investing in people, providing resources, and fostering a sense of community, can create a world where passion and purpose drive us to new heights.

Five women in VC to watch

Crashing the VC glass ceiling by building ecosystems  

Miriam Rivera

CEO, Cofounder, and Managing Director, Ulu Ventures

Miriam Rivera is the CEO, co-founder, and managing director of Ulu Ventures, an early seed-stage venture capital fund focused on IT startups in Silicon Valley. Rivera is also the co-founder, former co-president and on the board of Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs.

She has taught at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program in the School of Engineering on start-up board issues, as a mentor in entrepreneurship at the Stanford GSB, and at the Venture Capital Director’s College of the Rock Center on Corporate Governance.

Rivera is also a Kauffman Fellow in venture capital. Prior to Ulu Ventures, she was vice president and deputy general counsel at Google.

Nora M. Alsarhan 1

Nora M Alsarhan

Deputy CEO, Saudi Venture Capital (SVC)

Riyadh’s state-owned Saudi Venture Capital (SVC), which manages assets worth $2.2bn, appointed chief investment officer Alsarhan to the position of deputy CEO earlier this year. Alsarhan oversees SVC’s investments, including funds and direct bets, which align with its objective to support growth and innovation in early-stage startups, especially in strategic sectors. Prior to her roles at SVC, she worked as equity funding director with Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monshaat SA). She graduated with an MBA from Alfaisal University and started her career as a financial analyst with EY in 2010.

Mar Hershenson

Founding Managing Partner, Pear

After earning a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University, Hershenson developed a groundbreaking technique for optimizing the design of analog semiconductors. Since then, she has accrued over 13 years of founder experience, co-founding three startups in mobile and ecommerce, enterprise software, and semiconductor industries, and has registered 14 separate patents.

She is currently a lecturer at Stanford University, teaching Lean Launchpad, one of the premier entrepreneurship classes at Stanford.

Hershenson serves on the board of trustees of Harvey Mudd College and the Advisory Board of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University. She is a founder of Equity Summit, the premier conference for connecting URM Venture Capital GPs to LPs, and an initial founding member of All Raise.

Jenny Lee

Jenny Lee

Senior Managing Partner, Granite Asia

Lee leads global investor relations and strategy and was instrumental in setting up GGV’s first China office in 2005 and re-opening the Singapore office in 2019.

She is best known for investments in sectors like Edtech, Fintech, Food and Agritech, Metaverse, and Energy Sustainability and Automation Technologies. Her portfolio includes 21 companies valued at more than $1bn each. Lee has had 16 IPOs up to date, including one in 2023 and two in 2021 across five different global exchanges, and numerous portfolio company exits via M&A.

Born and raised in Singapore, Lee serves as a board member of Temasek and SATS. She serves on the governing boards of both Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Duke-NUS Medical School. In addition, she is a member of Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, as well as a member of the Asia Business Council and Future Economy Advisory Panel chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Heng Swee Keat.

Reshma Sohoni 1

Reshma Sohoni

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Seedcamp

Sohoni co-founded Seedcamp in 2007. Seedcamp is Europe’s seed fund, which identifies and invests early in world-class founders with an initial cheque size usually between $350,000 and $1m. She has been featured on the Midas List Europe, which ranks as one of the top VC investors in Europe and the Middle East.

Her biggest wins to date are early investments in UiPath, which went public in 2020, and TransferWise, listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2021.

Sohoni received an MBE from the Queen of England in 2021 for her contributions to the British tech ecosystem.

Author

Bedy Yang

Bedy Yang

Managing Partner, 500 Global

Bedy Yang is a managing partner at 500 Global, a leading venture capital firm. Since joining in 2011, she has been a key member of its Global Flagship Funds and supported notable companies like Talkdesk, OList, and Mural. In the Middle East, Yang led the Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Program, investing in 94 companies. Passionate about ecosystem development, she has overseen 115 programs in 26 countries and trained over 1,000 investors globally. Previously, she was a management consultant for Fortune 500 companies in Brazil and founded Brazil Innovators. Yang is a Kauffman Fellow, guest lecturer, and Forbes contributor, holding degrees from Fundação Getúlio Vargas and the University of Pennsylvania.

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