Fighting Inequity in Venture Capital, a profile of Astia
For 20 years, Astia’s mission has been to level the playing field when it comes to investing for high-growth women-led startups. Thus, as managing partner of the Astia FundI chose to contribute to an organization that values women as leaders and challenges inequality in venture capital every day.
My background was originally in law – I spent six years as a lawyer for Osborne Clarke, an international law firm, in its banking and finance team and in-house at the investment bank Barclays Capital. While the legal profession was quite gender-diverse (except at the level of partners), every other party I met on deals was overwhelmingly white male. When I had the opportunity to move to San Francisco, I found myself surrounded by technology innovators and was struck by the inequity in the deployment of capital to fund the innovations that women leaders were bringing to market. . I joined Astia in 2008 to remedy this inequalities in the venture capital ecosystemit’s the reason I got into VC – and it’s still 14 years later.
What industries do you work in?
At Astia, we invest in all high-growth sectors and in companies that have at least one woman in a significant position of capital and influence. As VCs, the most important step we can take is to invest in companies led by these founders and executives who are historically underfunded by venture capital. They bring different perspectives to the table and different innovations to the market. No more mentoring, support, help but writing a check and adding value once sitting on the ceiling table. At Astia, year after year, we see an abundant flow of transactions that solves the problem of “lack of pipeline”. As investors, we need to ensure that our networks are diverse – in every way, that we mitigate bias – throughout the investment process, and we don’t require an entrepreneur to have an introduction to walk through our (virtual or real) doors.
What are you looking for in a founder?
When I look at the entrepreneur, I’m not looking at just one person, I’m looking at the founding team and, if bigger, the management team. Having been at Astia for 14 years, it will come as no surprise that I am looking for a diverse team, a team that includes at least one woman in a position of equity and influence. It’s important that it has an influence on business strategy because data and research show us that team diversity has a positive impact on business success and return on investment. Equity on equal terms with her male counterparts is also important as we want women on the team to participate in the growth of the business (this can then fuel her next role within the innovation economy as serial entrepreneur, investor, etc.).
Can you tell us about your current portfolio?
Across all of Astia’s investment activities, we have invested in 62 companies with the full portfolio here. When we look at this portfolio, not only do we see a plethora of outstanding women leaders, but we also find a portfolio that generally leads to real solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, climate crises, the economic crisis, health crises… In these times, we need leaders with visions and innovations that will solve some fundamental problems and we will continue to invest in them.
How has COVID-19 changed the way you operate?
As Astia is global, as a team we have always been about video calling, instant messaging and working across multiple platforms and time zones. We worked like this for many years, which raised a lot of questions about how we achieved our high performance by working this way. Now that so many people have been forced to work in remote shifts due to the pandemic, we are no longer asked these questions!
In terms of investment, we deliberately use the Astia Expert Sift sourcing and selection process. The Astia Expert Sift’ is a unique model that eliminates bias and enables decisions to be made using data, expert analysis and the wisdom of an expert host of 5,000 Astia Advisors. In this process, we use executive summaries and not full presentations and presentations with cameras turned off to combat unconscious human bias. This means that we do not have face-to-face meetings when we first join, as this perpetuates bias and the same goes for the second meeting. So, in this respect too, the pandemic has not significantly changed our investment process and we have continued to deploy capital.
What does the future look like?
We stand at an important time when there are many great challenges to be solved around the world. As investors, we have the chance to invest and fuel the success of innovations that can address it. As the world re-evaluates itself post-pandemic I’d be surprised if priorities weren’t re-prioritized (insofar as they haven’t already been) we see different categories of supported solutions that haven’t not been historically and we see the entrepreneurial innovators pushing us down new paths.
It’s hard not to meet someone who hasn’t been affected in some way by the pandemic, so hopefully the world of mental health solutions continues to impact our lives as we look to the future.
What makes Astia different?
We are repeatedly told that inclusive teams perform better. Yet only around 2% of venture capital funding is deployed to women-led businesses. It doesn’t add up. Astia is leveling the playing field in investing for women of all races, geographies and backgrounds by innovating on the broken VC model.
Our Expert Sift screening process mitigates bias at all stages of the investment process. The process is repeatable, scalable and all contractors receive feedback on their submissions to Astia. We are transparent in our decision-making. When a company fails our process, they are invited to resubmit once feedback has been addressed.
And fundamentally, we invest in teams with female leaders in a venture capital ecosystem where more often than not investment funds are deployed in all male teams.
What advice would you give to founders?
Even when you’re not fundraising for your business, you’re fundraising. Still. Although it doesn’t take that long like when you close a round, always keep in mind that you are raising funds. Build those relationships long before you need them and continue to nurture them over time, whether with the investors themselves or with people in the ecosystem who can help connect you to investors. Be sure to research investors where possible to be sure you are spending your time wisely: are you suited in terms of stage, sector, geography.
Evie Mulberry Managing Partner, Astia Fund