6 Inspiring Female Leaders Shaping the Future of Venture Capital


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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The world of venture capital is still dominated by men, but these women are providing a glimpse of what the sector could look like in the future.

Article 4 Minutes
6 Inspiring Female Leaders Shaping the Future of Venture Capital

Venture capital - like the business world as a whole - remains heavily male-dominated, despite progress on gender equality in recent years.

In 2020, the number of women running Fortune 500 corporations reached 37. While this was a record high, female-led companies still made up only 7.4% of the biggest businesses in the US, as ranked by Fortune magazine every year.

Statistics from Women in VC, the world's largest community for female investors, show that:

  • Only 5.6% of venture capital firms in the US are led by women
  • Less than 5% of venture capital partners in the US are women
  • Just 2.1% of American venture capital businesses were founded by women of color

These numbers highlight the need for wholesale and lasting change in gender equality and female representation in the sector. Encouragingly, we're seeing more stories of women rising to positions of influence in venture capital and helping to shape the future of the sector.

1. Sarah Kunst - Managing Director, Cleo Capital

After starting her career working in marketing for companies like Apple, Red Bull and Chanel, Sarah Kunst moved into the venture capital world in 2018 when she joined Sequoia Capital as a scout.

Quickly noticing the underrepresentation of women in the sector, Kunst went on to found her own fund, Cleo Capital, in which the majority of scouts looking for new investment opportunities are women.

Speaking to Marie Claire, she pointed out that female-led investments have been shown to deliver strong returns.

"There's a lot of data that shows that when women invest, you make more money. So I'm going to go out and focus on women who have access to really interesting investments but don't have money to fund them themselves." - Sarah Kunst

2. Trish Costello - Founder and CEO, Portfolia

Portfolia is described by its founder and CEO as a "global community of sophisticated investors focusing their money and influence to build the world they want".

Trish Costello created the venture capital fund in 2014 with a focus on investing in markets where women are either experts or make up the bulk of the target audience, such as female health and active aging.

Portfolia launched its first fund in 2015 and followed it up with nine more over the subsequent years, including FemTech, the first venture capital investment fund to focus exclusively on women's health, which was introduced in 2018.

3. Arian Simone - President and CEO, Fearless Fund

Under the leadership of president and CEO Arian Simone, chief development officer Keshia Knight Pulliam and chief operating officer Ayana Parsons, Fearless Fund invests in businesses led by women of color that are seeking pre-seed, seed level or series A financing.

A serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, angel investor and author, Simone founded Fearless Magazine and the Fearless platform in 2010. Her goal was to inspire millennial entrepreneurial women.

Since it was launched in 2018, Fearless Fund has helped to secure financial support for ventures including EnrichHER, a lending platform for female-led businesses.

4. Maria Velissaris - Founding Partner, SteelSky Ventures

New York-based SteelSky Ventures invests in companies that work to improve access, standards and outcomes in women's healthcare.

It was co-founded by Maria Velissaris, who is now the firm's managing partner alongside Buffy Alegria. An experienced entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Velissaris is also a member of angel investing groups Pipeline Angels and Golden Seeds, which provide funding for businesses led by women and trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming founders.

"Investing in women's health is not a macro trend. It's a global cultural shift." - Maria Velissaris

5. Yvonne Bajela - VP Principal, Impact X Capital

Yvonne Bajela's work as a founding member and principal at Impact X Capital, a UK-based venture capital firm, led to her winning a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which recognizes outstanding young entrepreneurs.

Impact X was created specifically to support underrepresented entrepreneurs across Europe, after the founders spotted an underserved niche of ambitious start-ups with compelling business models.

Over the last five years, Bajela has invested more than $250 million in new businesses across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She’s also part of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community - a network of inspiring and influential young people working together to tackle regional and global challenges.

6. Theresia Gouw - Co-Founder, Aspect Ventures

Along with co-founder Jennifer Fonstad, Theresia Gouw started Aspect Ventures in 2014. Both Fonstad and Gouw are industry veterans who left larger venture capital funds to create a smaller, more agile firm that could focus on collaborating with entrepreneurs and investors.

Gouw played a central role in Aspect's early investments in companies like Cato Networks, Exabeam and ForeScout.

With a focus on sectors like cybersecurity, enterprise software and digital health, the firm - and the women at the top of it - could have some vital contributions to make to the evolution of business and everyday life in the coming years.

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