The idea that venture capital firms prefer to invest in companies led by men inspired Ruta Aidis to do something about it.
The economist, who is a senior fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, created a website that provides verified information about venture capital firms that are founded by women and that invest in women-led companies.
The Women’s Leadership in Entrepreneurial Ventures (WLEV) Index, created with R. Sandra Schillo, an assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, brings what Aidis calls “visibility and transparency” to the VC field and provides “a way to create change. . . . It’s a tool to add to the decision-making process as well as highlighting VC firms that are really involved and demonstrating” an effort to help women in business.
Investments in women-led companies help those who need it, as well as the economy in general, Aidis said.
“If you are not funding the most innovative companies because they happen to be headed by women, our economy suffers,” Aidis said. “You would be hard-pressed to say that only white men have the most competitive ideas, which is the conclusion you would draw if you are looking at funding portfolios. That’s an indication there’s something terribly wrong with how financing has been done.”
The website, GenderMetrics.com, launched in December 2017 and is a work in progress as the team attempts to fill in data blanks about some 500 independent, privately owned VC firms that focus on high-growth companies. There are 65 verified VC firms on the site now. The research, funded by the Kaufman Foundation, is supported by the Schar School, Schar professor Terry Clower and PhD student Josh Lee, who helps with programming.
Aidis said it has been difficult accumulating data.
“That’s why no one was doing it,” she added. “The VC firm industry has no mandate to disclose their investments. And there is a lot of complexity as to how to evaluate portfolios.”
Is a database that provides gender-based investment information a useful tool?
“It’s a real problem in the investment space and the entrepreneur space,” he said. “There are far fewer female founders than anyone would expect. . . . It’s a big, big issue.”
A study by technology website TechCrunch.com found that between 2010 and 2015, 10 percent of venture dollars globally—$31.5 billion—funded startups that featured at least one female founder. That’s 12 percent of 3,265 funding rounds.
The project is a self-described labor of love, but it’s one that Aidis is devoted to seeing to the end.
“I’m an economist, and I like numbers. I feel data is a very important instrument for visibility, transparency, and a way to create change,” she said. “I’ve been studying entrepreneurship for 25 years—seven years focused on women’s involvement in entrepreneurship—and I think it’s a huge issue, having something as inconsequential as being a man or being a woman influence how you grow your business. It’s not your skills, it’s not your education, it’s not your experience—it’s really a trivial issue.
“We’re advocating for that to be addressed,” she said. “And I think we’re on to something big.”