Capital W sparks a conversation about women in venture

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Sheryl Marshall, Capital W’s founder, said getting male panelists was a first step for the conference.
Sheryl Marshall, Capital W’s founder, said getting male panelists was a first step for the conference.Jessica Rinaldi

Capital W, the Boston Women's Venture summit, held its second annual event at District Hall on Friday, drawing a crowd of more than 200 to hear advice from successful business executives and pitches from female-run companies.

The summit's aim was twofold: to provide a networking platform to connect women entrepreneurs with deep-pocketed investors, and to serve as a call to action for the city's venture community to include more women-led businesses in their portfolios.

But judging from the mostly female crowd, the event still has work to do to get more men to engage in that conversation.

"Most of the men here are on the [summit] panels," said Maia Heymann, the senior managing director of Converge Venture Partners, and one of the few female venture fund managers in the city. She said she was eager to support the conference but it was tough not to think of the event as a case of preaching to the choir.

As the panelists repeatedly noted, the venture community, both here and nationally, continues to be a boys' club, and the funding allocations reflect that: Babson College's Diana Project found that between 2011 and 2013, women-funded businesses received only 3 percent of the $50 billion that venture firms nationally invested, totaling just $1.5 billion.


Sheryl Marshall, Capital W's founder, said getting male panelists was a first step for the conference. "We want to get the best [venture capitalists] in the room to judge," she said. "Once men take the problem on, then the dynamic completely shifts."

One way of sending a message, she added, was through the summit's Ada Lovelace award, which is given to the local venture fund that has done the most in the past year to advance the careers of women.

This year's winner was Zaffre Investments, a fund spun out of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in 2014. The fund was commended in part because 60 percent of its portfolio now consists of women-led ventures.


Last year, the Ellen Pao trial lent a sense of urgency to the discussion at Capital W, as the San Francisco-based venture capitalist was in the midst of suing her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, over discrimination. She eventually lost her case.

This year, John Landry, a self-
described serial chief technology officer and angel investor, stirred up the crowd with a statistic-laden speech underlining the power that women have in the economy: They control 85 percent of all consumer purchases in the United States and 95 percent of all household purchase decisions.

"Women represent globally a marketplace twice as big as China and India combined," he said. "What the hell is going on? . . . This enormous amount of money and income is not being recognized, obviously, by the men."

Landry estimated that only 3 percent of the investing partners in the city's top 25 venture firms were women.

He called on the National Venture Capital Association to release a longitudinal study of the number of women partners working in venture firms in the United States.

That information, Landry said, would provide a base line to set goals for diversity, as is done in other industries.

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.