Why these two women started their own venture capital firm
In meeting Maia Heymann and Nilanjana Bhowmik I’ve done it. I think I now have met nearly all the women in venture capital who are doing major technology deals in Boston.
I already know the other key players: Maria Cirino, cofounder of .406 Ventures, and Rudina Seseri, a founder of Glasswing Ventures.
Now there are other women in town working at VC firms. Some are doing life-sciences investments, like Jean George at Lightstone Ventures and Abby Celniker at Third Rock Ventures; others are in senior roles but not focused on deal-making. Still others are making their mark outside the traditional VC world, such as Katie Rae, who oversees MIT’s new accelerator/venture fund The Engine, and Nicole Stata at Boston Seed Capital.
I’ve probably missed a few, but you get it. There aren’t many. A survey done by TechCrunch last year found that women make up only 7 percent of the partners at the top 100 venture firms, similar to what researchers behind Babson College’s Diana Project found in 2014. Click on the websites of major VC firms in town, from General Catalyst to Battery Ventures, and you won’t find much gender diversity.
I caught up with Heymann and Bhowmik because they’re doing something else unusual: On Tuesday, they are launching their own VC firm, called Converge, with a focus on the kind of nerdy business-to-business technology Boston is known for. Think the next Akamai or EMC.
Heymann has been a general partner at Converge Venture Partners, a separate firm in Cambridge, and Bhowmik has been a general partner at Longworth Venture Partners in Waltham. Both have spent their careers in the male-dominated industry of money and tech.
Heymann’s former firm remains a separate entity, but she will continue to manage investments she made there and maintain her board seats on portfolio companies. Bhowmik will do the same with her prior investments at Longworth and keep her board seats.
Collectively, Heymann and Bhowmik have managed $510 million in venture investments, raised $2 billion in equity capital, and along the way shepherded 77 companies that have been bought, sold, or gone public.
Why break out on their own now?
“It is our time,” said Heymann, 50, who was interviewed with Bhowmik, 48, at the Cambridge Innovation Center’s Financial District office. Converge will be based at CIC’s space in Cambridge.
The two women have known each other for more than a decade.
Heymann started BancBoston Ventures’ office in Palo Alto, Calif., in the 1990s and followed Bhowmik’s tech research when she was working at a Boston investment bank. When Heymann moved back to Boston, she wanted to meet Bhowmik.
Bhowmik, a computer engineer who also holds an MBA from INSEAD, worked at the Burlington tech firm Object Design before becoming a deal-making investment banker.
While at Longworth, Bhowmik’s portfolio included VKernel (acquired by Dell), Viewfinity (acquired by CyberArk), and Softricity (acquired by Microsoft).
Heymann’s track record includes Blaze Software (acquired by Akamai), InQuira (acquired by Oracle), Watchfire (acquired by IBM), and several IPOs, including OnDisplay (later acquired by Vignette).
Not only do men dominate the ranks of VCs, but male entrepreneurs get the bulk of the funding. Did Heymann and Bhowmik fear the venture world was not ready to see two women in charge of their own firm?
“There is a lot of noise around the bro culture in tech. Yes, that exists. However, tech is an incredibly meritocratic industry,” Heymann said. “The entrepreneurs we have backed, they see that we know what we’re doing.”
But the advantage of having a women-led VC firm is that female entrepreneurs will be taken seriously.
“What we guarantee and assure any entrepreneur, particularly female entrepreneurs, is that when they come to our firm seeking an investment they will get equal footing,” Bhowmik said. “They will have the same playing field as a male entrepreneur . . . From there, they have to compete. They want to hear that. They want to compete on their merit.”
There aren’t many female venture capitalists because firms don’t add a lot of partners year to year. With so few women named partner, it can be hard for women to imagine themselves breaking through.
Heymann and Bhowmik offer this advice to young women who aspire to be a venture capitalist: Stay in the business. Like other industries, women tend to drop out or step back when faced with the choice of raising their families or building their careers.
“If these women stay and stay committed, that should change the numbers,” said Bhowmik, who has two kids, as does Heymann. “Overall, the tech industry is many folds larger than it was. What that means is that you can’t leave out a significant portion of your brain trust.”
Bhowmik has stuck it out because she loves the ability to shape companies in emerging industries like 3-D printing.
“It is a very rewarding profession in many ways,” she said. “You are constantly at the cutting edge of technology. You are working with hard-charging entrepreneurs who have dreams. It’s just wonderful to be able to enable those dreams.”
As for Heymann, she follows the same advice for her career as she does for the investments she makes.
“If you think it’s going to be easy and you’re going to get some quick exits, you have the wrong mental approach, and you won’t have the stamina,” she said. “Why we have stayed? Because we have taken that marathon mentality to our own business, and a long view.”