The Midas List—Forbes’ annual list of the top 100 venture capitalists—is not without its critics. Last year, I was one of them. After the 2011 List was chided for including only two women, List editor Nicole Periroth wrote in a response that women just weren’t pursuing a venture capital (VC) career path: “I hope the dearth of women on this year’s list is a sober wake-up call—for everyone.”
But as I’ve written before in this column, women are sometimes held back by a lack of role models. In other words, you can’t be what you can’t see.
Five extraordinary women were honored on this year’s Midas List. Although five in 100 falls short of industry expectations (female partners made up 8.5% of Midas List-eligible venture capital firms last year), lamenting the shortage of women in VC does nothing to solve the pipeline problem.
To make change in any field, we need smart, brave, and determined front-runners to break down barriers and lead the way. The five women on the Midas List represent just that—a slate of role models for the coming generation of investors.
Read on for more about the most powerful women in VC, and my conversations with them about leveling the investment playing field.
The Midas Women
Mary Meeker: #42
Although Barron’s named her “Queen of the Net” back in 1998, Meeker debuted on the Midas List in 2012, buoyed by her success with the $12.8 billion Groupon IPO. With an MBA from Cornell University and a BA in psychology, she spent 28 years on Wall Street before shifting to Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in late 2010.
Ruby Lu: #76
Born in China’s Fujian Province, Lu focuses her investments largely in East Asia. Her big win was the $1.24 billion IPO of e-commerce giant Dangdang (“the Amazon.com of China”), but Lu’s portfolio at DCM includes businesses in diverse fields like healthcare, events, and communications. Her background is in investment banking and consulting, and she has a master’s degree in international studies.
Theresia Gouw Ranzetta: #92
Ranzetta earned her way back onto the Midas List (up one spot from #93) for her success with security company Imperva’s nearly $400 million IPO. Her investments at Accel Partners also include female-focused consumer companies like Glam Media, ModCloth, and LearnVest. Although she spent a few years in consulting and tech, most of her career has been in venture capital. Ranzetta did her undergraduate work in engineering and then earned an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Jenny Lee: #94
Based in Shanghai, Lee focuses on the Chinese market for GGV Capital. She started her career in electronic warfare technology, and has been in the VC industry for a decade where she made her way onto the Midas List for her role in the success of Chinese companies HiSoft and 21Vianet. Lee earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, and she holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Adele Oliva: #97
One of the very few life sciences investors on the 2012 Midas List, Oliva made a name for herself with the $525 million acquisition of Ascent Healthcare Solutions. Prior to starting her career in investing in 1997, Oliva worked in marketing and business development in the healthcare sector. She has a bachelor’s in finance and earned an MBA from Cornell University.
Playing With the Boys
Featured on the Midas List with 95 of their industry’s top male investors, the female honorees are used to being part of the boys club. “I’m accustomed to the environment,” said Oliva of her role in a male-dominated industry. Another honoree bristled at being called a female VC. “I’m a VC, period,” she explained.
When I asked Lee what it’s like to be a female venture capitalist, she laughed. “We have to work harder to establish our networks. There’s no ‘old girls’ club.’ We have to compete [with the men].”
Carl J. Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, thinks VC looks a lot like the legal profession back in the 1980s. "The venture capital industry is among the last bastions of male dominance in the business world," he explained.
What Women Bring to VC
But why is it so important to have more women in venture capital? The women who are there offer good perspective.
“I’m a techie,” explained Lee. “I can analyze business plans logically. But venture capital is not all quantitative. There’s a qualitative element—a sixth sense—that women bring to VC. From reading management teams to doing due diligence, observing interactions is an important part of this job.”
In addition to bringing a different perspective, Oliva shared another reason why she believes there is a huge benefit to diversity in teams: “Women bring a different network.” Ranzetta agrees: “As the range of experiences that an investor brings to the table gets wider, it increases the aperture for entrepreneurs they have access to.”
The Growth of Entrepreneurship Among Women
A network of women in the venture investing community can have an important impact on the rising number of female entrepreneurs looking for funding and mentorship. Trish Costello, CEO of the Center for Venture Education, sees something unique in the women who are emerging in the venture capital field: “[They] see their access to women-led deals as offering comparative advantage.”
When she saw an increase in the number of female entrepreneurs in China, Lee wanted to do something to build a community. She helped create an informal group for aspiring women entrepreneurs, allowing them to connect with each other and with female investors. “Mentorship is important to me. I’m very happy to sit down and talk to people.”
Oliva also has fondness for women who start businesses. “Using pattern recognition over the years, I have found that if a woman has reached a certain level of achievement, there’s a high likelihood that she’s exceptional. There are just so many screens along the way.”
Ranzetta couldn’t be more excited about the increase in women entrepreneurs and executives. “The entrepreneurial leaders of today are the pipeline for tomorrow’s investors,” she says. “In five to 10 years, I think we’ll see a lot more women in VC.”
With scores of women champing at the bit to show the world of venture investing that they mean business, it is an exciting time for women in VC. But more importantly, it’s an exciting time for the VC industry as a whole. When it comes to the importance of women and minorities having a place at the investing table, Ranzetta put it best: “A diversity of viewpoints increases the chances that you’ll make an off-the-beaten path investment. Not all of those investments work out, but some do. And when they do—that’s the key to success in this industry.”
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author