Astia Expanding Its Booster Network for Women Entrepreneurs

Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of a Silicon Valley non-profit that has been working for 15 years to boost access to financing for women tech entrepreneurs, says she sees no encouraging statistics on that score as yet.

What has changed, though, is the number of people and organizations engaged in the dialog about gender diversity in tech, says Vosmek, head of San Francisco-based non-profit Astia.

One of those signs of a broadening dialog was today’s first-ever White House Demo Day, where entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds were invited to showcase their company’s technology and products. Astia nominated one of the presenters, Jeanette Hill, CEO of Austin, TX-based medical device company Spot On Sciences, maker of a novel biological fluid collection and storage device called HemaSpot. (Hill is pictured above at the White House event.)

Astia marked the White House occasion by announcing that the organization will expand its programs designed to prove that venture firms—despite their own reports—could easily find, fund, and profit from investing in startup companies that include women among their top leaders.

Vosmek has spent years discussing the reasons for the lack of equal VC backing of women in tech, and she’s clearly tired of it.

“I kind of don’t care,” she says. Whether it’s unconscious bias, intentional discrimination on the part of male VC’s, or simply greater social comfort with people like themselves, venture investors are losing out on profitable deals, she says.

“It’s time to be investing in inclusive teams,” Vosmek says.

Astia was launched in 1999 to funnel women entrepreneurs into a Silicon Valley network of both female and male advisors who could position them to get audiences with venture capital firms. In early 2013, Astia also created a network of individual investors called Astia Angels.

Since then, Astia Angels has invested $6.5 million in 29 companies as part of investor syndicates that collectively added $32.5 million to the backing for startups whose leadership includes women, the non-profit says. The pace has been accelerating—nearly half of those investments were made over the past 12 months, Astia says.

Astia vets and grooms startups with inclusive teams, and holds monthly forums called Venture Lunches, where the small companies can pitch to VCs. More than 60 percent of the companies showcased achieve an exit or funding within a year, Astia says.

Those Venture Lunches alternate between Silicon Valley, New York, and London, with occasional events in other regions. Astia announced today that it plans to expand its programs to three new U.S. regions by the end of 2016.

The breakdown of Astia Angels’ portfolio companies debunks some myths about women entrepreneurs—such as that they’re mainly interested in consumer products, Vosmek says. The consumer sector makes up only 13 percent of the portfolio, or three companies. The largest category is tech, which includes the financial technology company Daily Worth, and Menlo Park-based startup FinSix, which makes Dart, a small portable laptop charger. (Vosmek is an individual investor in FinSix.) Following the tech category, the next largest sector in the portfolio is medical devices, with 24 percent.

Astia filters about 1,000 startups through its evaluation system a year, Vosmek says.

“The bar is high,” she says.

One of the most important aspects of Astia’s work has been “to create a space where men and women work as peers,” and where women are recognized as leaders, Vosmek says.

“We re-designed the ecosystem, rather than fixing the women,” she says.

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