Women in Venture Capital
A Moment With Jessica Strauss
Entrepreneur in Residence
Venture Capital is a thrilling career that offers big rewards- despite this, only 3% of general funds are raised by women. At the 2018 Impact Summit we caught up with Jessica Straus to talk about this issue. Currently Jessica is working to shrink the gender gap in the VC industry by educating and empowering women. “Think about how do you bring people in the door” says Jessica. “For a portfolio company, that's not only who's on the team, but who's on the board of that team. Private company boards are extraordinarily influential in how the company grows and that's an area where there needs to be increased diversity particularly because the importance of those decisions made by the board.”
We caught up with Jessica for a quick interview at the 2018 Impact Summit
Question: How did you start out in your career?
Jessica: Going back 10 years I graduated from Davidson College and I decided the one thing I hadn't studied in college very much was politics so I immediately moved to Washington DC ended up spending five years on Capitol Hill was a speechwriter for the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and there I worked with him on a bill called the JOBS Act which was landmark legislation opening up access to capital for entrepreneurs putting in place the regulatory framework for equity crowdfunding and other seminal policies. From there I decided to join the tech ecosystem that our policies had been supporting, I moved to New York joined a tech startup. From there decided, "hey what's this investment world all about?" and I've spent the past four years immersed in the venture capital world and was most recently with the National Venture Capital Association which is the trade group representing US DC and joined GE ventures last summer as an entrepreneur in residence to work on special projects for the team.
Question: What projects are you currently working on?
Jessica: At GE ventures the team does three things: we make investments into emerging growth companies, we create companies and we also have our licensing portfolio. It's a very broad platform and within that I'm working across the entire platform to develop our diversity and inclusion investment strategy. There's a major crisis of diversity in the venture capital ecosystem so around 3% of funds raised are raised by women entrepreneurs so we need to begin to do more work to change that ratio and the number of women partners is less than 11 percent of total partners in the industry so GE Ventures has been very proactive in this regard and brought me on board to develop a strategy to help solve that from our perspective.
Question: When you're looking at bringing up that community and changing the landscape of how deals are funded and also attracting more women entrepreneurs you have specific strategies that in place?
Jessica: What we're very grateful to have it GE ventures is a very diverse investment team we have women, women of color and a very diverse group of backgrounds on our team so what we're really looking to do is help our portfolio companies implement the same kind of strategy. We have a four pillar framework we call R 2 P 2 which is recruitment retention promotion and protection and those are the four elements that are necessary to build any great team but certainly a diverse one. Thinking about how do you bring people in the door and for a portfolio company that's not only who's on the team who's on the board of that team. Private company boards are extraordinarily influential in how the company grows and that's an area where there needs to be increased diversity particularly because the importance of those decisions made by the board. One is this focus on recruiting who's on the team how do you get them in the door and then promotion and retention are really about how do we create a culture that people want to stay in once the talent has been procured and how do you find pathways for every person to see their path to the top and then finally protection which is key in any workplace proper governance proper conduct and all of that being monitored.
Question: You're located in the Bay Area, Menlo Park? Geographically, where do you guys reach are you worldwide with GE ventures?
Jessica: We are worldwide the majority of our focus is on the US but we also have an office in Tel Aviv in Israel the Israeli startup ecosystem is best-in-class and we wanted to make sure that we had visibility into that ecosystem we focus on sectors that are core to GE as a business so healthcare power advanced manufacturing and software that enables industrial processes and Israel is a fantastic enterprise tech ecosystem and then certainly in the US. GE is everywhere so we're able to tap into that full global network.
Question: Jessica when you look at the economy or that the landscape of the venture capital today how do you see this?
Jessica: The landscape of Venture is extremely interesting from the perspective that innovation ecosystems are growing all over the world I just returned from three weeks in the Middle East and Israel and I was astounded to see a seed fund in Amman Jordan called Propeller that is really you know kind of one in its class in the city and it's doing everything it can to support the startup ecosystem there. Likewise Tel Aviv is is quite far advanced and even in Palestine I met to venture capital firms there so I think what's interesting if you take from a macro perspective is that the US used to invest the majority of venture capital and US companies raised the majority of venture capital that's no longer the case now the US investors deploy about half of the venture capital going into companies around the world. That means that investors outside of the US are growing and investing in companies and I think that we will see a lot of change over the next 5-10 years.
Edited for Concision and Clarity