CNBC Disruptor 50

Aspect Ventures, a woman-led VC, raises $150 million fund

Meet the female-only venture capital fund
Meet the female-only venture capital fund

Aspect Partners, Silicon Valley's first female-led venture capital firm, said Thursday that it has raised $150 million for its initial fund.

Aside from just building a successful firm, founders Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw want to change the ratio of men to women in Silicon Valley, a currently extreme disparity highlighted by the recent Ellen Pao trail.

"Fundamentally we think diversity as a thesis is a very important part of any success in business," said Fonstad. "Whether that's in a board room, in a venture firm or in a management team. But we think of diversity much more than just gender, though gender often becomes a litmus test for that."

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Fonstad expects their different perspective will be a primary driver in their returns. "We certainly think that because we come at it from a different perspective that has given us a very wide scope from which to look at opportunities and to invite opportunities in. We're collaborative in nature, we're not trying to use sharp elbows and trying to knock out angel investment groups," she said.

Fonstad and Gouw stress that they're not looking to make a statement on gender, but are simply taking the same next step on their career paths that many male counterparts have taken. They aim to tap into the opportunity they see in early stage investing, which is to bridge the gap between seed and angel investors and larger firms.

By focusing on early stage investments they hope to avoid the "froth" in the valuations for later-stage companies. The two were formerly partners at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Accel Partners, respectively, where they led a total of 26 deals that created $10 billion in public market value.

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Aspect Ventures focuses on mobile start-ups, and how mobile is disrupting social, big data, security and health. Just this week they announced they're leading a $10 million funding round in female-led Muse, a job search service. They've also backed Disruptor 50 company Birchbox, and jewelry company BaubleBar, both of which have female co-founders, and babysitter service Urban Sitter, which has a female CEO. Other companies include security company ForeScout and mobile health-care platform Vida Health, which have male CEOs.

They say they don't have a particular mission to invest in female entrepreneurs, rather they're looking for good investments. Still, 40 percent of their inbound deals, and of the companies in their portfolio so far, are led or co-founded by women. That compares to an industry average of less than 20 percent, according to research by the Diana Project.

Jennifer Fonstad, left, and Theresia Gouw.
Source: Aspect Ventures

They attribute that proportion to the company's mobile focus, as women are over-represented in mobile device and app use compared to men by 20 to 25 percent, which thus inspires more female entrepreneurs, said Fonstad.

Now, after the close of Pao's gender discrimination lawsuit against VC giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the two are optimistic that the trial could help advance gender diversity, by moving dialog about diversity to the forefront.

"The fastest way to make cultural change—because cultural change is very hard—is to start your own firm and build the culture from the ground up," said Gouw.