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It's been a dark few weeks for the venture capital industry, which has been stung by repeated stories of sexual harassment.
A new fund by women and for women should come as a welcome development to female entrepreneurs.
XFactor Ventures, a $3 million fund backed by venture firm Flybridge Capital Partners, has been formed to invest in tech start-ups that include at least one female founder in their ranks. The fund's general partners are mostly women entrepreneurs, including top executives from Bow & Drape, The Muse, Bitnami and inDinero.
The effort to get XFactor off the ground began about six months ago, but the launch is timely following the latest allegations of sexual harassment that led founders of Binary Capital and 500 Startups to leave their firms.
Tech execs and investors such as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman responded with well-meaning pledges to clean up the industry. But women VCs said the problem is much bigger. Claudia Iannazzo, a partner at AlphaPrime Ventures, wrote in a post that firms must get serious about setting diversity goals, hiring more women and supporting their development.
Flybridge, based in Boston, acted as XFactor's anchor partner, meaning it was the first investor and holds a big stake in the fund. Other limited partners are high net-worth individuals.
Chip Hazard of Flybridge has joined XFactor as its lone male investing partner. Kate Castle, also from Flybridge, will be an operating partner at XFactor, helping start-ups with branding and marketing.
"The whole goal of the fund is to generate attractive investment returns," Hazard said. "We think diverse founding teams build better companies, have broader insights into market opportunities, and can make products for different audiences."
Castle said diverse teams are better positioned to recruit talent, because "women engineers may hesitate to join a company that doesn't already include women in technical roles."
In a blog post announcing the launch of XFactor, Hazard wrote that 80 percent of companies backed by venture investors have all-male founding teams and that women make up only 7 percent of partners at top venture firms.
"The two are related," he wrote. "Female partners are more likely to back female founders and yet venture firms pull new venture partners from the ranks of successful founders, so the cycle continues and it needs breaking."
XFactor will generally write a $100,000 check for each deal and back up to 30 seed-stage companies alongside other prominent early-stage funds, angel groups or accelerators.