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VC in NYC: The women making it happen

How are female founders and investors shaping venture capital in the Big Apple? We took a look for the final installment in a three-part series exploring New York’s growing venture ecosystem.

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This article is the final installment in a three-part series exploring New York City's expanding venture capital scene.

We've looked at the VC-backed exit environment in the Big Apple—a narrative that companies like Datadog, Peloton and WeWork have dominated. We've explored the city's deal data and the hometown investors making those deals happen. So, what's next for New York and its burgeoning venture ecosystem?

As it turns out, the future might be female.

New York's concentration of venture-funded female founders sets the city apart. Through Sept. 26, 10.2% of VC deals in the NYC metropolitan statistical area this year involved companies founded solely by women, per PitchBook data. While this figure might seem low, it nearly doubles the percentage of the San Francisco metro area: Less than 6% of VC deals went to companies founded entirely by women, despite being part of what is by far the world's largest venture capital ecosystem.

The data on the amount of capital invested this year further highlights the difference: About 4.7% of VC funding has gone to companies founded solely by women in New York, versus just under 2% in San Francisco:

Dayna Grayson, a partner at New Enterprise Associates with more than a decade of experience in venture capital, is always conscious of investing in companies with diverse founders and boards. Though she doesn't specifically seek them out, she ensures her network is awash with innovative women.

NEA is one of the most active venture investors in US female-founded companies, with 23 deals in 2018 and 16 so far this year, per PitchBook data. In 2018, eight of those deals were based in New York City, including the firm's participation in a $75 million Series C for The Wing, which operates a network of female-focused co-working spaces.

Women supporting women

In addition to her work as an investor, Grayson is a founding member of All Raise, a nonprofit focused on promoting women in venture capital and entrepreneurship. She was instrumental in expanding the effort to the East Coast.  All Raise's aims are twofold: to increase the number of female founders securing funding, and to increase the number of female investors moving to the top of their firms. The organization offers resources including mentorship programs and the all-important meeting opportunities that breathe life into venture deals.

"We create a network of people," Grayson said in an interview with PitchBook.

The recent launch of the Female Innovators Lab in New York, a shared initiative between Barclays and fintech-focused venture firm Anthemis, also underscores an industry confronting a coast-spanning history of gender bias in which women remain deeply unrepresented.

With that context as its impetus, the Female Innovators Lab aims to transform the ideas of entrepreneurial women into companies. The SoHo studio is neither an incubator nor an accelerator. Instead, it matches women with the resources and mentorship required to score seed funding and eventually build a self-sustaining startup.

"Women are often marginalized from the founding community because it's expensive to start a business, and if you're already on the back foot through barriers like the gender pay gap, then you can't solve the gender funding gap," said Katie Palencsar, principal venture studio lead of the Female Innovators Lab.

As for the discrepancy with San Francisco, NEA's Dayna Grayson thinks New York's implicit diversity could have something to do with the relative success of the city's female founders.

"You have a pipeline of more endeavoring females that either have moved there for other reasons and then discover entrepreneurship. People move to the Bay Area usually because they want to work in tech or they're working in tech already," Grayson said. "People who live in New York and other places outside Silicon Valley are more likely to discover entrepreneurship and not be looking for it."

San Francisco is dominated by tech, whereas in New York, it's one industry among many and frequently bleeds into others that already have a foothold in the city, like fashion and media. That encourages and requires a different skillset to effectively compete. It also promotes a different type of startup. Beyond questions of diversity, New York also supports a certain energy that could help it grow in the next decade. According to Grayson, "the East Coast has much more of an edge to it," when compared to the Bay Area. In the city that never sleeps, workers may be more accustomed to the grueling hours often required to get ahead.

The frontrunners

That energy has helped give rise to several top female-founded startups in the Big Apple's VC scene, among them Away, Glossier and Rent the Runway. All have reached billion-dollar valuations this year, making them three of the most valuable female-founded, venture-backed companies in New York:

CEO Steph Korey and president and chief brand officer Jen Rubio launched Away in 2015 after careers at Warby Parker. In an interview with Fortune after Away achieved unicorn status in May, the founders of the direct-to-consumer suitcase purveyor say they feel a responsibility to embrace the "female founder" moniker they previously shied away from. Rubio said they were wary of being featured in the company's early stages just because they were women, but she now sees a unique opportunity to set an example for other founders.

The ascent of Glossier, which secured its $1.2 billion valuation in March, demonstrates how tech can be leveraged to disrupt a more traditional industry, like cosmetics. CEO Emily Weiss founded Glossier in 2014, launching makeup and skincare products on Instagram before ever creating a company website. Weiss' social media-savvy approach has helped make the brand hugely popular among teens and young adults.

Rent the Runway earned its unicorn valuation just a few days after Glossier. Jennifer Fleiss and CEO Jennifer Hyman founded company, which rents designer clothing and accessories, in 2009. In the decade since, Rent the Runway has expanded its business from onetime rentals to subscription services competing with the likes of Stitch Fix. There have been struggles, however; customer complaints about late or canceled deliveries skyrocketed last month, a problem the company pinned on logistical issues related to a software shift and that caused it to temporarily stop taking new customers. While this doesn't spell doom for Rent the Runway or clothing rental services in general, it does underline the obstacles that can come as companies scale up.

Disrupting the future

By many metrics, New York's venture capital ecosystem is beyond self-sustaining—it's flourishing. The greater percentage of female-founded startups getting funding in the city compared to Silicon Valley is one piece in this puzzle. New York's venture scene is poised to grow, establishing itself not as the next San Francisco, but as a unique ecosystem in its own right. But the road forward won't be easy. For starters, it will need more female investors and founders to pave the way for the next era. And technology must keep up.

"The biggest challenge is that anyone committed to this issue needs to have a long-term view," Palencsar, of the Female Innovators Lab, said. "It's a long game. It's not about committing to an initiative for a year and paying lip service. It goes beyond that."

Take a walk down Silicon Alley. It's here to stay.

Featured illustration by Conor Hamill/PitchBook

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    Written by Eliza Haverstock
    Eliza Haverstock was a PitchBook writer covering venture capital, startups, and private equity.

    A graduate of the University of Virginia where she majored in history and economics, she’s also a native of the Washington, DC, area. Previously, Eliza worked as a news editor for her college paper, The Cavalier Daily, and interned as an industrials reporter for Bloomberg in New York.
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