How women can break barriers in the VC and startup industry

Iman Abuzeid is one of the few Black women to ever lead her company to unicorn status – the elite class of private companies valued at $1 billion or more. But the co-founder and CEO of Incredible Health, a career marketplace for healthcare workers, hopes the milestone “is not a big deal over time.”

“Of course, on a personal note, I’m proud of what the team has accomplished and impressed by what the team has accomplished,” Abuzeid said at Luck’s Most Powerful Women Summit this week. “But… we need to be the 100th, 200th, or 700th woman or Black woman to start a unicorn company.”

Abuzeid and Kirsten Green, founder and managing partner at Forerunner Ventures, discussed breaking down barriers and the quest for extra funding for women founders during the conference, Laguna Niguel, Calif. Forerunner Ventures, one of the few female-founded and female-led venture firms, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and recently announced its closure. Another 1 billion dollars fund. Incredible Health, founded 5 years ago, has raised $80 million in B-chain funding and is worth 1.65 billion dollars.

Fearing that the significance of these achievements was unclear, moderator Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, CEO of the nonprofit All Raise, provided some sobering context.

“Ninety-three percent of all venture capital dollars Schumacher-Hodge Dixon said. “And 82% of total deployed capital for startup founders last year belonged to all men’s teams. And ProjectDiane reported that less than 1% all of the venture capital goes to founders who are black women,” she said.

How did they navigate such a difficult environment?

“The truth is I didn’t do it alone,” Abuzeid said. “First and foremost, I associate myself with investors and venture capitalists [of which] Honestly, I’m not their first female CEO. I’m not their first minority CEO. And the great thing about the Internet is that all of their portfolio companies are available, right? You can see who has a track record of investing in women and minorities. ”

Abuzeid said she also honed her skills in running a company and persuading investors to raise capital. “I just surround myself with CEOs who have gone before me; they were in the next stage. And those are the people who gave me a lot of advice. ”

Forerunner Venture’s Green echoes the importance of mining networks, especially in the venture capital business, where the “ecosystem” of founders, investors and other business leaders is play an important role. “I really get that, but appreciate where I find support and how we work together,” Green said.

And while the tiny amount of VC money going to women founders across the industry is still a disappointing reality, Green pointed to various ways to improve the ecosystem. For example, Green explains, she can leverage her influence in boardrooms to create priorities around career development and diverse executive teams. The idea, Green said, is to “really think about getting more parity in leadership roles, and that’s part of the role that drives the entire industry.”

In the end, success brings more success. “The biggest thing I can do for this industry is win, frankly.” That will contribute to bringing about change, she said.

Abuzeid’s number one piece of advice to female business leaders is: “Can you be more ambitious?” That means painting a picture of the future that makes investors want to get involved more, she said. “Because your male colleagues are crazy ambitious about it.” And, she adds, understand that “venture investors need really high returns.”

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