GPG Ventures investing partner Claire England believes in the power of women in leadership VC roles.
By Claire England, Photo by Brio Photography
When I say I was born and raised here, the usual response is, “Wow, I’ve never met an Austin native; you’re a unicorn.” I’m also a unicorn in my career, venture capital (VC), which has few women partners. I don’t seek to be a unicorn, nor do I want to be the best “woman investor.” I want to be the best investor in companies that become unicorns.
My path to VC was nontraditional. Nope, not a day spent as an I-banker on Wall Street. I spent the first decade of my career in social impact nonprofits, then discovered startups, before deciding I’d nudge VC funding toward the change I want to see. Like Austin, I’m scrappy and mission driven. It’s important to me to work where I believe I’ll make a difference.
I know VC can make a positive impact by investing in companies that affect change. I support innovation that improves lives and seek founders who build valuable companies. This isn’t just about spreadsheets; VC is a relationship business. While I work long hours like anyone, empathy is one of my superpowers. Starting a company is lonely and hard, and founders need investors who push them higher and support them through lows.
I began working in Austin’s startup ecosystem more than a decade ago, directing RISE, an educational and inspirational conference for entrepreneurs and investors. In 2014, I took the reins of Central Texas Angel Network (CTAN), leading it to become the number one most active angel group in the U.S. Over five years, we invested $75 million in 95 companies and dozens of portfolio companies.
Early at CTAN, I realized only 4% of investors were women. That wasn’t good enough, so within two years, I grew it to 30% women and increased ethnic diversity twofold. These talented women investors know the challenges female—and, yes, male—founders face.
While with CTAN, I was nominated and accepted into Kauffman Fellows, effectively a mini-MBA in venture capital. It opened my investing lens, leveled up my skills and connected me to a global VC network. Expanding my focus on activating women VC investors, I joined Portfolia as a partner in 2019, first with the FemTech Fund and then Food & AgTech, where I’ve invested in another 20 companies.
If you think women investors only invest in women founders, I ask, why does it need to be zero-sum? Portfolia invests in all founder types. While 90% of investors and 97% of partners are women, its portfolio is diverse. This is a differentiator because Portfolia can get into deals where founders recognize its value. Other VCs seek out Portfolia as a co-investor because of its expertise and diversity.
In September, I joined Dallas-based GPG Ventures to open our Austin office. We’re one of the few Texas VC firms with two women and ethnic diversity in leadership. I have the good fortune to share new investing opportunities with my Austin-accredited investor colleagues, including many of the women mentioned.
Still, I’m one of too few local women VC partners. Beyond those running their own firms, I can’t name half a dozen women investment partners here.
Of five Austin VC firms launched between 2005 and 2015 with $75 million-plus in funds, not one has a woman investment partner. Sadly, out-of-state firms opening offices haven’t materially changed this fact. Dozens of Austin women work hard as associates, analysts, principals and venture partners or in non-investing roles, but few make the leap to decision-making, check-writing partners. For a community that fancies itself progressive, this must change.
I know plenty of Austin women who would nail such a role.
I hope my male VC peers and investors are starting to realize that we are the change they need. Women are the primary purchasers in the home and control more than half this country’s wealth. We are the consumers who decide to buy products from startups we invest in. We are untapped investors.
Lastly, the research is clear: Diverse C-suites perform better. More viewpoints mean faster innovation, greater insight, more impact. If investors want to attract the next generation of founders and get the best return, they need partners who can identify, support and mentor from a unique perspective.
There’s plenty of room for diversity at the partner level and in the boardroom. It’s not zero-sum. The room—and the pie—can get bigger. The room—and the team in it—will get better.
Every investor is chasing unicorns. I’m happy to make a few introductions.