5 Women to Watch in Venture - Spring 2024
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5 Women to Watch in Venture - Spring 2024

May 23, 2024
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In this Spring’s Edition of Women to Watch in Venture, I'm thrilled to showcase five women in venture who are making significant strides in the industry and beyond. Their successes and visions continue to inspire me deeply, as they reshape venture capital with their innovative investment strategies, passion, and dedication to impact.

These remarkable women all come from varied backgrounds, enriching their funds and the industry with their unique insights. Unified by their drive to challenge the norm, creative approach to problem-solving, and unwavering support for founders and colleagues, they truly stand out.

Let's celebrate their inspiring accomplishments and ambitious goals this season.

Danielle Steer

Danielle Steer is the Managing Partner at Tundra Ventures, like the frozen tundra where only the strongest survive. Tundra invests in the most resilient pre-seed founders with unique insight into untapped markets and overlooked end users. From sneaker insurance and affordable Stage 1 cancer diagnostics to fintech solutions for the NIL era, Tundra invests in tech companies capitalizing on opportunities created by rapid social, technological, and environmental change. Danielle and her co-founders are true pre-seed specialists, having all worked in the accelerator space for close to 10 years prior to Tundra. 

Prior to Tundra, Danielle co-founded Lunar Startups, an accelerator focused on supporting underrepresented founders. Danielle shared that she grew up in a community where too many women were not financially independent or empowered and she went off to grad school with a mission to change that. She learned that entrepreneurship was the number one and only correlating intervention for increasing wealth and financial independence for women. Boom. So Danielle joined the world of venture capital to help more women and underrepresented people become entrepreneurs. 

“I witnessed many accelerators making programmatic decisions based on what sponsors were expecting. While I understood that rationale, our team knew many challenges and core obstacles for pre-seed founders were going unaddressed. My team and I decided to rewrite the playbook on pre-seed programmatic support and launched our own accelerator. We told backers that we were only doing substantive things for founders, filtering out the fluff and brand salad of pitch days and marketing campaigns, and they still backed us. It worked out that we were contrarian from the start."

Danielle and her co-founders focus largely on legal, IP, and operations support for their founders, and it’s a welcome change. She is truly fueled by her ability to help founders achieve their dreams and celebrate every small win along the way. 

Danielle’s career advice for women? 

This is a business of relationships. Invest in your network and keep them up to date and involved in your journey. Venture capital needs more master networkers and really good operators. Be that.

Janet Bannister

Janet Bannister is the Founder & Managing Partner at Staircase Ventures. Staircase Ventures leads seed-stage rounds into Canada’s highest potential tech companies with unparalleled dedication to accelerating founders’ development and performance. “Unparalleled dedication” is not just marketing lingo - they actually provide funds and resources for their founders’ personal growth and physical & mental well-being, in addition to giving them carry in the fund. 

Janet made such an amazing point in our conversation. 

“What's interesting is if you talk to most early stage investors, virtually all of them will say that the most important success factor in an early stage company is the founder. Yet, post-investment most will focus on adding value solely by helping the business - not the founder.”

So she built a fund and model that puts the founder first - the most important success factor. 

Janet started her career in brand management and went on to work in management consulting and e-commerce. She’s worked at some of the biggest brands out there - Procter & Gamble, McKinsey, and eBay. After successfully scaling eBay’s non-collectible categories 3-4x year-over-year for three years, she launched and grew Kijiji.ca into one of the most visited sites in Canada.

Janet transitioned to venture capital shortly after and has been one of the most active early stage investors in Canada for over 10 years; first at Real Ventures, and now as Managing Partner of her own fund, Staircase Ventures. She hopes to impact the industry by helping people increase their belief in themselves, dream bigger, and then help them achieve their full potential.

Janet’s career advice for women? 

Go for it. You can do it, you can win. A lot of naturally female traits set women up to be very successful in venture capital, such as a strong focus on relationships. The most successful investors are those who form a trusted, authentic, respect-based relationship with founders. 

Cara Morphew

Cara Morphew is a Managing Partner at Sweater Ventures. Sweater is the first platform making venture capital accessible to anyone. Launch your own fund powered by Sweater or invest today with Sweater's very own Cashmere Fund. The Cashmere Fund is a fully managed venture capital fund that pools capital from thousands of everyday people and invests it into emerging technology and product companies poised for growth. A truly differentiated and democratized approach to venture capital. 

Cara started her career as an operator working for some very well-known companies like Macy’s, Netsuite, and Uber. She was one of the early employees at Uber and experienced what we’ve all now seen on Netflix. She left the corporate grind to go to Business School at Northwestern and that is where she was further exposed to the venture and startup ecosystem. She simultaneously interned at a VC and started a mentorship marketplace company called BeenThere while in school. 

It was her experience starting that company, and going through the fundraising process as a woman, facing clear discrimination, that fueled her desire to become an investor and help level the playing field. She worked at Chicago Ventures and Selwyn Ventures before joining Sweater in 2022. 

Cara hopes to impact the industry by making capital more accessible to underrepresented founders. She is committed to closing the funding gap starting with a shift in the way LP’s allocate capital to fund managers. Many LPs don’t allocate capital to first time fund managers, and many emerging funds are led by women. Sweater is one way she hopes to change that, by making it easier for emerging managers to raise capital from a more diverse set of limited partners. 

“Impacting the funding gap for founders requires a more diverse set of women and underrepresented people in check writing roles. And we’re seeing a positive trend in the number of women and diverse GPs over the past few years. But then if you look a level up at the LP base, that is where there is even less diversity, making it even more challenging for diverse GPs to get started. So that is where I hope to have an impact - at the top of the food chain. And Sweater is one way to do that.” 

Cara’s career advice for women? 

Interview the fund as much as they are interviewing you. A career in venture capital is a long game strategy. You will likely take a pay cut for the first 5-10 years before you see meaningful returns. For that reason, you want to work with people who align with your values and at a place where you can see yourself for 5+ years to make that tradeoff enjoyable and worthwhile. 

Yasmine Lacaillade

Yasmine Lacaillade is the Founder & Managing Partner of Sinefine. Sinefine is a venture capital fund-of-funds. Sinefine allocates capital to venture capital firms that actively optimize the participation of women in the investment process and the management company. Their thesis is that women are an asset class. Women source and diligence deals differently and have consistently delivered superior returns. Louder for the people in the back! 

“The women I work with inspire me so much because they are so brave. They force me to be brave every day. I want to work with people who pull me, not that I have to push.”

Prior to Sinefine, Yasmine was the COO of Drive Capital, one of the most active early stage investors between the coasts. She started her career in banking and alternative investments. Yas was inspired to join the alternative space because she wanted to work with the best and brightest. When she met the team at Drive Capital, she was drawn to their unique approach to venture and decided to make the switch from hedge funds and PE.

Yasmine’s passion for helping the underdog, for selling the unexpected, and for operational excellence is undeniable. Operational excellence surprisingly, isn’t common in venture capital. Yet, it’s what is expected from institutional limited partners. And Yas is the best of the best when it comes to creating operational excellence in a fund. 

She hopes to impact the industry by broadening what becomes venture investable by backing the next generation of market defining firms that come from less predictable places. Right now, that’s women, but she looks forward to the day we aren’t talking about female leaders, and we’re just talking about leaders. 

Yasmine’s career advice for women? 

F*ck your imposter syndrome, everyone’s got it. And simply - do what you love. If you’re not doing what you love, you’re not going to work the extra hour or think about it in the shower. When you do something you love, the whole idea of insecurity goes away, because you aren’t doing it for anyone else, you’re doing it in service of yourself and those you serve.

Sophia Friedman

Sophia Friedman is a VP of Health Equity at Impact Engine. Impact Engine is an institutional investor that makes both venture capital and private equity investments in companies and funds that drive positive impact in the areas of economic opportunity, sustainability, and health equity. Fully aligning financial returns with positive impact outcomes. 

Sophia is deeply passionate about healthcare and has worked in the industry in some way her entire career, calling some of the most well-recognized companies in the world her former employers, such as Goldman Sachs and GLG. But she has found her true passion and calling in venture, working with companies at the earliest stages. 

She decided to join the venture industry so she could work closely with startups to have the most direct and meaningful impact on improving healthcare outcomes, with a specific focus on health equity. She works intimately with founders to help them stay true to their original mission while generating returns, minimizing ‘impact drift’.  

“Investing for both economic returns and impact returns is possible. By showing other investors that you can scale revenue and impact in lockstep, we’ll be able to have a much more widespread impact on the industry.” 

Sophia’s career advice for women? 

Don’t sell yourself short. There is no one path, one job description, or one profile of what a venture investor is. Harvard Business and Forbes studies have shown that “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100%”. Apply like a man. 

If you found these remarkable women inspiring, you can explore the full list of Women to Watch in Venture that we've curated over the last two years here. We thrive on connecting with influential women who uplift and empower others. If you have someone in mind who deserves to be featured in the future, nominate her here!