Yes, it’s that bad. But Edith Dorsen of the Portland-headquartered Women’s Venture Capital Fund plans to chip away at this disparity, steering money to companies in which women play key roles. “Venture capital is, by definition, high risk and high return,” says the 56-year-old Harvard MBA, who cofounded WVCF in 2011. “Investors naturally look to people like themselves—it’s not overt, just instinctive. We want to change the paradigm.”
So far, WVCF has invested in five companies. The portfolio’s unifying factor: leadership teams featuring both men and women. “It’s not that we believe women are better,” Dorsen says. “Women tend to be detail- and execution-oriented. We believe—and research backs this up—that diverse teams that incorporate that perspective and others produce better results.”
The young fund’s philosophy recently attracted two big-name institutional investors: the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Oregon Growth Board, which steers state money to firms headquartered within the state. While WVCF doesn’t disclose specific financial figures, those connections testify to what Dorsen calls an “inflection point” for top-notch female entrepreneurs here.
“Our investors recognize that Oregon is starved for capital, and they understand the value of diversity,” Dorsen says. “We’re increasingly a magnet for entrepreneurs in general and female founders in particular. The issue now is to provide them capital. We’re on the front lines of that, not just in the Northwest but nationally. And Oregonians like to be on the front lines.”