Melinda Gates just made a move to put the male-dominated VC world on notice

  • VC firm Aspect Ventures has raised an oversubscribed $US181 million second fund from investors including Melinda Gates.
  • Aspect was founded in 2014 by two experienced female VCs.
  • While Aspect doesn’t limit itself to backing women-funded companies, it does back a lot of them.
  • Aspect represents the rise of something new in the Valley: the rise of female financiers who could provide a counter balance to the Valley’s very male, and often notorious sexist, VC culture.

Melinda Gates is putting her money where her mouth is when it comes to supporting women in tech. Gates has just become a major backer of venture capital firm Aspect Venture’s second fund.

Aspect is an early-stage investor founded in 2014 by two experienced VCs: Jennifer Fonstad (formerly of Draper Fisher Jurvetson) and Theresia Gouw (formerly at Accel). This is their company’s second fund and it raised an oversubscribed $US181 million.

Aspect’s first fund raised $US150 million and the firm has backed over two dozen startups in a wide-variety of backgrounds, from the consumer world (Birchbox, Grokker, Urbansitter) to enterprise tech (Gusto, Cato Networks, Exabeam).One of its companies has also already gone public. Security company ForeScout Technologies had a successful IPO last fall.

Aspect doesn’t focus on women-led startups but it definitely says yes to a high percentage of them. About 40% of its portfolio companies have a woman founder, it says, compared to roughly 16% of seed money in the tech industry going to women-led startups.

Fonstad is also a co-founder of Broadway Angels, a San Francisco-based network of female angel investors. Aspect and Broadway are examples of how female financiers are working together to get themselves into more deals. The rise of more successful female VCs is sorely needed in Silicon Valley, a counter balance to the decades where the Valley glorified a frat-boy mentality, rife with sexism and sexual harassment. The Valley’s mentality has taken its toll. Not only have fewer women entered tech fields, but when they do, some studies say they leave the industry at a 45% faster rate then men. Gates is also researching the circumstances that have caused women to leave and working on a fix.

Gates says she invested in Aspect’s fund because of the company’s track record in picking winners, as well as its willingness in “backing diverse entrepreneurs whose potential the venture capital industry has long been blind to.”

And she’s not alone. Some of Aspect’s previous investors signed up for the second round as did networking giant Cisco, courtesy of Janey Hoe, vice president of corporate development.