Several years ago, Fenwick and Silicon Valley Bank began to organize networking events for women investors who were attending the corporate venture-focused conferences produced by Global Corporate Venturing. The early events developed a strong following and prompted Fenwick, SVB and GCV to organize subsequent networking events in California, New York and London each year tied to GCV’s corporate venture conferences. What began as enjoyable and informal networking developed into a desire for more active support and mentoring of women investors and women founders, including helping to launch the next generation of successful women investors who actively run and manage successful corporate venture units globally.
In October of 2019, Fenwick organized and co-hosted with SVB and GCV the Women in Venture Luncheon to kick off the GCV 2019 Synergize Conference in New York City. This was the third time we held this event in New York, but the first time we brought outside speakers to the event to discuss the roles of women founders and women investors in both the executive suite and in board rooms. Our speakers included Tracy Isacke (SVB), Susan Lyne (BBG Ventures), Darcy Frisch (Hearst Ventures), Georgina Gooley (Billie) and Sarah Adler (Spoon University).
In January of this year, Fenwick, SVB and GCV again hosted the Women in Venture Luncheon to kick off this year’s GCVI 2020 Summit. This is the fourth time we have held the event in Monterey, California, and as in previous years, it was a unique, exciting and productive opportunity to gather with a group of incredible women who are current and future leaders of a wide range of corporate venture units to share thoughts, experiences and perspectives (with a particular focus on increasing participation among women investors on private company boards).
We kicked off the Monterey event with each attendee (50 in total!) introducing herself, making her “ask” of the group (as has been done at the start of every luncheon since inception) and noting her experience serving on a corporate board. Their experiences varied greatly but it was abundantly clear that there were several veterans in the room ready to assist the many other well-qualified women interested in serving on company boards. This is the value of the Women in Venture network—women ready, willing and able to help each other achieve their goals.
Following the introductions, Fenwick startup and venture partner Einat Meisel led a discussion with panelists Michelle McCarthy of Verizon Ventures and Jacqueline LeSage Krause of Munich Re/HSB Ventures, both of whom had tremendous insight, experience and guidance to share about being a corporate woman investor as well as serving on company boards.
Here are a few highlights from their insightful conversation:
Tips for Joining a Board:
- Women can and should gain exposure and experience on small private company boards, eventually leading to opportunities to join large public company boards.
- Explore and understand the differences, both legally and practically, between serving as a board observer and a board member to understand your role and your value.
- Being the only woman on a board means asserting yourself with confidence and comfort, and not losing sight of the value you bring to the table.
- Representing a corporate venture investor is a value-add, but does mean your perspective could be different from that of the other board members. You need to understand these nuances and your strategic value to the company.
- Remember that as a board director, you owe a fiduciary obligation to the company and its shareholders. Take off your corporate shareholder hat! At times, this will create tension and possibly conflict with your corporate stakeholders. Learning to manage this tension is key.
- It is critical to foster an open and supportive relationship with the company’s founders and management so they understand you are an ally, not an adversary.
- Find a mentor who has served on corporate boards in the past to be a sounding board.
We look forward to co-hosting many future Women in Venture networking events with SVB and GCV in order to continue this conversation and further develop the support network needed for the next generation of successful women investors and leaders, and we welcome any suggestions for new topics important to women corporate venture capital investors.