Ten Top Women Leaders of Israel’s Venture Capital Scene Speak Out
CTech – Israel’s venture capital industry has been historically dominated by men. However, recent years have shown that the tide is changing, with more women and minorities entering the scene resulting in more diversified boardrooms across the country.
CTech spoke with 10 women: UpWest’s Shuly Galili, Citi’s Ornit Shinar, iAngels’ Shelly Hod Moyal and Mor Assia, Qumra Capital’s Sivan Shamri Dahan, Samsung’s Rutie Adar, JVP’s Fiona Darmon, Qualcomm Ventures’ Merav Weinryb, Viola Growth’s Natalie Refuah, and DTCP’s Irit Kahan, to find out more about women’s impact in the VC arena.
– Why, despite the flourishing and prosperity of the VC industry in Israel, is the proportion of women in the field still very low?
“We need to demystify a lot of things in this industry, especially the idea that successful VCs have to be grown out of a certain background such as coming from an elite intelligence unit, top school, specific industry or gender, etc.,” said Shuly Galili, the Founding Partner at UpWest, a seed VC based in Silicon Valley, which has invested in companies such as SentinelOne, HoneyBook, and Stampli.
“There are two main paths to becoming a partner in a fund — either you were a successful entrepreneur and founded your own VC or you join an existing fund,” explained Ornit Shinar Director & Israel Lead, Venture Investing at Citi. “As the number of women entrepreneurs are relatively low, that essentially leaves the second path where traditionally the old boys’ network was hard at work.”
“Numbers are low in tech investment funds globally and Israel is no different,” added Natalie Refuah, Partner at Viola Growth. “I believe the reason is historical and has to do with the fact that tech funds were built by former tech founders or leaders in the tech space which was dominated by men. I do believe that the recent increase in the number of women holding leading positions in the tech ecosystem will help expedite the change.”
“In the past couple of years, the trend is positive as more VCs are actively looking for female investors, I believe there are good intentions and it’s a matter of time until we see a larger proportion of women partners and investors in VCs,” added Sivan Shamri Dahan.
“Some changes take time to mature and, while in the past the numbers were low, we now see that as more women assume managerial positions in high-tech firms, and as more women become entrepreneurs, we are starting to see more women investors,” said Rutie Adar, Head of Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center.
Mor Assia, Founding Partner and Co-CEO of iAngels added: “Over the past few years, many more women are making their mark as investors and partners. We are seeing teams that are generally more diverse — not only from a gender perspective. There’s growing awareness that homogenous teams are prone to groupthink. If you have gender, age, and cultural diversity, alongside people with different career backgrounds, then you can build better startups and make better decisions and investments. This is a growing trend across the world, including in Israel.”
“They have this image of a successful entrepreneur… and then along comes a woman,” said Merav Weinryb from Qualcomm Ventures. “She has a different voice, she probably talks more softly, she talks differently and thinks of things differently. Most of the women (not all) talk and look differently. You have to get used to looking at them and still seeing the entrepreneur inside them. And it’s hard… There’s no one typecast of a successful entrepreneur, everyone knows that, but most of the successful entrepreneurs we know are male. That’s where the industry needs to get used to females.”
“The transformation of the VC market towards gender-parity happens on a pendulum with two engrained forces that need to swing in sync, the effort to drive this requires our ongoing attention and commitment and is a long-term effort,” explained Partner at DTCP, Irit Kahan. “Understanding of its long-term positive results on both returns and organizational culture has been a force that has been put into motion, but needs to continue swing in full force to move the entire industry… Second, the market needs to have a larger pull of females into the industry. Creating the building blocks for more women entering the market, starts at childhood and with early education.”
– Was there any change in recent years? Is it significant or negligible?
“Yes, there has been a significant real positive change in the awareness and adoption of VCs towards diversity and gender-parity,” continued Kahan. “This is the first force that needs to swing, it is our duty to make sure it is continuing to swing in full force.”
Upwest’s Shuly Galili: “We have a lot to do but I am actually encouraged by the growing number of talented women who are paving their way into partnership positions in venture funds or have started their own funds… Most encouraging though is meeting more founders, both men and women, who really care about gender diversity in their cap table and board rooms.
“I think one of the things we’re seeing dramatically increasing over the last five years is an additional focus on nurturing female professionals into the startup ecosystem,” shared Fiona Darmon, a General Partner at JVP. “Programs we’re seeing in high school focus on identifying promising young ladies; we see it in the army, which is by default a great cultivator of female talent. but we’re also seeing programs in the corporates.”
Sivan Shamri Dahan: “According to recent data we have collected at Qumra based on IVC and LinkedIn data, only 8% of the total investment partners in Israel were women; I believe that over the past few years this number has improved a bit to about 9%. While the change is still small, I believe that the shift in priority we are currently seeing will result in a more significant movement in the near future.”
“I would say the change is not insignificant — but of course, there is room for more!” added Ornit Shinar.
– Will we ever achieve equality in the number of venture capital managers?
“I hope we will eventually achieve equality in the number of venture capital managers but I’m not sure that a 50-50 split is as important as having equal opportunity access,” said Mor Assia.
“I don’t think there will be a discussion about gender or diversity in 30 years because I think it will be natural that to have an all-inclusive and truly well-rounded discussion, you need to integrate all genders and aspects of society,” predicted Darmon. “This is a major asset of Israel. Being such a melting pot of cultures, backgrounds, and religions is something you can leverage and is a true asset in our society. Our diversity goes beyond gender. We are a country where there’s no one who is a carbon copy of another.”
“I doubt there will be full equality but 20% and even 30% is an achievable goal within the next five years,” added Dahan.
“Today we see women who have successfully climbed up the ranks to partner or another principal position and many funds are grooming the next generation of principals and partners,” shared Shelly Hod Moyal, iAngel’s co-founder and co-CEO. “Therefore, I foresee a much higher percentage of female representation in funds within three to four years.
– Do you think women have an advantage in managing funds? If so, what is it?
“It is not a question of advantage or disadvantage. It is the unique perspective, style of communication, quality of networks and expertise that positively impacts the dynamic of a fund,” said Galili.
“You need to have a high EQ, tenacity, and be in it for the long run,” believes Shinar. “Women have all of these skills and can help the fund maintain an even keel. That is not to say that men cannot do that or don’t have their own strengths, but rather — like in most things — that having diverse management tends to optimize results.”
Kahan added: “I believe that women typically have a sixth sense, which allows them to better grasp entrepreneurs’ personality, their DNA, strengths, and weaknesses. Women also tend to think twice, which leads them to go deeper in the due diligence and derive more grounded investment decisions.”
“Investment is both a highly realistic and methodological process of idea and company evaluation, and, in parallel, it is also an art of understanding people and assessing the founding team dynamics,” said Adar. “Although both men and women have skills in both domains, women often have more experience in assessing people and teams and helping them achieve their goals.”
“Managing a fund is not different than managing a company,” explained Refuah. “And since we have seen women acting as great CEOs, they can be great managers of funds. In addition, there are several examples around the world of very good funds that are being managed by women.”
“I believe that today there is a recognition that soft skills, emotional intelligence, feminine types of thinking are important for every organization’s success and I would argue that especially in the competitive high tech ecosystem,” said Shamri Dahan.
“You need different opinions, different ways of thinking of things,” said Weinryb. “I see it in boards where I sit, sometimes the angle I choose is different from most or some of the men. The board has to help the company and CEO through tough times and advise him or her. When you have a range of opinions and a range of ways of looking at things, then the company will benefit. This is proven in different research of diversified management teams.”
– Is the increase in the number of women entrepreneurs in startups (still at low rates, but on the rise) likely to have a positive effect on the venture capital industry?
“Absolutely,” believes Ornit Shinar. “More women entrepreneurs will lead to more and better startups — those, in turn, will ensure the VCs have better women-led success stories — more women in boardrooms — more informal ties that get developed ‘at the top.’ Consequently, there will also be a bigger pool of women to choose from as partners in VCs.”
“Absolutely, and vice versa,” agrees Shuly Galili. “We’ve seen female founders make their path to becoming successful VCs or angel investors. We need to see female leadership across the full-stack of the industry from founders to executives to VCs and LPs.”
“Absolutely, diversity on all fronts is important to make a change in our society,” affirmed Kahan. “The larger inclusion of females by startups sets an excellent role model and will continue to push the VC industry into the same direction.”
“I think it’s the other way around — the presence of more women investors in the industry will lead to more investments in women-led startups,” said Sivan Shamri Dahan. “The Women Founder Forum which I co-founded four years ago proved that right.”
“I wouldn’t say there is a direct effect,” said Rutie Adar. “The growth in the number of women taking managerial positions, leading marketing and operations, and co-founding startups has a network effect. The whole community is accustomed to seeing more women and this would, of course, include more women investors.”
– When is the right time for women to start paving the way for the worlds of business and technology? In kindergarten, in elementary school, in high school, in the military, in university?
“There is no such thing as too early,” said Galili. “We must do everything we can to mentor, teach, and encourage more girls to see this industry as an opportunity for them from an early age.”
“It is never too late,” Adar adds. “Some women are raised on these ideas at home, while others encounter them much later, in the army or even only during the course of their high-tech careers. Women with good business instincts, an understanding of technology, and a passion for the art of investment can learn the craft. It is not rocket science.”
“The right time is at birth. The messaging to children is very gender-based,” explained Shinar. “It’s not just business and tech — it is strengthening people’s willingness to take risks, their ability to ‘fail’ and immediately shake it off and restart, etc. This is learned in the very first years of our lives.”
“Whenever they want,” affirmed Refuah. “Our role as society is to create a world that is equal to boys and girls, men and women, on everything. We need to convey to boys and girls — early on — that gender plays no role in their choices or capabilities.”
“Having a more inclusive discussion with more diversity across the table — not just gender but the background, age, culture — really creates for a more well-founded and eye-opening approach for an investment,” said JVP’s Darmon.
– What should VC managers actively do to increase the number of executive women in the industry?
“By being a role model for our companies, it will become more natural for them to integrate the same level of diversity they see with us,” suggested Darmon. “The first time we ask him to create more diversity, the second time we demand it.”
“We need to encourage our portfolio CEOs and founders to establish a culture in their respective companies where women find a leadership path with an environment that encourages diverse voices, equal pay, flexible work hours, and inclusiveness,” added Galili.
“Openness always helps, as does an awareness of the strengths of diversity,” said Adar. “To increase the number of women in executive roles, you can start with encouraging junior investors at the associate and principal positions… Women like the company of other women, so it is really important to have more than a single woman in the investment team.”
– What needs to be done for more women to set up and lead venture capital ventures?
“While focusing on STEM is important for getting more women into tech jobs, when it comes to venture capital, people tend to overlook the importance of sales experience,” shared Hod Moyal. “Women eyeing careers in the VC world tend to focus on consulting or advisory positions. In order to make it to the top, you need to be a rainmaker and, for that, you must have strong sales experience. It’s a key skillset. Operating experience is also important. These days many VCs have an Operating Partner position.”
“I could not have started my own VC a decade ago without the mentorship, investment, and encouragement from some of the men in this industry,” added Galili. “I truly believe it takes a partnership of both genders to make an impactful change. Later, while raising institutional funds, I encountered incredible mentorship and guidance from traditional LPs, both women and men, who were eager to transform, democratize, and diversify the VC industry.”
“It is a chicken and an egg situation,” said Shinar. “The more women there will be, the more they will feel comfortable. The more comfortable they are, the better they will perform. The better they perform, the more their advice will be heeded. We are seeing institutions requiring companies to have more equitable boards, the same could be done by LPs for funds and by VCs for companies (at least once they start growing).”
“I believe it is a matter of time,” said Kahan. “The more women in the industry, the more track record, and the larger the share of women setting up their own funds.”
– Is it possible to require funds to include women in management? (Just as corporate funds require the same number of male and female candidates for each position.)
“In 2018, the state of California announced a new requirement from every company with headquarters in the state to have a female board member ahead of an IPO,” explained Galili. “Goldman Sachs announced a similar requirement. Again, someone has to raise awareness and require that boards, managements, or partnerships look more diverse. In the case of VCs, it is their LPs that can influence such change.”
“Many LPs do not invest in funds which do not have at least one woman as a GP,” said Refuah. It’s an amazing initiative that I hope will expand to more LPs and will require not only one woman, but more!”
“Establishing a long-term commitment towards a larger share of female inclusion is far more important than imposing any kind of a quota,” said Kahan. “A quota would lead to a short-term result whereas awareness of what positive impact diversity drives, in particular with regards to better returns and an improved organizational culture, will lead to a proactive approach towards diversity, which will ultimately engrain into the VC culture for the long term.”
“I don’t think forcing this kind of progress is required,” said Rutie Adar. “Rather, we can focus on raising awareness and giving the stage to successful role models when opportunities arise. For example, whenever possible, we should encourage women investors to take up speaking opportunities at events or sit on panels. This feature article that CTech is writing is a wonderful example of raising awareness,” she concluded.