Changemaker: Planting Seeds to Grow Women-Led Businesses
Two investors improve the VC landscape with their fund, providing early-stage funding to women entrepreneurs and CEOS.
“Stats will tell you that around 22% of angel investors are women. But when I would go look at the most active syndicates on AngelList, it was 3%. Three out of ten [limited partners] are women.”
In this ongoing video series, we showcase Stanford GSB alumni who are striving to change lives, organizations, and the world.
Dismayed, yet motivated by what they were seeing in venture capital, Sylvia Kuyel, MBA ’14, called her GSB classmate Allison Stoloff (also MBA ’14) and they began doing more research. “We found that companies that are led by women CEOs typically have about $250,000 less in funding than their peers. And that results in less runway to get to the next milestone,” Kuyel says. The duo teamed up to launch The XX Fund, an early-stage VC fund investing in women-led businesses across the U.S.
“Sylvia and I had this belief that women succeed at the same rates as men when given the same access to resources and network,” Stoloff says.
In terms of capital deployed, The Fund XX has deployed approximately one million into 20 companies so far.
“Ultimately, the best world for everyone is a world that represents everyone, and where we need to continue to focus and make an impact is to bring people into the ecosystem who otherwise weren’t in the ecosystem,” Kuyel says.
Sylvia Kuyel: The Fund XX started actually at a time of transition for me. I was really reflecting on what mattered to me and what I wanted to do. I was watching syndicates start to happen where you start to have groups of people invest together. But what I saw in these groups is that they were still majority men. In a world that should be more accessible than ever, it was actually worse than numbers you’d see elsewhere.
The Fund XX is a precede venture fund investing in women CEOs. Stats will tell you that 22% of angel investors are women. When I would go look at the most active syndicates on AngelList, it was 3%. Three out of 100 LPs were women. So I called Allison Stoloff my GSB classmate, and I said, “Allison, we have to make a page of just women investors.” And she was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Allison Stoloff: I had been having conversations with Jenny Fielding, and they had been building this fund concept, which was essentially community-driven VC. They were investing in the local ecosystem in New York and several other cities.
Sylvia Kuyel: And Jenny said, “Well, why don’t you think about this community that you’re building and applying it to investing in women CEOs and see if that makes sense, see if there’s a story?” And we found that companies that are led by women CEOs typically have about 250K less in funding than their peers. A lot of that has to do with bias that’s pervasive in many ecosystems, but especially at the pre-seed stage. All you have is who you are.
Allison Stoloff: Think it’s much harder for people to want to take a bet on women at the early stages when there’s no data. We’re usually that first check into that business, believing in that female founder from day one. Fortunately, the mission resonated with many people.
Sylvia Kuyel: The Fund XX stands out in the investment industry for two reasons. One is around our focus on women. We are very unique in that we invest in women and are backed by women at every level. And then on the other side of it, we’re unique in the industry in our model.
Allison Stoloff: Typically when you’re a limited partner or an investor, you’re writing a check, and then you sit and wait and you watch. And with The Fund XX, these investors are able to share their expertise with this incredible group of female founders.
Sylvia Kuyel: We’re really taking it outside of the individual and making it about the community.
I think the biggest impact that the GSB has had on me is that it is a place that reminds me to think big.
Allison Stoloff: I think the GSB is great at encouraging students to go take risks, to spend this time at the GSB really figuring out what you want to do, trying different things.
Sylvia Kuyel: When I think about Stanford’s motto, “Change lives, change organizations, change the world,” I think about impact. I think about the immediate nucleus, and then how can that continue to expand? What are the artifacts that I leave behind, and how do I help make a difference, and what do I do that’s still going to be here?
Allison Stoloff: I get so excited about this power of community. We have incredible founders and operators sharing ideas, sharing perspectives. Those are the times when I get most inspired, because I’m able to see the size of this network that we’ve built and this community.
Sylvia and I had this belief that women succeed at the same rates as men when given the same access to resources and network.
Sylvia Kuyel: Ultimately, the best world for everyone is a world that represents everyone, and where we need to continue to focus and to make an impact is to bring people into the ecosystem who otherwise weren’t in the ecosystem. And I hope that in 10 years we are focused on the next thing because we’ve been able to make a meaningful dent.
Allison Stoloff: I hope that The Fund XX will not be considered a diversity fund in 10 years. It would be great if there was much more of a level playing field. I think another kind of success metric is we’re a venture capital fund, and so we’re measured on our returns, so my hope is that we have some billion-dollar exits that will show people that women are worth investing in and that women can be just as successful as men when given access to the same resources in the same network.
My name is Allison Stoloff, and I’m a partner at The Fund XX.
Sylvia Kuyel: My name is Sylvia Kuyel, and I’m a partner at The Fund XX.
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