Helen MacKenzie: Focusing on Critical Mass of Capital for Women

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Video interview with Helen MacKenzie  She is a founding Managing Director of the Women’s Venture Capital Fund that invests in gender diverse teams building game-changing companies. Helen has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs to help them drive maximum revenue from their smart ideas. She applies strategic vision and practical financial objectives to innovative ideas – helping entrepreneurs shape their visions into profitable companies. Having accompanied dozens of high-growth companies on the journey from startup through to exit, Helen offers a clear perspective on how to leverage business acumen and strategic partnerships into financial success.

Transcription follows & video above

Its great to see more women in venture capital & I’m so excited about your fund. It’s fabulous Women’s Venture Capital Fund. You just put it right out there, no bars hold. Fantastic, I was so thrilled to see it. So tell me what motivated you guys to actually put it together & call it that name. It’s so in your face, I love it!

We weren’t trying to be in your face with it & we didn’t name it for ourselves as general partners. And we certainly didn’t name it for any of the investors or any other people who might like to be around women entrepreneurs. We named it so that the women who were entrepreneurs or founding companies, it would resonate with them.

Well it certainly resonated with me, that’s exactly the reaction you got!

Good, good & that’s primarily what we wanted to do. If you look at the statistics that have been published for years & years, there is just a paucity of venture capital that gets invested in companies where even one woman is part of the management team much less cofounding it. And yet if you look at the other side of the ledger you have women who make up more than 51% of the Math Undergrads, a third if not more of the Engineering undergrads as well as the Graduate Students coming out of all the good universities, the middle end universities. Whatever university you went to, women make up critical mass & they are part of those teams that are creating new technologies or repositioning technologies. They have great ideas, their teams have great ideas. So while we are called the Women’s Venture Capital Fund, we really want to be sure that we’re investing in gender diverse teams & in diverse teams. The world is diverse & we want to reflect that in our investing criteria.

Great, great. I see that you’ve invested in one company. Congratulations & it was women led company. I was really thrilled about that & shared it on social media. How are you finding them? Are there many women coming to you with female led startups?

I think as one of my partners puts it ‘We have an embarassment of riches on that side!’ There are any number of just terrific companies with women involved. They don’t have to be the CEO. They don’t have to even be the founder of it. But they are involved in managing companies & growing companies & they need capital. And let’s face it, capital is hard to access for anybody in any business & women seem to resonate with the fund & the fund name.

I would imagine it’s sort of like a honey pot. As soon as I see that name I would immediately encourage other female startups to actually go towards you. So I would imagine you wouldn’t even have to do much marketing.

There are a number of great people & organisations that mentor women’s groups. I think you are part of Women2.0  & certainly Astia & Springboard are 2 other very well known names that mentor them. So I think you’ve got some critical mass out there on that side but you don’t have too much critical mass on the capital side. And we wanted to bring critical mass on that side.

Now I’m very supportive of women venture capitalists because as you know & I know from the research, so many more women are invested in when there’s more women in venture capital. I’ve often asked women venture capitalists what it’s like to be a woman venture capitalist & what are the challenges & what are the problems & how can women do that? How do you see your firm encouraging more women to get on board in the firm itself? Have you got any plans about that?

Inside our firm? I think long range we have generally talked about it. But we are kind of a new fund ourselves & have only made our first investment. So I think perhaps..

…not scaling just yet?

Well we don’t have our world wide domination plan figured out just yet for the world to know about. I think just like any young company we need to focus, focus on what it is we want our business to do. And right now the best thing we can do is help our first investment & subsequent investments be as successful as they possibly can.

Fabulous, so you’re going to build that foundation so that it’s nice & strong & then scale?


That’s great, that’s great. Would you have any tips for women that might be interested in getting into venture capital because it seems to be a bit of a cloudy subject. Many women venture capitalists have said to me that they don’t even know how they ended up falling into the career. And I mean the industry itself is a bit of a cottage industry so there’s no rules about how you can actually graduate yourself into the role.

I think it is similar to the same question as how do you start a startup? There aren’t any rules for that either. You get a great idea & you feel like there’s critical mass & you want to go out after it & do it. And those people who are involved, if you look at the people who are involved in venture capital today, men or women, look at how they all started. I started as a banker, I was a commercial banker, I banked the venture capital industry. I banked all the early stage companies. I banked anybody who was around them. Other people got into the industry because they were with successful startups & they had some financial background & you have to have a little bit, not a lot. Or you have technical background & it’s all about relationships. Everything is about relationships at the end of the day. Do you have those skills that you bring to the table that that particular venture firm needed at that particular point in time? Were all the stars in alignment? So how does any professional end up to be in the profession that they really want to be in & doing what it is that they love to do best. That’s how most venture capitalists end up doing this.

So maybe, here’s an idea of mine: so maybe just promoting the fun, the interest & the passion that most of the venture capitalists experience, which is what I have heard from most of you that I’ve interviewed, promoting that may also encourage women to find their own path into it. What do you think?

It certainly might.

That’s fabulous. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best for your firm. I’m totally behind you, anything that I can do for you, I really want to do that.

Thank you very much. We can use all the help we get. It’s a team play!

It is! Vivek Wadhwa said to me ‘Women have to help each other up here in the valley.’ I think that’s the truth anywhere but I totally, totally support that idea. I think if you help another woman then it will come back to you in some other way.

Absolutely, it will. What did somebody say “It takes a village!” no matter where you are. We’re all part of the community, large & small so we all need to help each other.

And I think that’s what I see in women, that we do have that wonderful strength that when we see other women needing support, we usually rush in & help. All the best & thanks again.

Thank you very much.

Written by
Pemo Theodore

Pemo Theodore is a Media Publisher and a great people connector. She was Founder Silicon Valley TV which served the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years! She has produced Silicon Valley Events for Investors & Startups for 10 years. Pemo loves to video interview venture capitalists & founders to engage the human behind the success stories.. She has been Executive Producer of FinTech Silicon Valley for 6 years, organizing twice monthly FinTech talks & panels in San Francisco & Palo Alto and audio podcasts. She believes in learning through a great discussion with experts in the domains. Pemo has a talent to bring the right people together and is an incredible networker. Pemo's events have been seen as supporting Venture Capitalists & Angels in sourcing great deal flow from startups who attend her events. Many founders have received funding through meeting investors at her events. Her favored medium is audio & visual media and she has built up a great body of work of videos of panels & interviews and podcasts in Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. She has lived & worked in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, London, Northern Ireland & Silicon Valley. Bio https://pemo.one

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Written by Pemo Theodore