Michelle Scarborough is Managing Director, Strategic Investments and Women in Technology Venture Fund at BDC Capital and a veteran entrepreneur and investor with 25 years of experience working in the technology sector.
I have had what some might say is an unconventional career. I am a woman who has spent the past 25 years working as an entrepreneur and investor in technology, venture capital and other male-dominated industries. I have a science degree, not an MBA or a law degree. I purposely chose the winding path: the one made of lessons learned from taking calculated risks and following my gut to seize opportunities. This path led me to run BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Venture Fund and set the stage to make a make a fundamental difference in the tech and venture industry.
My journey began with my parents, who were both entrepreneurs. They taught me to think big and to not be afraid to fail. In fact, I started my first company at 21 because of my dad. He was one of my greatest mentors. He taught me how to innovate, create value and, more importantly, gave me the confidence to try and fail because he believed I could do whatever I put my mind to.
When I joined BDC a year and a half ago, the Women in Technology Venture Fund was a $70-million fund with a bold mandate to invest directly in female-led tech companies, invest in funds that promote the inclusion of women in VC and build an ecosystem to support women in tech and venture that didn’t exist. And, of course, deliver returns. Essentially to lead a cultural shift to embrace diversity and inclusion in industries that didn’t even see they had a problem. My first thought was “$70-million isn’t going to cut it.”
In Canada (like the rest of the world), the sad reality is women are underrepresented and underfunded generally, but particularly in the tech and investment industries. More than half of all tech startups don’t have any female executives and only 5 per cent have a female chief executive officer. Not to mention, 70 per cent of Canadian VC firms have no female partners; of those that do, only 12 per cent are women.
Putting my feminism aside for a moment, the most obvious reason these stats need to change is that investing in diverse teams just makes good business sense. Research shows, time and again, that companies with diverse leadership teams deliver higher profits, more revenue and better innovation.
After joining the BDC, I spent the next year working closely with colleagues and the federal government making the case for a larger fund. For a fund that would deliver returns, meet our objectives and deliver lasting, meaningful change. Fast forward to Budget 2018, and we celebrated success when the government increased its size to $200-million – making it the largest equity fund in the world investing solely in female-led tech companies.
This was amazing news, but it meant a significant course correction for my team. Our fund size had more than doubled overnight, so updating the plan for how those funds would be deployed to maximize impact had to change. And that planning took time because we were creating a new road map.
What didn’t change was our commitment to a best-in-class fund that would deliver return on investment and returns for society. We maintained our investment philosophy to only partner for long-term success in companies that bring together the right technology, team and resources to disrupt and transform today’s markets. And to invest in emerging venture funds with female partners, and in new models to encourage women to become investors, expanding the network of investors for female founders. But we can’t do it alone.
Working alongside partners such as the government of Canada, which has invested $2-billion in women through the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy, as well as organizations such as Female Funders, StandUp Ventures and The Raise Collective, we will chart new territory to support, mentor and provide networking opportunities to build a self-sustaining ecosystem and effect true change in the industry.
I would be lying if I said my journey was easy but what I have learned along the path less travelled is that when you bring together the right people with the right vision and ability, you can change the rules of the game. Together we will translate talk into action. Action that starts with women but ultimately, action that just creates great leaders. Leaders who recognize it’s diversity of people and skills that make great teams. At the end of the day, I want to make sure we close the gap, not create new ones.