February issue editorial by James Mawson, editor in chief, Global Corporate Venturing

An ancient Greek proverb says: “Society grows stronger when old people plant trees they know they will not sit under.” Given how long it takes to develop a new energy source or transform healthcare or change how we communicate with each other more clearly it can feel like corporate venturers are planting these seeds.

But some germinate and grow more quickly. At last month’s Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit, there were many shared points of wisdom and reflections on pain points as well as potential deals to collaborate.

One of the pain points to be tackled earliest has been the diversity issue within the venture capital industry and the startups they back. Tracy Isacke at Silicon Valley Bank was among those giving Global Corporate Venturing feedback concerning the relative lack of diversity at our events five or so years ago, which helped us recognise we were unconsciously biased towards male speakers as the easiest route to filling an agenda.

Her encouragement and that of others has helped us unbias our approach – though more can still be done – but our process has been aided by change in the venture ecosystem, as more female and diverse investors are recruited and promoted. As in much of the overall innovation capital ecosystem, corporate venturers are leading the way.

Harvard academics Sophie Calder-Wang and Paul Gompers noted at the Stanford Financing of Innovation Summit at the end of November that there had been a “great stagnation” in numbers of female entrepreneurs and VCs over the past 30 years – going from 7.2% to 10.7% and 5.8% to 8.9%, respectively, from 1994 to 2016.

Among CVCs, however, more than a fifth of the top-ranked professionals, as judged by the GCV Powerlist 100, are women, and and that figure could be higher at the next awards being held at the UK’s Houses of Parliament in London on May 23 during the GCV Symposium.

More than a third of those coming through the ranks are women, according to the GCV Rising Stars 2019 awards presented ahead of the GCVI Summit at the Monterey Aquarium gala reception.

But the broad base of the CVC profession still consists mainly of men – the GCV annual survey found three-quarters of 86 firms were primarily or exclusively male.

More than purely numbers, however, it has been impressive to watch, as Isacke identified on stage in her panel alongside Karen Kerr from GE Ventures, Meghan Sharp from BP Ventures and Katherine Resteiner from Intel Capital, how the conversation has so rapidly moved from questions about whether there is an issue, to why there is an issue, and then to how the issue can be addressed.

Isacke, along with Kiran Malhotra, director of venture capital relationships at law firm Fenwick & West, organised the Women in Venture lunch before the summit to facilitate connections among female attendees.

The cultural change reflects society more broadly, and as CVCs join boards and find opportunities from a wider group of entrepreneurial types, so the entrepreneur base will change and start to reverse what Victor Hwang at Kaufman Foundation notes has been a slow decline in the number of startup created in the US.

Diversity is a long-term strength for CVCs and hence for the broader venture ecosystem. GCV is keen to continue supporting this and other changes to the industry as it prepares for the headwinds of an economic downturn. The GCV Leadership society’s advisory board, chaired by Intel Capital president Wendell Brooks, has noted greater focus on the industry’s professionalism, the people coming in and retained by CVC units, and closer partnerships between corporations and other venture investors. The board identified the challenges faced by the industry, and acting as an agent of change for other venture managers, CVCs will reap multiple rewards.

For a full report on the wide-ranging GCVI Summit discussion topics, see special report.

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