Back in 2016, Elena Mustatea was navigating the "boys club" that is the venture capital industry as she started her career at Atomico, one of the biggest funds in Europe.
"I joined as an associate and in that role I saw lots of companies, did due diligence, made connections and just got really deep into the ecosystem and spent a lot of time in the Nordics and at conferences like Slush and built a big network," she told Techworld over the phone this week.
As Mustatea built her network she soon befriended a group of other women in the industry, attending female investor breakfasts and joining an email distribution list - she doesn't remember exactly when, or how - which shared bi-monthly updates on events and meetups, and even the odd business or job opportunity.
The problem was the emails were a one-way street, with little feedback from the growing community of recipients, so Mustatea decided to throw everyone into a WhatsApp group, called Ladies in VC.
"We had a conversation around a better way to connect and be more interactive," she said. "Slack was suggested, Google+ too, so I just decided to create the WhatsApp group and took some initiative there."
Now numbering more than 250 women across the industry, and some interlopers from outside, the group has exploded in popularity. "We are reaching our limit now from a logistical standpoint," she admits.
The group mainly involves people sharing deal sourcing, events and vacancies, but also industry discussion and links to news stories related to women in VC or funding to female entrepreneurs.
"Before, people were connecting to these networks through Diversity VC and the Ladies in VC distribution lists," she said. "But where this group has made a difference is making it more collaborative, where we can interact and give day-to-day support and not just a quarterly meeting."
"Since we set up the WhatsApp group it is more interactive and people share more and more," she added, "so it is more about coming together, which is very meaningful, and about promoting female founders, hiring females into organisations, posting about relevant things like maternity leave and harassment policies, so it has become a valuable tool."
One thing Mustatea did notice early on was that her network was made up of "a number of other associates and not necessarily partners, as that is still a rarefied world that is not as accessible to the majority of female VCs".
Now we have the stats to prove it. Research conducted by Diversity VC in 2017 across 1,500 roles at 160 firms showed that women made up just 27 percent of the venture capital labour force here in the UK, and just 13 percent at the decision-making level.
"People are friendly and collaborative, but it is still a boys club at the decision-making level," she said, "so it feels nice, but in reality we still have some work to do."
So, beyond the growing sense of community amongst women in the venture capital industry, does Mustatea see the industry changing for the better?
"I have seen more structured and intentional approaches to bring more women into the industry, such as when hiring associates or investment managers there is a strong preference for it to be a woman and just more advocacy and focus on diversity and inclusion being led by the funds and at conferences," Mustatea said.
Elena is now the CEO and cofounder of Bold Health, a digital therapeutics startup aimed at treating traditionally under-served chronic health conditions.
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