The Need of a Woman at VC Firms
"Show us that the product is working and the consumers want it"
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Not every day does one bump into a female venture capitalist in Bangalore. Sitting at a swanky Bangalore cafe , I was speaking to Shalini Prakash, Principal at 500 Startups on why aren't there many Shes in the world of VCs!
Shalini has been with 500 Startups for more than a year now and on an average gets to interact with about 30-40 entrepreneurs per month. Talking about the quality of entrepreneurs in India, she said "The quality of entrepreneurship is definitely improving, and by this I don't mean the person per say but the kind of companies that they are trying to build. So it has definitely evolved over a period of time. The maturity of entrepreneurs has definitely improved; he knows that he can't build another "me-too" in the market. It has to build another product which has to be solving another big problem in the country..."
Shalini has previously worked with Kyron Accelerator and INKtalks, was an EIR with GSF Accelerator, and currently oversees India investments and Partnerships for 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator founded by Dave McClure and Christine Tsai in 2010.
Need of a unified ecosystem
Speaking more broadly about the ecosystem, Shalini said that there is definitely isn't any dearth of entrepreneurial talent in the Indian ecosystem and stressed on the need of unity in the ecosystem. "There are a lot of people who help but I still feel that the number is still very small and what happens is there are 30-40 people of such mentors who are really passionate about startups they are sort of split between the 30 accelerators that exist in our country and it's not possible for them to do justice. But there are many smart and talented people out there and we need them come to the forefront and actively engage with the startups and the ecosystem" she adds.
What makes her say YES!
According to Shalini the basis on which one makes a decision, especially in the case of an early-stage startup is to check who are the founders of the product, and that doesn't mean hunting for a brand name like a Wharton or an IIM graduate. "When I say founders, I mean to look for someone who actually gets the product and the market. An IIT/IIM label specifically does not matter to us," she adds.
We also check if the founders have validated the product before they start looking for funds. "Show us that the product is working and the consumers want it," she adds.
Fewer woman VCs
Shalini agreed to the fact that there aren't enough women in the VC community in India today. "Of course we have some really prominent names like Meena Ganesh, Vani Kola, Bharti Jacob, and at times I find myself with only 3-4 woman in the room when these folks don't show up at some of the community events..."
"A lot of people come from that traditional background where you think women can't become engineers or doctors. Today that idea has been dismissed to a certain extent. Venture Capital was completely a male dominated arena, it was what engineering was 30 years ago. Even VC firms want women in their panel because if you are investing in a company that makes women's products, you need to have a woman who understands these products. Every company that's building a product in any field say e-commerce or B2C or others, you need to have an understanding of the 50 percent of the other market; which is women!," she said.