Aspect Ventures raises $150 million debut fund

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Two female venture capitalists have raised $150 million for their debut fund, bolstering the standing of the women in an industry that has come under intense criticism for its boys-club approach.

Jennifer Fonstad, a former partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Theresia Gouw, a former partner at Accel Ventures, announced Thursday they had raised the cash for their nascent venture firm, San Francisco-based Aspect Ventures.

The duo raised the funds just weeks after the close of a high-profile gender-discrimination trial pitting Ellen Pao, a onetime venture capitalist, against her former firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which won.

The case helped focus attention on gender disparities in venture capital, where women make up only around 4 percent of senior investing partners, according to Pitchbook, a consulting firm, and some leading firms have no women partners.

While recognizing that gender sets them apart as founding venture partners in Silicon Valley, Fonstad said in an interview that she and Gouw wanted to be recognized for their work first.

“We are gender neutral as a firm,” she said.

Aspect, which specializes in backing start-ups at the early stages, is making seed, or the very earliest, investments in start-ups in the $100,000-$500,000 range. It is also investing at the next stage, known as Series A, in the $2 million-$5 million range, and will make some follow-on, or Series B investments, up to $10 million.

Founded last year, it has already invested in companies such as digital-health marketplace Vida and child-care startup UrbanSitter. It specializes in companies that customers can access easily using smartphones.

Fonstad and Gouw moved up by about a year their plans to seek outside institutional funds rather than use their own funds, Fonstad said, to send a message they were building a lasting firm.

“It’s certainly intended to be something beyond the founders over time,” Fonstad said. “It’s important from a discipline perspective, as well as enabling others as you bring them up through the firm, to have third-party funding.”

The pair came up with the name Aspect Ventures after a brainstorming session with Caryn Marooney, a longtime communications executive, and deciding they wanted to draw on various aspects of their experience while building their venture firm.

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Ken Wills)

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