Remove biases: Women are often seen as “risky” because they might leave to have a family. Take gender out of the equation. The possibility of someone having a baby shouldn’t be a consideration when allotting VC dollars — it should be about the problem they’re solving and the innovation they’re bringing.
I had the pleasure to interview Kathryn Ross. Kathryn is the global lead for Open Innovation where she works to connect Accenture’s ecosystem partners to clients to help drive growth and innovation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
Raised in a family and by a community of entrepreneurs, I’m a black woman who became an engineer and has spent the last 20+ years navigating corporate America and now the VC world. Given the events of 2020, I was in the right place at the right time with the right background to help develop — and now lead — Accenture’s Black Founders Development program.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
Success isn’t a one-size fits all model. I’ve come to appreciate that it isn’t just about providing capital, it’s about figuring out what else is needed to advance their business. I’m in the middle of several ‘success’ stories, introducing founders to clients, providing constructive feedback as the next step in their ideation process and introducing our investment process/team.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
I try not to live with regrets or see anything as a failure, more a poignant lesson. The biggest one has been how unequal the playing field can be. For better or worse, the VC community has its own language and insular network. It’s important to look for innovation in new places and then help bridge the communication gap — to make sure everyone has the same opportunity. Sometimes I get the language wrong myself, but I’m a work in progress just as much as the next person. Success for me is making sure that one side doesn’t come to play basketball while the other team comes to play football.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
One company comes to mind. I still believe that turning them down at the time was the right decision, but I wish I handled it differently. In my role within Accenture Ventures I want to make sure that I’m doing more than simply providing (or denying) capital; it’s just as important that I help these companies forge connections tin the ecosystem so that they can continue to grow — something that I didn’t do in this particular case.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
Although we launched the Black Founders Development program earlier this year, Accenture already had several programs in place whose aim was, and is, to bridge VC parity gaps. For example, we work closely with Springboard Enterprises, a network of approximately 800 influencers, investors and innovators dedicated to building high growth companies led by women. We tap into Springboard companies to help women innovators expand their industry network and effectively engage with large enterprises. In fact, earlier this year we expanded our alliance to focus on emerging market opportunities in women’s health innovation, with the goal of connecting Springboard portfolio companies that offer digital health solutions with Accenture clients in the healthcare industry.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap. Please share a story or example for each.
- Make it a metric: People do what they are measured against, so incentivizing diverse hires or investments can go a long way. For example, in my previous role at Accenture I required that recruiting provide me with a diverse pool of candidates to consider. If the resumes I were given were too similar, recruiting had to go back to the drawing board and identify promising candidates from underrepresented communities. Ultimately, I ended up with a fantastic and fantastically diverse team. VC is the same — you get what you focus on.
- Remove biases: Women are often seen as “risky” because they might leave to have a family. Take gender out of the equation. The possibility of someone having a baby shouldn’t be a consideration when allotting VC dollars — it should be about the problem they’re solving and the innovation they’re bringing.
- Send reinforcements: It’s so critical to go beyond simply providing investment funds and provide holistic support to help drive the startup forward. I’m currently working with a female founder, with the goal of helping her identify the right clients and resources to grow her business. Capital is important, yes, but time and energy are equally — if not more — so.
- Encode creativity: Women are often excellent multitaskers, and this breeds a different kind of creativity; for example, a woman invented caller ID, and it’s since revolutionized how we communicate. It’s important to look at unique ideas like this without a biased idea of where the idea came from.
- Promote inclusive networking: Forging connections is critical, and this requires meeting founders or VCs (depending on which side of the equation you’re on) where they are. Learn a bit of the other side’s language and teach them yours so that you can communicate and work together with a level of equality.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
When family friends of mine gave birth to a daughter who subsequently and unexpectedly experienced damage to her brain, they were determined that she live as “normal” a life as possible. Knowing that kids with challenges often get bullied in school, they founded a nonprofit, The Nora Project dedicated to teaching children about empathy. This is so important: if there’s one thing we need more of in the world, it’s empathy for others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always remember to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.” (Prof. Walter Kotschnig). I think people should strive to go through life open to new experiences, but not so open that they’re taken advantage of. Put simply, be thoughtful.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Arianna Huffington! I admire her work ethic, but more so her understanding that women have a critical role to play in today’s changing world.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.