New Research: Tracking Private Equity (Venture) and Debt Funds with a Gender Lens

A preview of Project Sage, a collaborative research project tracking venture/private equity and debt funds with a gender lens for the benefit of investors, advisors, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem

As a long-time investor and connector in the gender lens investing space, I’m constantly asked about vehicles directing capital towards women, across all asset classes and sectors. What investment opportunities are there? Where are these investments targeted? What gaps still need to be filled?

Last year, I worked with Veris Wealth Partners to help answer some of those questions about public equity and debt funds. Our resulting landscape map, Project Rose, recorded public equity and debt funds and structured investment vehicles with a gender lens mandate. We uncovered 15 vehicles with a total market cap of over $600 million and a variety of definitions of ‘gender lens’. An update is coming this autumn and we’re excited by what we’re seeing in the growth of new funds or vehicles and assets under management.

I’m now working with Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII), with input from Veris Wealth Partners, to launch Project Sage, a landscape of gender lens activity within private equity (venture) and debt funds and structured vehicles.

Our goal for this work is to establish a ‘point in time’ baseline and to begin building a gender lens investing evidence base around this asset class. This first scan will cover more than 60 funds from around the world.

Structured funds aren’t right for every capital need, but they fill an important role in the ecosystem. The field has seen significant growth in the last five years. Yet, it’s not enough in the context of an enormous $260-$320 billion capital gap (as per World Bank and others) for women entrepreneurs at any given time—let alone the other businesses with a different, but equally positive, women effect as defined not by who the entrepreneur is, but by teams, customers, and value chains.

So much has already been written this year about the lack of capital for women entrepreneurs (check out this piece in Fortune but there are dozens of other articles that I’ve been tracking). But I’m interested in where capital is moving. And again, not just towards women entrepreneurs.

In documenting the vehicles deliberately factoring gender into their investments, we’re offering a starting point for exploring opportunities.

In this first wave of analysis, I’ve been fascinated by how the different funds describe their gender lens commitment—or don’t mention the commitment at all.  Also intriguing are the variety of sector or thematic focus areas, and the diversity of approaches. But our work also highlights the lack of funds in particular geographies or categories, or from particular sources of capital.

I hope that this will be useful for investors, advisers, those helping to deploy capital and to raise capital, fund managers looking for co-investors, entrepreneurs, academia and more.

What we’re about to publish is just a start. As we continue the landscape and analysis, we look forward to providing a deeper insight into this space.

Stay tuned as we get ready to release our first report. We look forward to hearing how our research might help you.

Suzanne Biegel is Senior Gender Lens Investing Advisor at Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Catalyst at Large.  She’s based in London.