It may come as no surprise to know that investor titles are held primarily by men. The world of venture capital (VC) has long been dominated by men, while women work to disparage stereotypes and inequality in the workplace.
We’re happy to report that thanks to powerful women who refuse to fit the status quo, things are changing. Female funders are starting firms and raising funds to encourage a more inclusive environment not only for VCs, but for entrepreneurs and founders of all kinds as well.
Below, we’re shedding a light on 13 female funders and investors who are leading the VC charge in the Midwest and establishing a path for more women to follow in their footsteps.
13 Female Funders Bringing Attention (and Investment) to the Midwest
Candice Matthews Brackeen
General Partner, Lightship Capital
Candice Matthews Brackeen is a female powerhouse we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of before (and possibly read about in Forbes). As general partner of Lightship Capital, Candice is not only shattering her own glass ceilings, but is helping all the entrepreneurs she comes into contact with do so too.
The Lightship Capital general partner announced an historic $50 million fund last year focused on elevating companies from across Middle America that have Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPoC) founders, making Candice the first female investor to found a fund of that magnitude.
Candice has also had her own successful run as an entrepreneur, having founded her own startup, Hello Parent, in 2014. She is also the Executive Director of Hilman Accelerator, an accelerator program in the Midwest serving underrepresented tech-driven startups.
Candice’s expertise doesn’t start and stop at helping founders find their financial footing, however. She has also instructed other VCs about their invisible biases and coached founders about presentation styles.
Hear Candice discuss the importance of getting to know the background and culture of each founder, and the value of having a holistic approach to consulting and investing with Endeavor Board Member and Access Ventures Managing Director, Bryce Butler, on More Than Profit.
Partner, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund
Anna Mason was one of the few female distressed-debt traders at Lehman Brothers when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Though Lehman didn’t survive, Anna’s experience of being in the minority stuck with her and has made her the ace networker and “human social network” she is today as Partner of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.
While roughly 75% of venture investments are made on the coasts in three states, Anna and Revolution are hunting for promising seed-stage venture startups in areas of the country that other investors have long overlooked – including the Midwest. Mason leads the fund’s well-known road-trip bus tours across the U.S., which has traveled 11,500 miles to 43 cities and invested in local startups across the country since 2014.
Anna also sits on the board of Revolution portfolio company and Endeavor company, AppHarvest, and introduced James Murdoch to the firm who invested in the $28 million Series C round alongside Endeavor Catalyst last year. AppHarvest has since gone public, charting history as the first Endeavor led company in the U.S. to be listed on the NYSE.
Founder & Managing Partner, H Venture Partners
Elizabeth Edwards is the Founder and Managing Partner of Cincinnati-based H Venture Partners, a seed, venture and early growth equity fund that invests in next generation consumer brands.
Elizabeth is no stranger to the VC scene, having been a part of the industry for 15 years investing in 40 companies all over North America. She is also something of a trend forecaster, investing in companies including Peloton and Bill.com, both of which went public, and Freshly, which was acquired by Nestle for $1.5B.
Founder, Sixty8 Capital
Kelli Jones is an exemplary founder and funder with a passion for philanthropy. She is the co-founder of the non-profit Be Nimble Foundation, which trains and places people seeking careers in technology, and recently launched a venture capital fund, Sixty8 Capital, which focuses on investing in Black, brown, women, LGBTQ and disabled founders. Sixty8 Capital is the first Indiana-based VC firm dedicated to investing in these underrepresented founders.
With the resources she has worked tirelessly to establish, Kelli is on a mission to provide Black and minority business owners with the necessary capital they need to take advantage of the opportunities available in technology. Sixty8 Capital focuses on using capital, connections, and community to support scalable and investable tech and tech-enabled companies with a clear road to profitability.
Investor, Queen City Angels
In 2015, Sue Baggott began working with Queen City Angels (QCA) on a strategy refresh project, and immediately found a passion for angel investing and desire to participate in the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cincinnati on a bigger level.
She joined the inaugural Rising Tide cohort the same year, and in 2016 became a member of QCA. Sue is now active in screening and due diligence work, and co-leads QCA’s diversity and inclusion strategy pillar. She thrives on mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs, guiding them on consumer and customer insights, design thinking, lean startup, business planning and innovation strategies.
If that wasn’t enough, Sue is also active in non-profit work as Board President of Women Helping Women, an organization focused on preventing gender-based violence and empowering all survivors with intervention and support services.
Partner, Rounsavall Investments
As partner of family investment firm, Rounsavall Investments, Elizabeth works as an angel investor, startup coach and mentor with a focus on direct early-stage venture investment, manager selection, and real estate. She also serves on the Sequel Fund investment committee where she has led several early-stage investments including Onovative and Endeavor Company, Switcher Studio.
Elizabeth spent 10 years working with Chrysalis Ventures, Kentucky’s largest venture capital firm, and has also worked in management consulting at Booz Allen Hamilton (acquired by PwC). In 2017 she was awarded “Mentor of the Year” by the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. She is the president of the Actors Theatre board of trustees, and serves on the boards of EnterpriseCorp and the Community Foundation of Louisville (where she is a member of its Impact Capital investment committee).
Partner, Narya Capital
You could say Falon Donohue has done it all. Prior to joining author and investor J.D. Vance’s Midwest-focused investment firm, Narya, she founded Sadie Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm and served as the first CEO of VentureOhio, where she has appeared before the U.S. Congress twice to testify on behalf of the Midwest venture capital industry.
With Narya Capital based in Ohio, Falon is focusing on investing long-term capital into founders who use technology to solve significant challenges. To that end, Narya Capital led a $28M Series C investment round into Appharvest in 2020, founded by Endeavor Entrepreneur Jonathan Webb, before the greenhouse startup went public via SPAC in early 2021.
Falon is also a veteran of the Ohio Air National Guard and serves on several nonprofit committees and advisory boards focused on entrepreneurship.
Associate & Head of Platform, M25
If you are familiar with the Indy tech landscape, you probably know the name Katie Birge. The 2019 Techpoint Community Impact Award recipient and current Associate/Head of Platform at M25 has spent her tenure supporting entrepreneurs in the Midwest with the resources they need to succeed, while building communities that tech start-ups can thrive in.
Prior to joining the M25 family to help launch and lead the Indianapolis office, Katie served as the Executive Director of Launch Indy, a co-working space dedicated to entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. Katie also ran a social impact accelerator for early-stage founders, which Endeavor Scale Up 2020 company, Continuud, completed in 2019. Now as M25’s Head of Platform, she works directly with Indy-area companies in the firm’s portfolio and helps expand regional events throughout the Midwest.
Senior Analyst, Elevate Ventures
Amna Sohail’s passion for entrepreneurship shines through her work. She serves as Senior Analyst on the Investment team at Elevate Ventures (currently recognized as the most active seed investor in Indiana), working to accelerate new technology and product innovation that is driven by customer-focused outcomes in Indiana.
She previously worked on the Corporate Innovation and Business Design team at High Alpha, an Indianapolis based business-to-business (B2B) SaaS venture studio that conceives, launches, and scales enterprise cloud companies through pairing company creation with venture funding.
Senior Associate, Lightship Capital
Alexis Alston got her first taste of entrepreneurship in college when she ran a sexual education and health wellness non-profit. That same non-profit introduced her to the VC world, when a private equity investor and mentor working on a sexual wellness deal asked her to lend her expertise on the matter and help with research. With a passion for entrepreneurship and experience in private equity, Alexis is now the first contact for underrepresented founders across the Midwest at Lightship Capital. As the Senior Associate she prepares investment memoranda and manages deal flow for all incoming entrepreneurs.
“We do all the portfolio management that every other fund does. However, on top of that, we make sure that these founders have the same back-door knowledge and access that people who maybe grew up in a family of Mark Zuckerberg’s already have,” Alexis said in an interview with All Raise.
Managing Director, IU Ventures
You’d be hard pressed to find someone with the caliber of experience that Teri Willey has. Her most recent venture? Being recruited to form, launch and manage a new venture fund for an affiliate of Indiana University in 2018. In the first two years, IU Ventures reviewed more than 300 opportunities, transacted 18 investments and saw one exit.
As if managing the fund wasn’t enough, Teri also serves as an executive and board member for many companies, specializing in the restructure and transition of organizations and teams during times of risk and change in a manner that honors mission, obligations and the needs of stakeholders.
Managing Director, CincyTech USA
As a seasoned company builder with experience in scaling business and instituting governance, Stacey Browning brings a host of talents to CincyTech USA. Prior to joining the public-private seed-stage investor as Managing Director, she was the President of HR and PR solution, Paycor, where she also played critical change agent roles in senior marketing, product management, IT, HR and customer service.
Stacey is also a Board Member of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Health Collaborative, co-founder of Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon, Committee of 200 member, a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement and The Circuit’s 2019 Technology Visionary Award Recipient. Impressed yet?
Partner, Drive Capital
Masha Khusid is no stranger to the idea of risk and reward. Immigrating to the U.S. from Russia shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she has grown up understanding that success for yourself and those around you comes from a combination of hard work and a healthy appetite for risk. She began her career in investment banking on the west coast, but quickly caught the startup bug and a passion for early-stage investing, which brought her back to the Midwest.
Masha is now a Partner at Drive Capital, where she is helping to build Columbus’ startup ecosystem – investing in success stories like Root Insurance and Duolingo. Hear more about her story and the potential and opportunities she and Drive Capital see in the region on the Middle Tech Podcast.
The list of women making their mark in the Midwest doesn’t stop there. Check out 23 Female Entrepreneurs In The Midwest That Need To Be On Your Radar.