David Fuller's view -
The largest venture capital fund ever raised by a woman isn’t in Silicon Valley or even the U.S. It's in Beijing and is run by a former librarian who keeps such a low profile that she’s a mystery in her native China. Chen Xiaohong rarely attends industry conferences or events. She hadn’t given a media interview in more than a decade until agreeing to break her silence this summer. “I don’t like being part of a club,” said Chen during a four-hour discussion at her firm's headquarters. “I believe in staying independent, making your own decisions.”
Chen, 46, is part of an unusual group of female investors who have risen to the top of the venture business in China and helped fuel the country’s technology boom. They’ve backed some of China's most successful startups and their influence is growing as they raise more money, recruit other women and seed the next generation of technology companies.
Chen and her peers have become part of the mainstream in China in a way that's proven elusive in the U.S. American venture firms have faced accusations of sexism and discrimination for years, including in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by a female partner against storied Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Despite the criticism, the firms have made little progress in promoting women. Among the top U.S. venture firms, women make up about 10 percent of the investing partners and only half of the firms have any women of that rank. China is already more balanced: About 17 percent of investing partners are female and 80 percent have at least one woman.
An increasing number, like Chen, lead their firms. Kathy Xu is founder of Shanghai's Capital Today Group, which has $1.2 billion under management and was an early backer of the e-commerce company JD.com Inc. Anna Fang is CEO of ZhenFund, one of the most influential angel investors in China. Ruby Lu, Chen’s partner at her firm H Capital until this month, previously co-founded the China business for DCM Ventures.
Their success is bringing more women into China's technology industry. The Chinese government estimates females found 55 percent of new Internet companies and more than a quarter of all entrepreneurs are women. In the U.S., only 22 percent of startups have one or more women on their founding teams, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya for their book ‘Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology.’
Chen and her colleagues are building on a tradition of opportunity for women in China that dates back to before the days when Mao Zedong declared they held up “half the sky.” Women worked out of necessity in fields and factories when the country was poor, and fought alongside men during the country's civil war. By comparison, collaborating in an office is simple. Lu’s mother, who served in the People’s Liberation Army, laughed when she heard about her daughter’s diversity training at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. “She said ‘That’s ridiculous. What’s your job got to do with women or men?’ ”
The country is hardly free from discrimination. Men still hold most positions of power in politics and business, and there's plenty of crude sexism in technology. But China has quietly become one of the best places in the world for women venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. Chen raised a new $500 million fund, the biggest ever by a woman, according to Preqin, and increased her assets under management to about $1 billion. The largest women-led fund in the U.S. was about half that size, according to Preqin’s data.
“China is fundamentally different,” said Gary Rieschel, an American who founded the China-based Qiming Venture Partners, where four of the nine investing partners are female. “The venture capital industry in the U.S. has been a private men’s club. It has been much more of a meritocracy for women in China.”
This speaks well for China and its long-term economic potential – an important point given its current problems in the transition from a predominantly manufacturing based developing economy, to the developed economic model led by consumer industries.
Veteran subscribers may recall my comments over the years that one could predict the long-term potential of economies by the emancipation of their women. After all, they hold up “half the sky”, which is surely one of Chairman Mao’s more sensible quotes.
Countries which subjugate their women, no matter how it is rationalised, are invariably hampering their economic and social development. It should be an obvious point as women are half the population and educated women have the additional advantage of emotional intelligence.
How will China resolve its current economic problems?
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