Wharton Studies Gender Lens Investing and Reveals the Best Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs


It’s no secret that the representation of women in the investment industry is small, only about 7 percent. It’s also no secret that it’s difficult to know where women entrepreneurs, or founders of companies who deliver services to women, are likely to find investors who quickly “get” their offering.

A new study by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII), called Project Sage, just made that process a whole lot easier, especially for entrepreneurs who want to understand the priorities of fund managers.

Project Sage authors Suzanne Biegel, Sandra M. Hunt, and Sherryl Kuhlman focused on 58 funds that capture this particular point in time of the expanding gender lens investing opportunities globally, particularly in the structured private capital. Gender lens investing, which deliberately incorporates gender factors into investment analysis and decisions, has been of particular interest in recent years at WSII, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s the bottom line: $1.3 billion has been raised in these 58 funds, most of which have been launched in the last two years. Seventeen of the funds have been started in 2017 alone. At least 650 enterprises have been financed. Capital is moving.

Five other salient points from Project Sage are listed below, with a particular focus on investment opportunities for entrepreneurs. Tips include the geography of this particular investment landscape, top sectors and themes, and the representation of women as investors and fund managers.


Most are in North America (47 of the 58), only a few are in Europe, and twelve are based in or focused on emerging markets. Funds in Latin America receive at least $33 million, while Africa is a target of at least $40 million.

Top Sectors and Themes

At least 650 enterprises have been financed to date within these funds. Technology and health-focused companies dominated fund portfolios, followed by companies with a positive environmental impact. A few funds focused specifically on the aging market, or “silver tech,” and a dozen funds mentioned racial or ethnic diversity in their investment language.

Representation of Women

Though the percentage of women in the investment industry is small, the percentage of women in fund management and on investment committees is a relative bright spot: of the funds included in Project Sage, 59 percent had all women partners. This matters for entrepreneurs for a number of reasons, including capitalizing on new or underfunded leadership in finance, and women investors’ and managers’ ability to relate to the entrepreneurs’ offering.

Mostly- or All-Women Investors

At least eight funds included in the study are backed by either all or mostly women investors: Golden Seeds, Belle Capital, Belle USA, Texas Women Ventures, Phenomenelle, JumpFund, Next Wave, and Rising Tide Europe.

Diversity of Fund Structure

Even though gender lens diversity is still very new, there’s already a wide diversity among fund structures, including traditional venture and private equity, evergreen, collaborative angel, and revolving loan funds. The size of the funds also varies widely, from $1 million to $400 million, with an average size of $36 million and a median size of $15 million.