In 1715, Sybilla Masters traveled from colonial America to London to register a patent. She had invented a new way to process corn, but she was in for a nasty legal surprise when she arrived in the British capital.
“King George awarded [the patent] to her spouse because women could not hold patents, among other things,” Moz co-founder Gillian Muessig said. “It was Thomas Masters that insisted that King George add her name to that patent and say that it was awarded to him for an invention ‘found out about’ by Sybilla Masters.”
Masters became the first American awarded a patent, and potentially the first female inventor in colonial America.
Her story is a fitting metaphor and namesake for Muessig’s new fund, the Sybilla Masters Fund, which focuses on funding companies that have at least one woman on the founding team or C-suite. Muessig, herself an experienced entrepreneur and investor, unveiled the fund at the first Women in Cloud Summit at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus this weekend.
Microsoft veteran Alka Badshah and Outline Venture Group President Anne Kennedy are founding investors in the Sybilla Masters Fund and will also serve as advisors to Muessig, who is the general partner and manages the fund’s investments.
Muessig declined to say how much the fund has raised to date, but said it will officially launch when it reaches $2 million. The ultimate goal is to raise a $100 million fund.
“The object of the game here is to provide a fund that does gender-lensed investing, and that does not mean investing only in females or female founders,” Muessig said in an interview with GeekWire. “It really means looking at a company with the idea that says: ‘How does this affect all genders, and in what way does it further the idea that all genders working together create a better outcome?’”
It’s easy to see the imperative for such a fund: The vast majority of venture capital investments, 80 to 90 percent, go to companies that are entirely male-led. Even having just one female leader drastically decreases a startup’s chances of scoring vital early capital and entirely, women-led companies receive just a small fraction of all venture capital in the U.S.
“So I expect to make my investors extremely wealthy,” Muessig quipped. She pointed out that it’s easy to miss out on a good opportunity when you’re working in a noisy, crowded field.
“I would say, as an investor, look at the quiet field for your unicorn,” she said. “You can get extremely good deals by looking at gender diversity and ethnic, racial and other diversities, as well.”