by Sue Tomchin
Twenty years ago female entrepreneurs received 2.5% of venture capital dollars; in 2015, that percentage had dropped to 1.85%.
These numbers didn’t sit well with Jenny Abramson. So three years ago, she decided to follow a piece of advice that her mother gave her: If you want something done, do it yourself.
Today Abramson is the founder and managing partner of Rethink Impact, the “largest impact-oriented venture capital fund in the country with a gender lens.” Joining with her is partner Heidi Patel, a veteran of the world of impact investing. Rethink investors come from 32 states and have a balance of men and women.
“I saw a market opportunity that a gender focus combined with social impact could not only do good for the world but also be better for business,” says Abramson, the former CEO of the tech company, LiveSafe, a mobile security company focused on preventing school shootings and sexual assaults.
“We decided to invest in tech-driven companies that are solving our world’s greatest challenges in health, education, environmental sustainability, and economic inequality because I saw firsthand as a former CEO that impact companies can actually perform better, not worse, because of their impact, and the data proves that to be true,” she explains.
From girlhood onward, Abramson has had a passion for leadership and making a difference. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she attended high school at the innovative Georgetown Day School, where she was involved in everything from athletics to acting to serving as class president. Steeped in her parents’ commitment to tzedakah and giving back coupled with a school culture committed to social justice, she embraced the belief “that your role in life is to have an impact and to leave the world in a better place than when you found it.”
“I saw a market opportunity that a gender focus combined with social impact could not only do good for the world but also be better for business.”
She credits her parents for conveying the belief that anything is possible and as a teen pursued an ambitious agenda: She worked on handgun control issues when a schoolmate was shot; volunteered with Head Start on a Native American reservation; and participated in a volunteer program in Nepal.
Her interest in changing the world was coupled with a gift for math and data that (along with the weather) led her to Stanford, to London as a Fulbright scholar, and later to Harvard Business School for an MBA. During her career, she has held leadership roles across the tech space in education, personal data and media.
As a CEO, she was often invited to speak at conferences but found that she “was the only female on a given stage or in a given panel.” Obviously, gender barriers still abounded in the tech world.
Bringing women into parity in VC investments is an uphill task. Some would call venture capital a “pattern recognition business,” she explains. “You are often drawn to investing in people in your own image.”
“Given this factor of subconscious bias, it’s not surprising that in a world where women comprise less than 8% of investment decision makers at venture capital firms, that you naturally have fewer dollars going to female entrepreneurs.”
Yet, the data now shows that diversity is good for business. Startups with female founders “almost universally outperform their male-only counterparts,” she notes.
Rethink Impact has so far invested in 19 companies. One of them, Ellevest, is dedicated to women’s economic security, an area that Abramson is especially attuned to. “By the time women are 75 years old, they are three times more likely than their male peers to live in poverty. This is partly because women live longer than men, but also because the average female investor keeps 71 percent of her investment portfolio in cash,” she says. “Ellevest has created a solution that helps women invest their money to take ownership of their financial future.”
Beyond simply investing in companies, Abramson invests in another way – by providing advice and guidance.
In 2017, when reports about the mistreatment of women in Silicon Valley surfaced, Abramson and Patel wrote an open letter to female founders on their website, offering help. That same month they launched “Rethink Impact office hours” across three cities, to give female CEOs and social impact entrepreneurs “access to advice from the venture community.” This initiative continues.
Handling her duties as managing partner of Rethink Impact is only one aspect of Abramson’s full life. She and her husband Jake Maas are the parents of three children – two daughters, who attend Georgetown Day School, and a toddler son. She serves as the chair of the Georgetown Day School board, and on the boards of Little Folks, the nursery school both she and her daughters attended, D.C. Prep, the highest performing charter school in the D.C. area, and Super Leaders, a program for inner-city kids. She even coaches the third grade soccer team at her children’s school.
Conscious of her responsibility as a mother of two daughters, she says: “I try to lead by example as my mom did for me (having run her own VC firm that invested in women more than 20 years ago). I try to encourage them to have their own unique voices and to be their authentic selves while always advocating for others.”