US-based venture capital firm ALIAVIA Ventures has closed a $13.5 million capital raising backed by the Forrest family’s private investment vehicle Tattarang and Robyn and Victoria Denholm's Wollemi Capital Group, with a mission to solely support female-founded startups in Australia.
ALIAVIA has already invested about $8.4 million in nine female-founded tech startups since it was founded in 2021 by US-based Australian entrepreneurs Marisa Warren and Kate Vale. These include Australia's at-home genetic testing startup Eugene, online training platform HowToo and culture AI startup Othelia.
The venture capitalist firm targets seed and pre-seed investments in startups with at least one female founder in the B2B or B2C technology space.
Warren and Vale, both of whom have extensive connections in the US where they currently live, established ALIAVIA in California to help correct the imbalance they have found in funding for all-female startups.
Vale is a former managing director of Google and YouTube in Australia and New Zealand while Warren has almost two decades of experience in enterprise software sales for SAP, Microsoft and Workday in North America and Australia.
Both of them say they have experienced first-hand the gender imbalance prevalent in venture capital and tech sector throughout their careers.
"The gender imbalance is appalling, and while there is a lot of talk that the inequality is shifting, we’re still a long way from parity,” Warren says.
ALIAVIA notes that of the $238 billion allocated by venture capitalists in 2022, just 17 per cent of that total went to mixed-gender teams and less than 2 per cent was for all-female-founded startups. The VC firm adds that this despite female-founded companies delivering an average 35 per cent higher return on investment than all male-led teams.
“We want to see more billion-dollar startups funded and led by women,” Warren says.
“As investors we have the power to change the world through what we invest in. We want to make our dollars count by investing in gender-diverse teams that are having a real positive impact on the world, whilst also delivering superior returns.”
Warren says ALIAVIA takes a ‘concentrated portfolio approach’ to investing which allows the firm to ‘go deep and help our founders in every way possible to grow and build successful companies’.
“This includes Aussie startups looking to expand into the US. We act as a bridge by investing in an Australian company, where most US-based investors won’t, and help them successfully launch and accelerate growth in the US.
“The US market is significantly different to Australia and we help our founders navigate the nuances, connect to our network of co-investors, corporates and individuals to get the US-traction required.”
Apart from Tattarang and Wollemi Capital Group, the latest capital raise has been backed by Carol Schwartz, chair of the Trawalla Foundation and EQT Holdings (ASX: EQT), Dom Pym, the founder of Up Bank, and Cynthia Scott, the CEO of Zip Co (ASX: ZIP).
The high-profile investors are backing the abilities of Warren and Vale, who refer to themselves as ‘American-Australians’, to spot early-stage unicorn potential.
With a solid background as tech professionals, and with a base in the US, the founders see ALIAVIA as a bridge for Aussie female founders looking to expand into the US where capital valuations for startups can be up to 40 per cent higher than in Australia.
Schwartz, an anchor investor in ALIAVIA’s fund, describes Warren and Vale as pioneers in helping ‘flip the switch on gender equality’.
“They’re the first and only pre-Series A VC in Australia to be established by, and invest exclusively in, women and they continue to lead the charge to see greater equality in VC funding,” Schwartz says.
“ALIAVIA is well on the way to proving up the thesis that investing in female founders results not only in the creation of companies that solve real problems, but are also profitable, producing strong returns for their investors.”
Prior to founding ALIAVIA, Warren founded ELEVACAO in 2015 as a pre-accelerator program for women tech founders. The New York-based program has empowered 175 entrepreneurs, including the founders of HealthMatch and Coviu, who raised more than$120 million in funding and produced three successful exits.
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