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Women ARE Raising Venture Capital: Kerry Cooper, CEO of ChooseEnergy (Part 6)

Posted on Monday, Jan 25th 2016

Sramana Mitra: What is your experience in this industry as a woman? Of course, retail is actually full of women and women executives. Technology is less full of women executives and CEOs. This company falls a bit more on the technology side. What is your experience navigating this world?

Kerry Cooper: I’m a little bit of a novelty. It is unusual. More of the traditional electricity power generation business is male-dominated. There were five women in my class of a hundred twenty in engineering. I’m very comfortable in a male-dominated environment. I think I always grew up with the path of wanting to be treated equally. I don’t want to be called out as different.

As I matured, I realised that I am different. I’m more comfortable being out there as a female CEO and talking about it, not because I want to be called out as different, but rather because I think we need more role models for the younger generation behind us who need to see other women be successful. There are an infinite number of paths and choices one can take on how you think about balancing work and life. The more we can make this visible, the better off we will all be.

Sramana Mitra: Have you experienced bias as a woman in this industry?

Kerry Cooper: Not in energy frankly. In tech, I have seen it. There have been a couple of situations that make you feel uncomfortable. I don’t think they’re conscious. They are conscious things that happen.

Sramana Mitra: Would you be open to discuss it?

Kerry Cooper: This is one of those hard ones because you don’t want to end up in a situation that’s so clear who the other side is. It’s interesting. If I think about raising money, I have raised over $50 million. I’ve done a lot of pitching. I’ve sat in a lot of rooms with all male partner meetings.

It’s hard to know why you got told no. As an entrepreneur, you don’t know. It’s part of raising money. Having raised money in an e-commerce business that caters to women is not something that lends itself well to a very male-dominated VC world. When I was raising money at ModCloth, I had VCs say to me, “I’ll have my girlfriend go buy from your site.” I find those comments very demeaning.

Sramana Mitra: Why do you find that demeaning? Somebody is being honest, right? He’s not the 18 to 24 year old woman who can actually make an informed choice about the customer experience. If this person doesn’t have that profile and is asking somebody who has that profile to go and check it out, why is that demeaning?

Kerry Cooper: I think the thing that’s frustrating is that when you have a room full of men, I think you’re fighting a battle about a women’s business that makes it harder for you to break through.

Sramana Mitra: That’s accurate. One of the reasons fashion hasn’t had as much venture capital is because there aren’t that many venture capitalists who are women. Most men don’t understand the fashion business.

Kerry Cooper: Maybe the word demeaning was too strong. Given that women drive so much of the consumption of goods and services in this country, being diverse in the way you think about where you’re investing is an important part of building a great business.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Women ARE Raising Venture Capital: Kerry Cooper, CEO of ChooseEnergy
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