Curious. Dedicated. Provocative. Renata George describes herself in these three words, but truth is, we’d be kidding ourselves stopping here describing this dynamic woman.
An entrepreneur – turned angel investor – turned VC, she’s mastered navigating the ins-and-outs of the entrepreneurial journey. And now, after being dedicated to entrepreneurs for years, George founded Women.vc – a not-for-profit initiative to advance women in the investment industry.
BUT SHE ISN’T STOPPING THERE.
She’s also an avid academic, and she’s combined her background in media and journalistic judgment with hard-hitting research to point out the disparity when it comes to women, especially multicultural women, looking for fundraising. While this fact is sadly nothing new for most budding entrepreneurs, George’s approach is truly revolutionary, in that it offers insightful new findings.
We sat down with this incredible disruptor to dish about the groundbreaking work she’s doing for women’s progress.
“I never thought I’d work for the benefit of women,” says George, who describes her brain as “part male,” and adds that most of her friends are men. “I always thought that I would be working with men, but ironically, since my first business, women were my success story, and it turned out I have something valuable for them to offer.”
Now, she’s become a prominent advocate for women, having proved among other findings, that the net return from women’s portfolio companies is on par with, if not better than, the industry average. For an area dominated by men, this is big news.
BUT, THAT’S JUST A TASTE OF WHAT SHE’S ACHIEVED FOR WOMEN IN CAPITAL MARKETS.
George has been recognized on Forbes USA as one of “The Top Women in Venture Capital and Angel Investing” in 2012. And while that already grounds for one strong and effective female leader, her work goes beyond investment in research, and into the hands of budding entrepreneurs.
So where did it all begin? Coming from a family of doctors, her parents expected her to pursue medicine.
George, however, had other plans. “I was a rebel,” says George, who switched from medical faculty to financial management after 3 years of studying in Medical University once she realized medicine is not her calling. Instead, she decided to learn from a female professor teaching financial management, a rarity at the time.
“When I told my mom what I’d done, she cried for a week,” George recalls. “Later on, however, she said that I did the right choice, and she has been very supportive throughout all my career path”.
In just three years, George graduated from two universities with degrees in financial management and government relationships, having finished both on external basis.
She started working in various media platforms from radio to newspapers, then, established her own publishing house with five magazines in the portfolio, and successfully exited the business. After 10 years in media, George became an angel investor.
Renata George by Sam Saraf
“I went through the hell of being a solo entrepreneur without any investors. But only due to this experience I knew what entrepreneurs need and how I can help them”.
George developed a diverse CV rather quickly, working in government innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits for companies around the world. She soon noticed that many of her portfolio companies started entering the United States market. “That was a time I realized I could contribute to their success having a broad international experience ,” she says. “At some point, I felt it made sense to move and work in United States.”
George’s countless conversations with American innovators and businessmen, coupled with her multicultural background led her to an epiphany. “I realized I cannot belong to any country,” she says, adding that she had developed an understanding of how many different cultures approached business.“I realized I can be a connector for [various cultures] to Silicon Valley, because I have traveled so much and learned a lot about people [as well as] their ways of doing business,” she says. “But it was only in the United States where I figured that I can definitely bring value to diverse groups here, including women and other underrepresented groups.”
SO, WITH ALL THIS IN MIND, GEORGE LAUNCHED A SEEMINGLY SIMPLE PROJECT.
She began by making a list of female investors in the United States, who would serve as touchpoints for women entrepreneurs. She also built up educational courses and newsletters about venture capital investing.
“Entrepreneurs can learn how venture capitalists think and then speak the same language with them,” says George, who wrote The Manual For Finding A Perfect Mentor For Entrepreneur and Networking Done Classy. “Knowing how your opponent thinks makes a huge difference in negotiations.”
Despite her momentum, there were still voices in George’s life that she felt challenged women’s value.
In an interview a male general partner of a prominent firm said, he cannot find professional women to hire in their firm. “Most of the people took it as an offense to all women, but I personally was not offended. I assumed that he probably meant something different, and decided to dig into the issues.”
With that in mind, George was motivated to prove this opinion wrong or right with data that hadn’t existed before. “Without data you are just another person with an opinion. I decided to take the other road.,” says George, who used a database to crunch some numbers and evaluate female investors’ success levels. “I wanted to check our performance for myself first of all, so me and several women investors decided to check on how well we’re doing.”George’s findings, which were released in the summer of 2016, showed what everyone wanted to know, but were afraid to ask female venture investors’ performance was on par with, or better, than men’s. “I can’t do everything, but I prefer doing what I can [with this information],” says George, who was finally armed with proof that there is no logical, or economic reason for stifling females in capital markets. And now, with the dramatic shift in the post election political climate, George’s platform is even more timely. “The social climate made diverse groups, especially those who were born outside the U.S. feel insecure, and we realized we can help them too, so we’re broadening our efforts,” she says.
“It may sound controversial, but when people think about themselves as about a cultural, political or business asset, it’s a whole different approach,” says George, who will also be focusing on education through events and information dissemination to help push the needle towards equality. "We want to switch the diversity agenda from personal to professional. Diversity is not merely about gender, ethnicity or sexuality. Behind every different person, there is a value to the community, society and corporations. The problem, though, is not only leaders should see and believe in it, every single person should recognize his or her value to people around. Once you accept it and learn to articulate it clearly, other people will notice that too.”
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!