Shelly Kapoor Collins: Creating Access To Capital, Networks And Markets For Women

Shelly Kapoor Collins is a partner at Sway Ventures and the founding partner at the Shatter Fund. She’s also held a variety of positions in the public sector, including a position on the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) in the second Obama administration.

We spoke recently about the impetus behind Shatter, her decision to join Sway and the impact that public service has had on her life.

Karen Walker: How did the Shatter Fund and Shatter Summit come to be?  Why did you chose that as a focus for your energy?

Shelly Kapoor Collins: It’s really a combination of everything I’ve done throughout my 20 plus years in tech. I started off as a programmer. I worked in corporate tech and spent 10 years at Oracle, then worked in political tech as an advisor to various campaigns and elections, and then went into the second Obama administration. I was appointed to the NWBC and really dug into the prohibitive factors to women starting businesses – the lack of access to capital, networks and markets.

Along way, I’d been angel investing and I’d been mentoring women. It just made sense to me that the best thing to do was formalize it. The Shatter Fund began, in 2017, to provide women entrepreneurs with more than just talk – to give them actual cash investment.

Walker: Is there a story of success you’d like to share?

Kapoor Collins: My first investment was Hello Alice. Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz are the two co-founders. I wrote a small seed check into their company when they were just starting out and then I stayed with them. They’re a platform for small to medium businesses, and enterprise B2B. And I’ve now invested in their B round and am very excited to see them flourish.

Walker: Why is it important to highlight women –  in particular women in tech – and give them extra support?

Kapoor Collins: We need to have more women and girls in STEM careers and in tech careers. Diversity in tech definitely links to greater returns and innovation in the tech community. So that’s one part of it.

When women are involved as investment and capital allocation decision makers, a female entrepreneur is two-and-a-half times more likely to get the capital that she needs.

On top of that, companies founded and led by women generate 66% greater returns compared to their all male led counterpart teams. And again, that’s because there’s a direct correlation between diversity and innovation. When you have different points of view formulating consumer solutions, that solution then is used by more consumers. You cast a wider net and that leads to greater returns. It is pretty straightforward to understand why diversity leads to greater returns for investors. By not investing in female entrepreneurs, investors are leaving returns to the tune of $4 trillion on the table.

Those are some pretty compelling numbers in terms of why we need to invest in women.

Walker: Sway must have been thrilled to have you come on board. Could you talk about your decision to join Sway? What do you hope to accomplish?

Kapoor Collins: I feel lucky every single day to be working at Sway. As in all things, it comes down to relationships. I have known the COO of Sway, Greg White, for several years. He and I have co-invested. We have overlapping philanthropic interests.

Along the way, I saw firsthand his commitment to investing in female entrepreneurs. He would just send me deals and say, “Shelley, I just invested in this awesome woman. Are you interested at the Shatter Fund?” And I would say, “Yes.”

Early in 2021, I had just finished deploying Shatter Fund One and I was ready to start raising funds for fund Two. That’s when Greg said, “We are looking to augment what we are already doing very authentically here. I’m investing in diverse founders, ESG is a core part of what’s incorporated into our decision making process, and we would like for you to come shatter with us.”

That was pretty compelling to me. They have considerable funds under management and they were able to give me a platform to scale the work that I was already doing. It was a very natural, clear path for me to pursue in my journey of scaling Shatter.

Walker: I know you are focused on investing in high performance teams. That’s the core of my consulting work, so I’m curious – how do you ensure that they continue to grow and act as a high performance team as they scale?

Kapoor Collins: The direct answer to that is – it’s all about value.

There’s a lot of capital out there right now. What we bring at Sway is that we literally roll up our sleeves and dig in side-by-side with the entrepreneurs and with the founders. We are able to get distribution partners for them, to get access to different pockets of money that they may not otherwise have access to.

At the time of the seed check, you’re right – you don’t always know what or who is going to be successful. But we are able to follow our companies from early stage, which is what I lead, to mid stage A and B rounds through our flagship funds, and then C rounds and onward through our growth funds. By the early stage, we know who our winners are. We track the progress of those high performing  teams.

Walker: Let’s turn to the public service thread in your career.

Kapoor Collins: I’ll start off by saying that I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t been in public service or hasn’t had a chance to give back. Giving back is key to being able to pay it forward, to being able to do the kind of work that I do. I feel very lucky to have a public service component that really complements what I do in the private sector.

I was in the government education and healthcare vertical at Oracle. My clients were the New York State education department, Johns Hopkin and the federal GSA. So early in my career, I was able to understand the intersection of technology and policy and how it fits with the innovation economy.

When we lived in San Francisco, I was very lucky to become involved with Kamala Harris’s campaign for attorney general. I volunteered, I became a tech advisor and then I was asked to join her transition team.  I was able to go into the California DOJ and help put a digitization strategy in place, alongside some other great people like Mitch Kapor of Kapor Capital.  

From there, I realized that I’m not interested in elected office, but I’m interested in public service, in giving back and supporting those elected officials who I think will bring the most value for us, for our country and for my kids.

Walker: The tagline for my business is up and to the right, because that’s the place we want to be on a two by two matrix, that upper right-hand corner. Was there a moment in your career when you knew that you were in that direction?

Kapoor Collins: I would say I’m still moving! Every step along the journey has been one that I’m grateful for and I keep striving for what’s next. When I came to Sway, I recognized that this is a great opportunity. I’m raising this amazing fund, and I’m investing in female entrepreneurs with this great team that’s supporting me.

So now I need to get to the next step. It’s always a work in progress, I guess. I haven’t quite arrived yet.

Walker: Yes, we just want to be directionally correct – that’s how I think about it.

Kapoor Collins: That’s a great way to put it.  In March, I launched the Shatter Foundation. It’s a non-profit that gives opportunities to high school girls in underserved communities. We’re broadening their awareness of what’s possible and providing entrepreneurship education. We’ve also formed a partnership with the University of Maryland College Park – giving grants and tutoring to young women who are budding college students that want to get into the innovation economy.

My path to venture was not linear. But it has literally given me my life’s work in a very formal way for which I couldn’t be more grateful.

Article originally published in Forbes.

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