Founded by two tech veterans, ALIAVIA wants to close the funding gap for female founders. It invests in female-led startups, especially those that want to bridge the Australian and American markets. The venture firm announced today the close of its first fund, totaling $13.5 million AUD ($8.7 million USD). Investors include Trawalla Group founder Carol Schwartz, Tattarang (the Forrest Family Office), Robyn and Victoria Denholm of the Wollemi Capital Group, Euphemia and Up Bank founder Dom Pym and Zip Co managing director and group CEO Cynthia Scott.
Since its launch in 2021, ALIAVIA has invested about AUD $8.4 million into nine female-founded startups, including at-home genetic testing startup Eugene, online training platform HowToo, culture AI startup Othelia and art-streaming startup Loupe.
In a statement about her interest in ALIAVIA, anchor investor Schwartz said “Marisa and Kate are pioneers—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 great equality in VC funding.”
Of the $238.3 billion in venture capital allocated in the U.S. last year, just 1.9% went to startups with all-women teams, even though private tech companies led by women have 35% higher ROI, according to the Kauffman foundation.
ALIAVIA founders Marisa Warren and Kate Vale want to change that. The venture firm’s criteria for its portfolio are Australian and American pre-seed and seed-stage startups with at least one female founder building a B2B or B2C tech company. The firms looks at verticals including health tech, fintech, edtech, HR tech, media and entertainment. Its typical check size for its first fund is US$250,000 to $750,000, and it also allows for follow-on funding. Warren said ALIAVIA’s preference is lead deals, “which female founders appreciate as one of the more challenging elements in fundraising is finding that lead investors who can help pull through other investors.”
About five of the startups backed by ALIAVIA’s first fund are Australian-founded companies, and they get advice on when and how to expand into the U.S., including navigating differences between the two markets and getting introductions to potential customers, investors and talent.
For example, the Sydney-based online training platform HowToo launched at the start of the pandemic and experienced strong demand in Australia, as well as the U.S. Now the team has expanded to the U.S. and has more than 20 U.S.-based customers, including HubSpot. Warren, who describes the U.S. market as “complex,” says ALIAVIA worked extensively with HowToo on their GTM approach, target marketing including specific geographies and verticals.
During their careers before ALIAVIA, Warren and Vale said they experienced the gender imbalance in tech. Vale was a former managing director at Google and at Spotify and Australia, where she helped lead both companies from early stage to IPO. Warren has 18 years of experience in enterprise software sales and managing channel businesses for companies like SAP, Microsoft and Workday in Australia and the United States.
Warren told TechCrunch that during her time in corporate, “I became disillusioned with the lack of female mentorship and support. I wanted to create opportunities for women to receive the kind of mentorship and backing that had been so lacking in my own journey.” In 2015, she launched ELEVACAO in New York, a pre-accelerator to support women tech founders; 175 graduates went through the program, raising a total of over $120 million and achieving three exits in the U.S. and Australia.
Then the pandemic hit, and “funding dried up literally overnight for female tech founders,” Warren said. That left a lot of qualified women in ELEVACAO’s pipeline that couldn’t get funding. As a result, ALIAVIA Ventures was started in California to invest in female-founded startups in Australia and the United States.
“My commitment to backing female founders is rooted in my belief that diversity and inclusivity are essential for the tech industry’s growth and innovation,” Warren said. “By providing support and opportunities for women in tech, ALIAVIA aims to help create a more balanced and prosperous tech ecosystem for everyone. After all, if you back a gender diverse team, they deliver on average 35% higher ROT than all-male led teams.”
One of the reasons ALIAVIA focuses on Australian startups is that many initially don’t get interest from U.S. investors. “U.S. investors wants to see if you can make it in the U.S. before investing, and they don’t typically invest in an Australian company without that U.S. traction and physical presence in the U.S.” So for Australian startups that want to break into the U.S., ALIAVIA acts as a bridge by investing in it first, and then helping them launch and accelerate growth in the U.S.
“Once an Australian business successfully expands, there is typically a 30% to 40% valuation uplift given the difference in valuations between the two markets,” Warren said. “That’s an attractive value proposition to both our founders and our LPs.”
For U.S. investors and LPs, ALIAVIA helps them find opportunities by investing in underfunded U.S. and Australian startups that the team believes has the opportunity to become unicorns. Since ALIAVIA is U.S. based, it has a network there that taps into the investment and early experience of early operators across the U.S. and Australia.
“Our team are operators and investors who have scaled tech businesses from US$0 to $500 million through to IPO, with a unique deal flow and extensive global network that supports high-potential female founders to deliver outsized long-term performance.”
Since its launch, ALIAVIA has added to its team venture partners Levi Aron and Alexis Versandi, and head of platform Sheetal Singh Tobin. The team works closely with ALIAVIA’s portfolio companies, giving them strategic advice, tactical execution support, bootcamp training and e-learning. This includes sales and marketing guidance, including account management strategies to build sustainable revenue generation. They also help with the talent acquisition process to make sure hiring fits with stage and growth plans and sourcing top candidates, and supporting market expansion, fundraising and exit strategy plans.
“At the end of the day, the founders are responsible for running their business,” said Warren. “And we are 100% behind them helping them however we can to ensure they succeed.”