Founded in 2018 by businesswomen Mônica Saggioro and Lara Lemann, the venture capital fund MAYA Capital focuses on early-stage startups in Latin America from a wide range of sectors that are solving real problems in the region. But although Saggioro and Lemann are supporting entrepreneurs in making out of the box solutions, they sometimes found themselves put in that same box.
“Even in venture capital, there is still some bias. As female founders, many people think that we are an impact fund, that we only invest in women. We hear these things all the time,” says Saggioro in an interview with LABS.
As a woman leading a venture capital fund, Saggioro witnessed and faced herself her own share of sexism around the industry. “Lara and I met talking about female empowerment. Over my career it bothered me how I was always the only woman at work, I saw sexist comments, women that didn’t get promoted because they were “way too beautiful”. I got to a point where I realized: I know a lot of very good women, why aren’t they going up? There is 50/50 at the bottom, but why is it not like that at the top?”
When she founded MAYA along with Lemann, even though the main goal was to target Latin America in general, Saggioro says that the concern over the issue was always there.
“When we decided to found MAYA, we thought: we can’t let that go. We are two female founders in VC, an ultra male-dominated market, we have to find a way to act and help develop the ecosystem.” From this commitment, the Female Force Latam was born, in March 2019, as a mentoring program focused on supporting female founders at the beginning of their startups, solve business doubts and connect women in the sector with each other. At first, a personal project by Saggioro and Lemann, the program gained at the end of last year other volunteers from the startup ecosystem and it is currently going through a redesign that, according to Saggioro, will soon have news.
Joining efforts to address both the gender bias in the ecosystem and the one MAYA Capital is sometimes a target, Saggioro and Lemann have been doing well. With $41 million in capital since the last fundraising of $15 million announced in October last year, the LatAm-focused early-stage fund has 25 startups in its portfolio, 7 of them spread across Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.
“We are a fund that focuses on being the first institutional check for companies in Latin America, that is sector-agnostic and has a thesis of getting closer to companies, helping them to grow. We dedicate half of our fund to the following [investment] rounds.”
When they founded MAYA Capital, Lemann, who had been working as an angel investor in Brazil, and Saggioro, with an operations background in companies such as Whirlpool, Burger King‘s parent company Restaurant Brands International and Goldman Sachs aimed at solving the investment gap in the region. “It started to become very clear to us that there is a large investment gap, and much of that is on the seed stage. We missed funds that were more hands-on for companies and we were born with this focus: hands-on, and Latin America.”
To say closer to startups, MAYA has been setting up an area that it calls a platform to support portfolio companies and increase the connection between players in the ecosystem. “It involves everything from supporting companies in the portfolio on the day-to-day, whether helping with the fundraising strategy, connecting with MAYA advisors to discuss more industry-oriented things; to create a MAYA community, with our investors, with other people in the market. We see a need to share a lot of knowledge in the market, we are developing some programs to help develop the ecosystem as a whole.”
One of these programs is the MAYA Match Program, to connect entrepreneurs in search of a founding team. With one month length and weekly sessions split by phases – networking, thesis discussion and behavioral sessions – the program is open for startups to apply until February 19th and it begins in March, all online. Leading the initiative, Bárbara Lopes joined the team in November 2020 along with Lemann and Saggioro to lead the efforts of the fund’s new platform area.
Measuring every quarter the performance indicators of their portfolio, Saggioro says that since last year, they have also started to monitor diversity. “On a quarterly basis they [founders] answer where they are in terms of gender, ethnic and sexual orientation diversity, from the team to the leadership. It is important to have both views, it doesn’t matter having a diverse team if your leadership is not” she points out.
“When we began in 2018, companies did not measure [diversity], this has been changing, I see much greater effort by teams to bring people from different backgrounds.”
With startups such as the HRTech Gupy, Chilean plant-based foodtech NotCo, Brazilian proptech EmCasa, SafeSpace, a SaaS app focused on workplace misconduct, apart from the sales live-streaming platform Alive and retailtech Unbox, Saggioro says that MAYA foresees for 2021 more good deals from diverse sectors in Latin America as a whole. “We want to diversify the region.” Well capitalized, the US$41 million VC fund expects to grow its portfolio from the current 25 to up to 35 startups. Currently, MAYA has 40% of its invested startups with at least one female co-founder.
“We make an effort to show that MAYA is a fund just like every other one. We are not an impact fund. We don’t invest only in women. Of course, we have this commitment and do it on the side, but in the end, we are a fund that wants to return way above the market average for our investors.”