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How Investor Swarnali Mitra is Helping Entrepreneurial Women Build Venture-Backable Businesses

The Crunchbase “Investor Spotlight Series” is comprised of stories, Q&As and thought-leadership pieces from investors making a difference in the venture capital ecosystem.


Swarnali Mitra, an early-stage investor at Anthemis, aims to cultivate change in the financial system by investing in female-founded fintech companies in the pre-seed and seed stages.

As an individual who has lived in different parts of the world, Mitra has seen firsthand how much impact financial systems play on various areas of society. These life experiences influenced her personal mission of helping build a financially inclusive world, which eventually led to joining Anthemis, a global financial platform Mitra found closely aligned with her own values. Now through her role as an investor, she is able to support, invest and cultivate female entrepreneurs across the financial services ecosystem through the Female Innovators Lab

In this Q&A, we asked Mitra the story behind joining Anthemis, what she looks for when considering a company for investment, and the advice she’d give to founders pitching to investors. 


Q: What made you join Anthemis? 

My background is a hotchpotch of product and engineering, payments, mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and public policy. I care deeply about economic mobility, inclusion and social justice. Through my journeys across the world, I have been able to closely observe the financial system’s impact on all of these areas. So when I came across Anthemis, it wasn’t hard to uncover that the work I would do would align very closely with my value systems. 

Anthemis is dedicated to cultivating change in the financial system by investing in, growing and sustaining businesses committed to resiliency, transparency, access and equity. We do so by investing in digitally native financial services companies that leverage technology to impact the financial system or embed finance into their infrastructure and business model. At Anthemis, I am currently focused on the U.K. and European efforts of the Female Innovators Lab by Barclays & Anthemis. 

 

Q: In what ways does your fund do things differently than other funds? 

The Female Innovators Lab is a pre-seed and seed-stage fund and venture studio dedicated to investing in female and nonbinary founders. Our investment dollars in portfolio companies are accompanied by customized support in business and product design on the zero to one journey, so that these companies can evolve scalably and attract investment capital throughout their growth stages. 

Our portfolio companies tackle problems from payments and social commerce to insurance and risk management. Our founders are alumni of Uber, JP Morgan and Reddit, and are spread across the globe. 

 

Q: What do you look for when considering a company or idea for investment?

Early-stage investing looks at the alignment between whether a startup is building a product or a service that people are willing to pay for and whether the founder and team are the best positioned to tackle that space. Taking this notion slightly further, especially for crowded spaces, I look to assess the startup’s potential for long-term sustainability as well as the defensibility of its technology, product, or service.

While it is tough to pin down a concise list of qualities I admire in founders, the common denominators that I’m always on the lookout for include tenacity, adaptability, contrarianism and a non-zero sum mindset. Founders need the ability to stay on course throughout the schlep and existential crises that startups can be. They also must swerve to meet the curveballs that startup journeys will throw at founders. Especially where the current infrastructure is stacked up against the founding team; believing that there is a way to turn things around is essential. 

 

Q: What types of companies are most exciting to you?

Mass financialization has allowed several industries to complement financial services with their core offerings. It has also unlocked new revenue and disruption opportunities. Decentralized finance gaining steam has also made the unraveling of banking, investing and lending as we know it possible on newer rails. 

I’m interested in the hard problems of fintech: 

  • Making money work for everyone: How do we get the evolving infrastructure of Web3 to adapt to inherent ways people interact with money? Instead of fighting the inertia that prevents people from long-term wealth building, how do we wrap around existing behaviors to introduce new products? How do we tackle the wealth gaps as we build these products? 
  • Identity: How do we use the internet’s money layer to credentialize the traditional parameters of achievements that dictate access to finance and perpetuate inequality? How do we credentialize offline and online interactions, unlock the value attached to them, and take it with us across borders? 
  • Workforce equity: Gender norms often transfer the burden of caregiving to women and make careers and caregiving a zero-sum game. How do we start to reimagine care, unpaid labor and fair, flexible careers? How do we offer products that offset the risk of stepping away from paid labor?
  • The modern business stack: More and more solopreneurs are stepping away from the traditional setups around businesses. How do we make sure the modern business stack addresses the full spectrum of needs of solopreneurs, for both gig workers and technopreneurs?
  • Upskilling: Access gaps in capital and infrastructure have been exacerbated through COVID-19, and we’re starting to see this divide become more prominent as the world looks to adopt digital ways to work and earn. How do we ease some of these inequities and build in ways to learn and earn?
  • Climate fintech: Streamlining and financing the next generation of decarbonization projects is a big undertaking. How do we rethink the supply chains that are bogged down with inefficiencies and help them scale?
 

Q: How have you changed as a professional since working as an investor?

In venture, we’re invariably powering “tomorrow,” and that feels incredibly humbling and exciting. I’m constantly a sponge on the job, whether it’s while deep-diving into new technology, thinking about portfolio construction, or solving for the systemic dysfunctions in our industry. It’s also been a great place to actively build my empathy for what it’s like on the zero to one journey, in working with and learning from founders, as well as helping a fund expand to the U.K. and Europe. 

 

Q: What can be done to allocate more funding to female founders and to increase the number of female investors?

Anthemis Group is a global platform with $1.4 billion in assets under management and has deployed capital into more than 170 companies and funds, including eToro, Betterment, Carta and Seedcamp. Anthemis’ platform was built on a belief that the transformation of the financial sector would come from a diverse group of inside and outside industry players. Simply by bringing together a diverse team, we have been able to deploy 45% of our capital into the hands of women or people of color.

When it comes to diversity in financial systems and ultimate funding for female founders, I believe that change will need representation at all levels—founders, investors, board members, senior leaders and those in the workforce. Today, there are too few women in the fintech workforce (37% in the U.S., less than 30% in the U.K.) and even fewer senior leaders (only 21% of applicants for senior roles in 2019 to 2020 were women). To me, it’s no surprise that usage of fintech products and funding for female fintech founders (less than 1.5% of total investments) suffers globally. 

 

Q: What advice would you give to a company or founder wanting to pitch you?

Research us, our backgrounds and why we could help scale your company. Email me and submit your pitch. Tell me why what you’re building is personal to you. Sometimes I may not know your space as well as you do. Break it down and convince me it’s worth betting on. Tell me how you think you’ll get there, even if the path involves discovery. Throw in a demo, a minimum viable product, or even mock-ups. 



Swarnali Mitra is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to itsmonthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.

  • Originally published June 9, 2022