While women are still underrepresented in leadership roles in venture capital firms, there are signs of progress. Last December, at the age of just 29, Annalise Dragic was made a Partner at Sapphire Ventures, making her possibly the youngest female VC Partner in Europe.
Sapphire has more than $8.8 billion in assets under management and offices in London, Austin, Palo Alto and San Francisco. In early 2020 Dragic was hired to help build out the firm’s European presence. Based out of London, she invests in Series B through pre-IPO B2B companies, with a focus on fintech and B2B SaaS.
Throughout her career Dragic, she has been a passionate advocate for getting more women into VC and pushing funds to invest in more female and diverse founders. Here she shares the secrets of her success.
Alison Coleman: What were your earliest career ambitions?
Annalise Dragic: “My first ambition was to be a diplomat! From a young age, I was drawn to a career that would allow me to be part of an international community and work toward improving the lives of others. I was born in London and went on to live in four other countries across three continents, which piqued my interest in different cultures and international relations. I studied science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University, and became intrigued by career opportunities in finance because they gave me the ability to combine my analytical and critical thinking skills with learning about technologies that could change lives across the globe.
Coleman: What piqued your interest in the world of VC?
Dragic: I started my career with a role in investment banking, which was a great opportunity to learn a lot, very quickly, especially for someone who hadn’t studied finance. I then joined LinkedIn in a strategy and analytics role, working across their San Francisco, London, and Dublin offices. These early career opportunities fueled my interest in how tech businesses are valued and what conditions create success for scaling. After LinkedIn, I completed an MBA at Stanford University and decided to pursue a career in venture capital.
Coleman: You started investing in the European ecosystem in 2017 with Atomico, how easy was it to transition to venture capital?
Dragic: Venture capital is a hard industry to break into. While I still had much to learn, I found that in many ways, venture investing was similar to the previous work I had done while part of the corporate development team at LinkedIn. For anyone who is naturally curious, it’s the most exciting professional environment to immerse yourself in.
Coleman: What specific challenges have you faced as a woman in finance, and how have you overcome them?
Dragic: As a woman in finance, there are many times when you are the only one in the room. That’s never easy. Things are getting better but I would say working at a firm that supports women, and seeking out professional peers who give you the same support, is essential. Sapphire is a business that takes this seriously. In our London office, for example, we have gender parity across our investment team, and female partners across all three of our investment strategies; Sapphire Ventures, Sapphire Partners and Sapphire Sport. Our COO, CFO and CMO are also women.
Coleman: How important is it to have good mentors and role models in this industry?
Dragic: Mentorship has made a major difference in my career. If you’re looking to break into the world of VC or startups, find a mentor who can support you and enable you to be your authentic self. I’m now actively seeking to mentor other women who are starting their careers.
Coleman: As a VC, are you seeing positive signs for women in the startup and tech sectors?
Dragic: I am seeing progress when it comes to making diversity, and particularly gender diversity, but, right now, only 12% of Partners at European VCs are women and that’s far from good enough. We’re moving in the right direction, but the ecosystem still has a lot of work to do.
Coleman: What do you enjoy most about your role at Sapphire?
Dragic: When I joined Sapphire back in 2020 to help launch our London office, there were just two of us in Europe. Establishing a new office for such a prestigious firm has been a great experience. I am incredibly proud that in only a short period we have grown the office to an eight-person team and made a record number of investments last year.
I also enjoy partnering with mission-driven entrepreneurs who are motivated by improving the world around them. It’s inspiring to surround yourself with that energy every day, and it’s wonderful to be part of a team that’s committed to backing the innovation that’s currently coming out of Europe.
Coleman: What are your top three tips for founders seeking funding?
Dragic: My top tip is to take the time to plan for a fundraise. It is important to seek out investors that will be a good match for your company’s operational and financial needs.
It is also vital to craft a pitch and prepare metrics appropriate to your company’s stage of growth. Founders should understand how prospective investors have helped accelerate other businesses. This may be help on hiring at scale, support with an international expansion, or insights on how to diversify your board. Look for investors who have the experience and networks that will help you realize your vision. Finally, be confident and stay determined; you’ll get there!