IN THE SPOTLIGHT – Linnea Roberts

Since forming GingerBread Capital in 2016, former Goldman Sachs’ tech banker Linnea Roberts has backed 27 women-led companies, invested in the funds of three female-led venture firms and been on a mission to get other women comfortable with writing checks to women-led startups.

She is developing a self-described “ecosystem” that brings together investors, venture firms and women entrepreneurs.

In creating GingerBread Capital, Linnea is building off of what she learned from her entrepreneurial mother — Ginger Conrad — after whom the firm is named; her 17 years in the upper echelons of investment banking; and … tequila, or, more precisely, what occurred when she attempted to help the co-founder and CEO of tequila maker Casa Dragones’, Bertha González Nieves, raise capital from other women.

“Women need to pass the ‘pocketbook’ more often, and with greater conviction,” she tells Women’s PE Briefs.

Linnea’s entrepreneurial drive and commitment to women starts with her mother, Ginger, who raised four children as a single mom and later founded and published MBE, a national magazine that promotes business ownership and entrepreneurial development for minorities and women as a means to building wealth, jobs and stronger communities. Ginger retired from the business after 27 years, but the magazine continues. Linnea says that, in looking back at her mother’s advocacy for women and minorities, she realizes that “the conversation has not changed after 25 years.”

Linnea began her career with Lehman Brothers in 1990. After just six months, she was put into the bank’s tech group, largely, she suggests, because she earned a minor in computer science. Working with such companies as IBM, Digital Equipment Corp., and Microsoft, Linnea says, “I started in tech before tech was tech.”

Recruited to Goldman Sachs in 2004, Linnea co-led the bank’s tech banking group, a role that allowed her to work on an array of deals, including mergers and acquisitions, and IPOs. “I loved working across sectors,” she says. However, in 2011, Linnea went to David Solomon — who was recently named Goldman Sachs’ new CEO — and asked for a new job, one that would enable her to deal with the complexities of having family on both coasts, and to help women professionals in the firm’s investment division. Named a diversity ambassador for the investment banking division, Linnea says she “learned a ton,” while working with some 230 women.

Two years ago, Linnea retired from Goldman, but, as she readily admits, retirement was not for her. “I flunked retirement,” she said. “I tried to exercise more and golf more, but I really missed business problems.”

She made an initial investment in Sightglass Coffee, a male-founded company, but soon decided that additional investments would be focused on her true interest: “helping and supporting women.”

To get a handle on this segment, Linnea began talking to women founders — one of whom was Bertha. Linnea’s husband, KKR founder George Roberts, had already invested in Casa Dragones, when Linnea met its co-founder at a dinner and tequila-tasting event. Linnea was sold on Casa Dragones, and both she and Bertha thought it would be great to have other women back the company. Linnea reached out to half a dozen women with the opportunity and found that they were “very nervous” about making an investment. Ultimately, she says, all six ended up investing, but they needed a month or two to do due diligence and look at the company’s financials. In contrast, her husband — a speaker at the Women’s Private Equity Summit — contacted some friends about Casa Dragones and had commitments immediately. “It dawned on me that guys have been passing the hat, but women are reluctant to do that,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to ask a woman to write a philanthropic check. They struggled making an investment.”

With her “eyes wide open,” Linnea saw an opportunity to not only back women founders, but to “open doors” to other women in the asset class.

One of the first entrepreneurs that Linnea reached out to with this idea was Robyn Sue Fisher, who started the ice cream chain Smitten. Linnea said she told Robyn that she would like to invest, and would like to bring in other women, who would double the size of her investment. Beyond capital, the effort has paid off as the other women investors have become “very focused” on helping Robyn succeed.

Linnea said she has gotten other women to invest, alongside her, in a “handful” of companies, where the founders were open to it, and “interested in having more women on their cap table.” Arum Kang, co-founder and CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel, Inc., for instance, told Linnea that she wanted women to invest in the dating site, especially since she had founded it with her sisters, Dawoon and Soo. So Linnea was able to get other women on board as investors, and, again, double the size of the investment. “No check is too small in supporting a woman founder,” Linnea says.

GingerBread does not have a fund, nor does Linnea have plans to raise one. The firm invests funds from her family’s office. It looks, ideally, to go into the Series A round of companies, but will go into seed rounds and will invest on a pro rata basis in subsequent rounds. The firm’s average investment is $500,000 and it does not need to own a certain percentage of the startup, she said. She comes to know of the companies through her network and through the venture firms that she has backed. In addition to Casa Dragones, Smitten and Coffee Meets Bagel, the firm’s investments include: theSkimm, a provider of news, events and information to millennials that was founded by Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin; Zola, the wedding registry website whose co-founder and CEO is Shan-Lyn Ma; Node, an AI-powered discovery engine whose founder and CEO is Falon Fatemi; and Court Buddy, a legal tech platform co-founded by Kristina Jones.

To date, the firm has not had any exits, but, according to Linnea, is not in a rush for any. “We are pretty patient,” she said. “We are building a portfolio of diverse sets of founders and industries.” She also said that the firm is not looking for a specific return. “It gives us a lot of lot of flexibility.”

In addition to backing women-led companies, Linnea has also backed the funds of Aspect Ventures, which was founded by Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw; Female Founders Fund, which is managed by Anu Duggal and Sutian Dong; and Human Ventures, whose CEO and founder is Heather Hartnett.

Deciding that she wanted to run the firm in a more organized and structured way, Linnea recently brought aboard Ita Ekpoudom as a partner. Linnea had come to know Ita through her work with Plum Alley Investments, another women-focused venture firm, where Ita was a venture partner. Ita says she was attracted to Linnea and GingerBread by Linnea’s knowledge and “openness to female founders and women in general.” She is also the founder and CEO of Tigress Ventures, a consulting firm focused on building women-led businesses. The GingerBread Capital team also includes: senior associate Tadia James, who is currently working toward an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; communications director Jeanie M. Barnett; and executive-in-residence Cary Conrad, who is Linnea’s brother.

Women, says Linnea, have the wealth and money to invest. The key, she says, is getting “the right voices in the room.”


This “In the Spotlight” article was featured in Womens PE Briefs on August 24, 2018. To stay current on news concerning women in private equity and read more articles like this, subscribe here.

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