F3 Ventures wants to welcome more women into the Web3 revolution
Following its first-ever “F3STIVAL” in Vancouver, the firm is now looking to invest in women-led Web3 startups
It's no secret that the internet—and the tech companies innovating it—have a boys’ club problem. The decades-long disparity in pay, access, and power throughout the tech sector has created conditions that too often leave women founders underrepresented, underfunded, and unacknowledged.
But there’s a new iteration of the internet on its way: Web3, which aims to create a new ownership economy through technological decentralization. Proponents of the industry are out to smash tradition and shuffle more power from tech giants to ordinary people. As Web3 gains ground, a new Vancouver-based venture firm wants to ensure women claim their space in the next age of the World Wide Web.
Headed up by Vancouver entrepreneurs Annee Park and Valerie Song, F3 Ventures recently held its first in-person “F3STIVAL.” The two-day, sold-out event featured a lineup of over 60 speakers and a $25,000 pitch competition, all in the spirit of welcoming 1,000 women into Web3.
Following the recent success of F3STIVAL, F3 Ventures now has its eye on expansion as it prepares to invest in women-led Web3 startups. Song and F3 Ventures’ founding member Keisha Mitchell sat down with Vancouver Tech Journal to talk about how they plan to level the playing field for underrepresented Web3 founders and what’s next for the women-led firm.
The initial idea for F3 Ventures emerged last year when Song and Park identified common challenges while fundraising for their respective companies. Their difficulties speak to a more pervasive funding gap for women-led firms. In 2020, only 2.3 percent of global venture capital funding went to women-led startups, a figure Song noted has declined since 2019.
While they are both well-entrenched in the world of entrepreneurship, Song and Park are relative newcomers to the metaverse. Song is co-founder and CEO of Vancouver-based smart garden startup AVA Technologies, and Park is co-founder and CEO of SoftServe, a soft skills learning and assessment platform.
Song noted the challenges for women founders often present at all stages of the funding cycle, from making the first contact with investors to successfully selling their business through their pitch, and closing the final deal.
“It's been really difficult for any woman to get funding out there, so we really set out to change that,” Song added. “We thought Web3 and all the promises it brings to accessibility and transparency could be such a great avenue to do so.”
Over the following few months, the duo decided to brainstorm mechanisms to engage more women in the rapidly evolving sector, and in April 2022, began planning what would later become F3STIVAL.
Notable about F3STIVAL is the speed with which it all came together. In three short months, which Song described as a “whirlwind,” F3 Ventures managed to build out an organizing team and secure New York-based blockchain behemoth Consensys as its official sponsor.
“It was exponential growth,” Mitchell added. “One week we were seven people, and the next we were literally 21 people, and it just kept growing and growing until we had a completely sold-out event.”
The launch of F3 Ventures comes at an opportune time in the evolution of Web3. Though still in its nascency, the sector is already garnering a “brogrammer” reputation that has long-plagued the Web2 era. According to a recent report from crypto marketplace Gemini, women make up just one-quarter of Web3 investors, and according to TechCrunch, the lack of women benefiting from the financial upside of Web3 disproportionately affects women of colour.
While the tone of F3STIVAL was undoubtedly positive, it also came against a less than rosy backdrop of volatility in some facets of the Web3 movement. Digital assets have lost close to a third of their collective value (roughly USD $2 trillion) since November 2021, while sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have recently plummeted to yearly lows, threatening to derail the much-hyped Web3 revolution.
Mitchell and Song weren’t shy about the current headwinds in the crypto sphere, but Mitchell noted Web3’s potential expands far beyond NFTs and digital currencies, adding that a core goal behind F3STIVAL is to let women play an active role in shaping the future of the sector.
“Web3 is not purely about crypto, and it's completely understandable that because of the marketing behind it, and because of the massive amounts of money made in this first iteration of it, that's where everybody's focus has been,” Mitchell said. “But that is not the entirety or the point of blockchain technology; it's just a byproduct of something that can be done with it.”
F3STIVAL attendees got a peek at what else could be in store for Web3 when the event culminated in a pitch competition that saw 10 women-led startups vie for a $25,000 grant. The prize was ultimately won by Vancouver-based Metalistings, a marketplace that aims to help users explore, value, and trade metaverse assets, including real estate.
The pitch competition serves a dual purpose for F3 Ventures—not only does it allow the firm to connect a community of women founders under one roof, it also allows F3 Ventures to perform early due diligence on potential portfolio companies. While F3 Ventures has ambitions to operate as a for-profit venture firm, the team is still determining a suitable mechanism for investing in companies.
The last five years have seen the emergence of several innovative alternatives to the traditional venture capital route for tech startups. FrontFundr, for example, has developed an equity crowdfunding platform that allows members of the public to own stakes in Canadian startups. Clearco, one of Canada’s largest tech unicorns, offers businesses non-dilutive revenue-share agreements as a form of growth financing.
“Venture capital as a structure, and even SAFE notes, have only come in the last 25 years, and they were created by men,” Song said. “A big piece of what we're exploring is if a new financial vehicle could exist in the Web3 world and what it would look like to benefit a more matriarchal society.”
To that end, F3 Ventures is hoping to take a more equitable approach to investment that results in an equal benefit to both founder and funder. “We'll see, especially as we develop as a company, so many unorthodox approaches to this that are intermingled with more traditional approaches,” Mitchell added.
With its flagship event now in the rearview mirror, F3 Ventures is focused on expansion. The firm is already planning to host additional satellite events in the United States, but intends to keep F3STIVAL in Vancouver next year. If attendee reactions are anything to go by, F3 Ventures’ goal of galvanizing a community of like-minded women appears to be resonating in the Vancouver tech community.
“It was more than an event; it's the beginning of a movement,” said Diane Guo, co-founder and product lead at Metalistings. “F3STIVAL gave women from all walks of life a chance to take their ideas to the next level.”
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