Jacki Zehner has made it her career to close the investment gap for women-owned businesses. The first woman trader and youngest female to become a partner at Goldman Sachs, Zehner left the investment firm in 2002 to focus on new projects, including the Circle Financial Group and the Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, two entities focused on social impact investing. She’s also an Alice investor.
We spoke to Zehner about the state of Utah entrepreneurship, gender-lens investing, and Wonder Woman ahead of the Sorenson Institute’s 2020 Winter Innovation Summit this week in Salt Lake City. We hope to see you there!
What draws you to the summit, and what are you most excited about?
There is a lot of talk, as there should be, about responsible investing. Philanthropic capital will never be enough to help solve the world’s problems. Investment capital has to be more fully activated, and thus I am attending the conference to get ideas, meet people, and become a greater champion for impact investing.
What advice do you have for mission-driven businesses seeking funds at the Summit?
Be ready to tell your story. You need to show up super ready to share why your product/service, why now, why you, and the outcomes you hope to achieve.
[GUIDE: Learn more about how to pitch to investors on helloalice.com]
You live with your family in Park City. What can you tell us about the status of entrepreneurship in Utah?
Utah is generally speaking very supportive of entrepreneurship in terms of the ecosystem. We have a strong local economy with a growing population and the investors are here.
What are some of the most important criteria you use when investing today?
For me, at this point of my life, I am all about impact – multiple levels of impact. My impact lens includes having a diverse and centered leadership team, having a product or service that needs to be in the world, a look to who will benefit or use the product or service, and of course the company’s ability to bring in revenue to drive and scale the business.
Part of investing in a business is investing in the people who run them. Tell us something you’ve learned from building these relationships over two decades.
It truly is all about the people, which includes not only the founders, but the people they hire. What I’ve learned is that I need to spend time really getting to know the founder(s) in particular and to trust my gut in terms of whether I have confidence in their ability to execute. It truly is a special type of person that can take something from idea to a successful business and it is incredibly hard. Incredibly hard. As an investor, my job is to be their champion and to stand behind them in both good times and when things are not so good as well.
Investment in women-owned businesses remains stubbornly low after years of targeted effort from you and other philanthropists. What are some of the biggest barriers to achieving gender-egalitarian investment?
Oh gosh, I may have to write a book on this one. Sadly we still live in a world where men are trusted more than women in terms of starting a business, particularly businesses in certain industries. As long as men — and particularly white, older men — are the ones that allocate capital we will not have anything close to parity. You can call it unconscious bias, or outright sexism, but it is there, and it is real. Just look at the numbers. One of the main things we can do is to support and encourage women to become investors, both at an individual level and as a professional. There are many more funds focusing on women and people of color, which is also great. Further, we have to hold the industry accountable for inclusive practices both in terms of staffing, and investing.
You’ve invested in Alice, which shares your values in its mission to empower New Majority business owners. Do you see investing through a gender lens as a way to broaden opportunities for all groups underrepresented in the business community?
We know you are a huge fan of Wonder Woman. What’s that all about?
Another book needed. I have been collecting Wonder Women paraphernalia for over 20 years. I grew up at a time when she had a television show, and I really believe it helped me to set high goals for myself. Over time she came to represent a big idea, that women could have power and use it for the greater good. Before the recent movie came out in 2017, it was actually quite hard to find Wonder Woman collectibles; now they are everywhere. I am very excited about the new film coming out this year.