“Good investors understand that diverse teams win” : Interview with Annalise Dragic, Partner at Sapphire Ventures

At just 29, Annalise Dragic was promoted to Partner at Sapphire Venture – making her one of Europe’s youngest VC partners. It’s no secret that the VC world is male-dominated, making Annalise’s achievement all the more impressive.

Annalise joined Sapphire as a Principal in 2020, having previously worked at Atomico. Since joining the team, she has been involved in Sapphire’s investments in Adverity, Contentful, Currencycloud, GitGuardian, Matillion, Unmind, and Yapily, and worked on the firm’s investments in Cazoo.

Sapphire Ventures focuses on teams across the world building companies of consequence. Over the past year, the firm has increased its attention to the booming European startup scene. We caught up with Annalise to learn more about her journey in the VC world as a young woman, what’s next for the European startup ecosystem, and to get her top tips.

Annalise, at the end of 2021 you were promoted to Partner at Sapphire Ventures at just 29, making you one of Europe’s youngest female VC partners. Can you tell us about your journey to get to this point? Did you always see yourself working in finance/VC?

Growing up, I actually wanted to be a diplomat! I was very fortunate to be born in London and then go on to live in four other countries across three continents. Being part of a family that speaks 11 languages, I have always been very curious about different cultures, customs and economies. 

Following this passion, I studied science, technology and international affairs at university as a way to bridge these many areas of interest, and it was during that time that I was exposed to the world of finance and venture capital. It was very compelling as a career option because I could combine my analytical and critical thinking skills with learning about world-changing technologies. 

Before entering the venture capital industry, I spent time in investment banking and at LinkedIn, followed by an MBA, which provided me with helpful perspectives for investing and supporting the scaling of portfolio companies. I started investing in the European ecosystem in 2017 with Atomico before joining Sapphire two years ago. 

I am very proud to now be a Partner at Sapphire, having helped establish our London office, and to be part of a team that is so committed to backing innovative startups coming out of Europe.

What obstacles have you had to overcome as a woman in finance?

As a woman in finance, there are many times in your career when you are the only person who looks like you in the room. I am very thankful that is not the case in the Sapphire London office, where we have gender parity across our investment team. 

Additionally, at Sapphire we have female partners across all three of our investment strategies (Sapphire Ventures, Sapphire Partners and Sapphire Sport), and also have women in senior operational roles at the firm, such as our COO, CFO, CMO and others. We have prioritized building an inclusive team, but this has not always been the case in my career. I have had to seek out strong mentors and sponsors to help guide me on my career journey. 

When looking at the position of women in the European startup scene, what do you think the core challenges are? And what are the positive signs for women’s position in the startup and tech environment?

Over the past five years, I’ve seen a marked increase in European venture firms making diversity, and particularly gender diversity, a priority. Sadly, today only 12% of Partners at European VCs are women, so the ecosystem still has much work to do. 

I’ve been very fortunate to be supported by a strong network of peer mentors, and to work at a firm that champions women. I believe that we will continue to see a rise in the number of women working in VC, and more women making Partner over the coming years. 

At the same time, there is a real commitment across all ecosystems to back more female-founded companies, and add gender diversity at the board level. In particular, I’m very proud that Sapphire is a founding sponsor of Black Women on Boards. Good investors understand that diverse teams win, and it’s great to see so many take action both within their own teams and in terms of their portfolios. 

How can ‘we’ (collectively as a society) encourage and empower more women in tech and more female founders?

Venture capital is a hard industry to break into no matter your gender. I was very fortunate to get my break from a female partner and to be hired as an MBA summer intern. I received great mentorship, and I’m excited to continue to pay it forward. 

My biggest advice to those starting out in venture capital or in the startup world is to find a mentor who is willing to support you and encourage you to be your authentic self. My mentors and sponsors–both within Sapphire and in the broader European tech community–have had a huge impact on my career.

Sapphire Ventures announced nearly $2 billion in new capital commitments for investments in late-stage tech companies after a big year for European tech, how can we keep the momentum up for 2022 and beyond? How do you see the European startup ecosystem compared to the US?

There has never been a more exciting time to be a venture capital investor in Europe. I’m looking forward to deepening Sapphire’s presence across the continent, building out our team and partnering with more ambitious mission-driven founders. 

Of course, one of the key differences between the U.S. and European startup ecosystem is the rich geographic distribution that Europe has. I see this as a huge plus for the ecosystem. We’ve seen time and time again that an entrepreneur can build a world-class business from anywhere in Europe – 65 European cities now have at least one unicorn. In 2022 and beyond, we are going to see more unicorns and more consequential companies coming out of Europe.

Do you have any top tips for startup founders to get funding?

My top tip is to take the time to plan for the fundraising process. It is critical to craft a pitch and metrics appropriate to your stage. It is also very important to seek out investors that match a company’s operational and financial needs, especially as round labels get more blurred. Founders should understand how prospective investors have helped accelerate other businesses, so they can seek out the right ones for their specific growth stage. And finally, be confident and stay determined–you’ll get there.

Is there any advice that you would give to your 20-year-old self?

Stay curious and cultivate a growth mindset. Always be open to new challenges and welcome these as opportunities to learn and grow!