Lindsay Karas Stencel on being a woman venture capital partner: 'It's not going to be Sesame Street'
Lindsay Karas Stencel may not be the woman one would expect to be a partner at a successful venture capital firm—not for any good reason, just because of her unconventionality—think young, blonde hair and a lover of vibrant colors, such as an ultraviolet jumpsuit with cutouts at the waist. However, these attributes fade into the periphery when one learns that Stencel, one of the first woman venture capital partners in Ohio, has transacted more than 1,000 deals during the course of her career between her gig at NCT and her personal law practice. She has also overseen some of NCT’s largest exits to date.
In addition to the mentioned roles, Stencel is the COO and managing partner of Launch NY, a 501(c)(3) venture development organization that works to identify, support and invest in high-growth companies and spur entrepreneurial culture in the 27 westernmost counties in upstate New York with the goal of ultimately growing job and wealth creation there. Stencel also is an adjunct professor at Ohio State University where she teaches venture capital law (oh, and she owns a Crossfit gym). Even still, Stencel says she has experienced her fair share of unconscious (or conscious) bias in a business sector dominated by men.
Less than two years ago, in Buffalo, New York, she was asked, “Hey, is your dad coming to the meeting with you?” by a man Stencel was meeting to secure a deal. “And I was like, ‘No, is your dad coming to the meeting with you?’ ” she says. “In some instances, you have to react like that. And I will tell you, when I blasted into that ecosystem in 2016, it was like people did not know what to do with me because it was all men, all 50 and older, all white. And I come tearing in.”
Sometimes the bias is much more subtle. People will send emails to all the partners except her, or they will shake everyone’s hand during a meeting except for hers—that time it was an interview NCT was conducting for a potential new hire. Little did the candidate know if he got the job, he’d be reporting to Stencel. Once, someone commented that her voice made her sound like she was 12. Another time, a man tried to kiss her on the lips. Once at a conference, a man walked up and introduced himself, “ ‘because you’re pretty,’ ” he said to her.
“There’s an inherent bias,” she says. “Because I have platinum blonde hair and tan skin and I’m not horrible looking, people pass a judgment on me. And so I always have to work—whether I recognize it or not—to be 20 percent better than the best man in the room, and I don’t get the option to make a mistake.” Stencel says when she first started at NCT, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to become a partner because all of the partners she had encountered at every other firm NCT had interacted with were men. “And so I said, forget it, I’m gonna put my head down, and I’m going to work for it. And I did, and I got it. But it didn’t come out without scratches and woes and tears behind closed doors that no one knows about because someone in the ecosystem said something ridiculous.”
But it truly isn’t all bad. Stencel says inside of her firm, she doesn’t have those experiences. On a broader scale, she feels Columbus has progressed well. She points out that other local venture capital firms such as Drive Capital and Rev1 Ventures have women partners or investment team members. “When you look at the statistics nationwide, we are exceeding the national statistics. So for me, I feel very good about that,” she says. “I feel like yes, is there still progress that we need to make? Let’s try to avoid the old boys club type of meeting, that would be ideal.”
Stencel says her best piece of advice for other women is to do exactly what she did—let negative comments slide off and keep going.
“It’s not going to be Sesame Street, not everyone is going to be nice to you. Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to understand you. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because those are not your people. You need to keep pushing forward, you need to strive for success, you need to set goals. And even if people are going to say, ‘Oh, you can’t do it, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ put your head down and barrel through it because I guarantee you can achieve it regardless of what any man, woman, whatever, is going to say to you.”
Stencel intends to keep doing that. Although it is too early to reveal much, she is working on a new project to get venture capital funding to women, minorities and those in the LGBTQ community, in addition to her endeavors.
Chloe Teasley is staff writer for Columbus CEO.
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Position: Partner, NCT Ventures
In position since: 2008
Previous roles: Attorney, Damon & Morey (now Barclay Damon); associate and counsel, NCT Ventures; was named Upstate Capital Early Stage Dealmaker of the Year in 2018
Education: Bachelor of Arts in international relations, urban studies and political science, minors in biochemistry and classics, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York; JD and MBA from Ohio State University
Community involvement: Chairperson of Kare Intellex Inc. board of directors; chairperson, Data Inventions Inc. board of directors; board member, Upstate Capital Association of New York; active Ohio State Bar Association member and frequent instructor
Personal: Lives in Westerville with her husband Chris and four rescue dogs, Ogie, Molly, Matti and Lucy