Meet Baiyin Zhou, OpenView Venture Partners' First Female Associate
On one of Baiyin Zhou’s first visits to Boston, she hailed an Uber and hopped in while still on the phone with an entrepreneur. From the conversation, the driver deduced she was an investor and, when she ended her call, earnestly asked, “Do you mind if I drive around a little longer and just give you my pitch? I want to hear what you think.”
The interaction confirmed what Zhou had already started to realize about Boston’s tech scene. “I’ve been so happily surprised,” she said. “It’s even more flourishing than I thought it would be.”
And, with her help, the ecosystem will continue to grow. Expansion stage firm OpenView Venture Partners announced Thursday that Zhou has signed on as the investment team’s newest, and first female, associate.
To an outsider, Zhou’s path to venture capital might seem unconventional. To Zhou, however, it’s her career-mindedness that’s led her from a STEM-intensive high school, where she focused on science and biology, to a business world “general and wide enough to keep [her] interest.”
“I went to college thinking I was going to be pre-med,” Zhou said. But after taking her first business class, a new world opened up — one more suited to her self-described “Jack of all trades, master of none” mentality. The opportunities in business seemed limitless, and business itself, she soon discovered, had the power to incite change.
While attending the College of William & Mary, Zhou helped found Net Impact, a nonprofit focused on cultivating values-driven business leaders by equipping and empowering them to be social and environmental change makers. When she was building the beginnings of Net Impact, eating local and organic wasn’t the commonplace practice it is today, and although environmental clubs were promoting sustainability, they were all “preaching to the choir.” For mass adoption, a hearty dose of business savvy needed to be injected into the conversation for that conversation to become a trend.
If Zhou were to pinpoint her “ah-ha moment,” it would be co-founding and building Net Impact. She had helped students find career opportunities with companies that had corporate responsibility initiatives. And that taste of entrepreneurship had not only inspired her, but also motivated her to venture into investment banking post-college — the “best first job [she] could have,” because it gave her the opportunity to learn about all the different facets of business.
“It was the best way to get to where I ultimately wanted to get to: Working with people who are entrepreneurs and founding their own businesses,” Zhou explained.
After more than two years in investment banking, Zhou set her sights on venture capital. Because of her work with Net Impact, she wanted to learn more about cleantech and accepted an associate position at Florida-based ClearSky Power & Technology. “What I was able to learn was the technical part that I didn’t get from investment banking,” said Zhou, referring to her experience at the firm.
“I’m so focused on being the best venture capitalist and investor I can be, regardless of whether I’m male or female.”
Over time, however, her focus shifted to cybersecurity and Internet software. “I really did some soul searching and decided I wanted to move to the city,” Zhou added. She wanted a Hub that was as financially strong as it was innovative. Boston had all the qualities she was looking for, as did OpenView, with its zeroed-in focus on B2B enterprise.
“They basically put their money where their mouth is,” Zhou said, pointing to OpenView Labs, the firm’s operational consulting arm. “The fact they provide services, consulting and research to their portfolio companies makes a lot of sense, but takes a lot of resources. It’s truly an entrepreneurial environment. … They have a mindset of, ‘Let’s utilize technology and our skills to change how venture capital is done.'”
Zhou’s goal is to not only support the firm’s portfolio companies, but OpenView’s overall vision — a vision that includes closing the VC gender gap.
“I’ve always been acutely aware that I have only been in industries where the woman is the minority,” Zhou admitted, “but not only the minority — the huge minority.”
To Zhou, serving as OpenView’s first female associate will hopefully position her to become a mentor or advisor to other female entrepreneurs or investors. She doesn’t want to be labeled as a great female VC, however, but rather a great VC.
“I’m so focused on being the best venture capitalist and investor I can be,” she said, “regardless of whether I’m male or female.”
The opportunity to slowly change the local landscape, where 70 percent of entrepreneurs think Boston’s startup community could be more inclusive to women, is a clear advantage to joining OpenView, though.
“I think most female founders and entrepreneurs are aware that they’re members of a very small fraternity,” Zhou added in a follow-up statement. “The challenge now is to make sure those women have the opportunity to follow it or pave their own ways.”