Inspirational Woman Interview: Carol A. Curley
Carol A. Curley, CFA is a Managing Director of Golden Seeds, an early stage investment firm with a focus on women-led ventures. In addition, Carol in an active member of New York Angels. Carol has served as a judge for the Wharton Venture Awards and the Wharton Business Plan Competition. Passionate about investing in companies run by women entrepreneurs, Carol previously served on the New York Advisory Board of Astia, the Board and Executive Committee of Investors Circle, and the Board and Investment Committee of The Dallas Women’s Foundation. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Wellesley College, an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.
What is your background?
Carol Curley: I have spent my career in the financial services industry. Upon graduation from Wellesley College with a degree in Economics, I joined Banker Trust Company in the investment management division. Although I really enjoyed working at the bank, I realized that I would need to obtain an MBA or a CFA to advance on the career track that appealed to me. I received my MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and like many of my classmates, decided to go into Investment Banking. I worked at Smith Barney, Prudential Securities and Berkshire Capital specializing in Corporate Finance for Financial Institutions and Mortgage-backed Securities. I then had the opportunity to join a former colleague from Bankers Trust who had established her own successful investment management firm, Westwood Management, and became Chief Operating Officer. I encouraged our research staff to obtain their CFA designation and in the spirit of leading by example I completed my CFA as well. I made the transition to early stage investing because it enabled me to utilize the entire portfolio of skills that I had acquired as well as have a real impact on startups. I consider myself a strategic investor as I bring not only capital but also my expertise and network to the companies in which I invest. I started investing with Investors Circle, an early-stage impact investing network, and currently am a Managing Director of Golden Seeds and a member of New York Angels.
You are a Managing Director of Golden Seeds, an early-stage investment firm with a focus on women-led companies. What inspired you to join Golden Seeds and what has been its impact so far?
Carol Curley: When I began investing in early stage companies, there were not a lot of female angel investors. I was introduced to Golden Seeds by a former Wall Street colleague and was drawn not only to the investment mission but also the opportunity to collaborate with a group of very bright and engaged investors, both women and men. Since its founding in 2005, Golden Seeds has invested over $70 million in more than 65 companies and has just under 300 members nationwide.
You also served on the New York Advisory Board of Astia, an organization dedicated to recognizing and investing in companies led by women entrepreneurs. Can you share your experiences with Astia?
Carol Curley: Astia, which was originally called The Women’s Technology Cluster, was founded in 1999 by Cate Muther, former CMO of Cisco. The mission was to promote and empower women entrepreneurs. Over the past 17 years they have developed programs and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs and in 2013 launched Astia Angels, a global network of investors. Astia, along with Springboard Enterprises, which was also launched in 1999, have been pivotal members of the ecosystem devoted to increasing access to capital by female entrepreneurs.
Moreover, you are a former Board Member of The Dallas Women’s Foundation, which promotes women’s philanthropy and finances programs helping women and girls in Dallas. Can you talk a bit about your initiatives with The Dallas Women’s Foundation?
Carol Curley: The Dallas Women’s Foundation was founded in 1985 by 19 exceptional women leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The mission was to invest in women and girls and empower women philanthropists to build a better community and a better world. I moved to Dallas in the early 90’s and was introduced to the foundation by a colleague and immediately became involved in educating women as to how to use their financial resources to effect change. I ultimately joined the Board and served on the Investment Committee. Although I moved back from the Dallas area to the east coast, I continue to support the efforts of the DWF as a member of the XIX Society – named for the 19 women who were the original founders.
What have been your favorite experiences/memories as an investor?
Carol Curley: One of the things that is most gratifying for me is to see a founder really grow and mature. Especially for younger entrepreneurs who may not have had the corporate or operating experience before launching their startup, the chance to provide a combination of coaching and mentoring is what makes being an early stage investor rewarding.
In your opinion, is it possible for women to “have it all”?
Carol Curley: If the real question here is whether it is possible for a woman to be able to successfully combine a career and family, the answer is absolutely yes. Each individual, male and female, need to define what “success” means for them and ignore the pundits who try to convince us that anything less than achieving a CEO position is a career failure.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Carol Curley: I came of age in the early 70’s and was very privileged to attend the Girls Latin School and then Wellesley College. At both of those institutions, I was encouraged to think big and believe that I could do anything I wanted to do if I put my mind to it. The 1970’s saw the rise of feminism and consciousness raising – the historic Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by Congress (yet to be ratified) and questioning the gender roles and stereotypes of women. When I first entered the work force I was shocked by the blatant sexism that existed. I learned a very powerful lesson in that first job – you can accept the status quo and perhaps complain a bit here and there – or you can be an agent of change. Throughout my career I have tried to continue to be that change agent. As a mother of two incredible millennials (a son and a daughter) it is very important to me that both of my children have the same opportunities in whatever direction their careers and lives take them.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Carol Curley: In the early stages of my career, it was rare to find a female mentor. I was extremely fortunate that as a young associate on Wall Street, I had the opportunity to work with Barbara Alexander Stiles, then a VP in the Research Department of Smith Barney. She was an incredible mentor both in those early career days and throughout my career providing both guidance and inspiration to me. She encouraged me to obtain my CFA and has continued to be a source of wise counsel and friendship. I hope that I can be as effective a mentor.
What advice do you have for future women investors and future women entrepreneurs?
Carol Curley: I cannot stress enough the importance of building a strong professional network. If you are an entrepreneur looking for capital, do your research to see how you can get a “warm” introduction to an angel group or venture capital firm. That might be through a member/partner of the group or even a current portfolio company. As investors, we aim to bring more to the table than simply a check. A strong network will enable you to assist your portfolio companies with introductions to clients, strategic investors and future funding sources.
Are there books, movies and websites that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, business and/or social impact?
Carol Curley: Currently on my bookshelf is – “What I told my Daughter: Lessons from Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of Empowered Women” by Nina Tassler and Cynthia Littleton.
In terms of websites – I would suggest Women 2.0 – http://women2.com/