“Starting a business is a privilege,” says Burton O’Toole, who worked at various startups before starting and later selling AdMass, her marketing technology company. The company gave her access to the HearstLab program in 2016, but she soon found that she preferred the investment aspect and a year later became vice president of HearstLab. “It’s great to empower some of the smartest women to do what they love,” she says. But besides rooting for women, Burton O’Toole loves the job because it’s a great market opportunity.
“Research shows that teams led by women have two and a half times the returns of teams led by men,” she says, adding that women and people of color tend to build more diverse teams and therefore benefit from different viewpoints and perspectives. She also explains that companies with women on founding teams are more likely to be acquired or go public sooner. “Despite these results, only 2.3% of venture capital funding goes to teams founded by women. It’s still unbelievable to me that more and more investors aren’t taking this data more seriously,” she says.
Burton O’Toole—who graduated from Duke in 2007 before earning her master’s and doctorate at MIT, all in mechanical engineering—has been a “data geek” for as long as she can remember. In high school, she wanted to become an actuary. “Ten years ago, I could never have imagined this work; I like the idea of doing something in another 10 years that I can’t even imagine now,” she says.
When starting a business, says Burton O’Toole, “women usually want all their ducks in a row before they act. They say, ‘I’ll do it when I get this promotion, I have enough money, I finish this project.’ But there is only one good way. Take the leap.”