How Shelly Kapoor Collins Made It Her Mission to Champion Female Entrepreneurs
Portrait byHillary Jeanne
Shelly Kapoor Collins, VC and Founding Partner of the Shatter Fund, is a force of nature armed with a quick wit, entrepreneurial eye, two decades of tech-insider and top-echelon government experience, and a high-wattage contact list that includes some of the most powerful people on the planet. She was just named to Governor Newsom’s Entrepreneurship Task Force in May, was appointed to the National Women’s Council in the Obama Administration, served as vice chair of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Women in Public Service Project, and has been cited as one of the “20 Most Powerful Global Indian Women” by the Economic Times of India and one of the “40 Women to Watch Over 40” by Forbes. With all of her accomplishments, one might think Collins could sit back and rest on her laurels, but they would be wrong.
Collins thrives on challenges and in the midst of the pandemic she’s committed to facing one of the biggest of her career. She notes, “Women received just a fraction of the venture capital available to grow pre-COVID-19 when things were ‘good.’ Can you imagine what’s going to happen in a downturn?”
Collins founded the Shatter Fund in 2017 with the goal of exclusively investing in high-potential disruptive technology companies led by female entrepreneurs. According to Collins, more women need to step up to their entrepreneurial potential. Shatter Fund is laser focused on key areas: healthcare, education, and finance. These are industries in which women not only make up the majority of the workforce but are largely the end-customer. The other common factor amongst these three? They are all industries ripe for disruption. Collins firmly asserts, “Women should be building solutions ‘for’ women. Many issues that concern millions of women still lack innovative solutions because women fight an uphill battle as entrepreneurs.”
Those challenges of entrepreneurship are something she understands intimately. Collins immigrated with her family from India when she was 2. Her father was a talented young engineer who was sponsored with a green card. The family moved to Delaware, then Georgia, then just inside the D.C. Beltway in Maryland. “Growing up in an Indian household, I had three career paths before me: doctor, lawyer, or engineer,” she says. She chose engineer and studied Management Information Systems for her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park (she is a staunch advocate for STEM education for girls to this day).
In 1998, Collins was recruited to work for Oracle in Redwood Shores and spent a decade rapidly moving up the corporate ladder with the tech giant. By 2008, Collins was a new mom and ready to go out on her own. She launched her first company, Enscient Solutions, which offered government clients tech solutions for human resources and fundraising. “I think being an entrepreneur,” she notes, “comes from something deep. You either want it or you don’t.”
“I had been an angel investor throughout my career. I knew this was the right time. I had the value. I had my network of women founders and I had access to deal flow.”
Along with growing her companies and her family, she became increasingly involved with politics—first becoming a Tech Advisor for Kamala Harris’s run as California State Attorney General and later as National Co-Chair of Technology for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, working with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.
In late 2016, with political winds taking a dramatic shift, Collins took a hard look at where her talents might be best served. “Launching a fund focused on women entrepreneurs was a natural fit,” she recalls. “I had been an angel investor throughout my career. I knew this was the right time. I had the value. I had my network of women founders and I had access to deal flow.”
Collins is quick to add that this is also the hardest thing she’s ever done. “One of the hardest parts has been breaking into the male-dominated VC world,” she says. “When I speak with male counterparts, they often say their portfolios are diversified, but when you really look at those portfolios you see they are not. The value I bring is in deals they were missing. They are not looking through a gender lens. At Shatter Fund we are. Historically, companies with female founders performed 66% better than those with all-male founders.”
When Collins was considering her move to venture, she consulted numerous colleagues. Karen King of Silver Lake got it immediately and offered support, along with Franklin’s President and CEO Jennifer Johnson and Katherine Zinn at Orrick. “They are my squad,” Collins says. “To have these amazing, talented women backing my belief that the biggest roadblocks for female entrepreneurs are access to capital, mentors, and networks, was inspirational.”
To date, Shatter Fund has invested in an impressive portfolio that includes Hint, UrbanSitter, GlamSquad, and Fitz, to name a few. “Watching these talented entrepreneurs pivot right now has been amazing,” Collins says. Fitz, which makes 3-D printed eyewear, pivoted immediately during the pandemic, creating protective eyewear for frontline healthcare professionals.
At this key moment in history, Collins stresses, “We just can’t afford to leave women further behind, again…our economy depends on it. There has never been a more important time to step up and redouble investments in women entrepreneurs, and Shatter Fund’s commitment is unwavering.”
When asked if she might ever consider a position in political office herself, Collins is quick to say, “No, I’m not that excited to be the person in office. I like to be behind the scenes. And, more importantly, I love what I do. I want to continue on this path. I’ve worked so hard to make this happen, my role is to continue to connect female entrepreneurs with access to capital and resources so they can continue to thrive.”