Boston Women in Fintech: Spearheading Evolution at University, Venture, and Nonprofit Levels
In 2012, Senofer Mendoza became pregnant while working full-time at a design firm in Boston. The company promptly moved her desk under the stairs into the basement. Her frustration at the company’s lack of support for changes in her life pushed her to begin a Fintech, Cybersecurity, and AI venture fund with her husband, Adrian, a former fintech founder. In 2016, with a $10,000 investment, Mendoza Ventures was born from their living room.
“At every single stage of our lives, there’s something else that needs to be in place for women to have the confidence, the support, the financial risk to be an entrepreneur or do something like this,” Mendoza said. “The world taught me that 51% of the population does not manage 51% of the capital. When that inequity is right in your face and you see it happening to so many incredible, intelligent, and bright women around you, you either do something about it or you don’t.”
The fund brings transparency and individualized support to the startup funding process. Its small, targeted portfolio consists of 13 companies — 75% of which are start-ups led by immigrants, people of color, and women— including Alyce, Listo, and Wabbi. This active, involved approach allows Mendoza Ventures’ team to do everything from supporting founders over the phone on their bad days to making strategic management decisions to turn companies around.
Almost six years after its founding, Mendoza Ventures sits on Newbury Street and has recently announced its first close on its $100M early growth Fintech fund anchored by Bank of America. For Mendoza, these six years with her company have been about overcoming her own imposter syndrome and realizing that there is a profound impact from the checks she writes.
“1% of General Partners at all venture capital funds are women, and they don’t manage 1% of the capital,” Mendoza said. “Just by being here, I make people uncomfortable. You’re constantly swimming upstream, but it’s 1000% worth it.”
Nationally, 2% of venture capital investments go to women and people of color. But, in Boston, that percentage shrinks to 0.8%.
“There is so much opportunity here and that number is what we hope to change for the next generation of venture capitalists in Boston,” Mendoza said. “The two Latino businesses on Newbury are us and La Neta, and I’m excited to be there to see that change; I would like to see that tradition of private equity in Boston include the entire city. Boston is changing, and I am excited for the capital allocators of Boston to catch up.”
FinTech Sandbox Co-Founder Sarah Biller is supporting startups in another way: by tackling the lack of accessibility to high-quality datasets, specifically for startups. As a problem-solver with prior experience at State Street, Fidelity, and MCI, she leads the organization in providing coveted, necessary pricing and market information to startups without stripping them of equity or capital. She says a decade and a half ago she decided that she wants to be the kind of innovator and investor that she needed in her 20s, and she fulfills this promise to herself by offering constant mentorship and collaboration.
“Fintech has enabled me to fulfill a lifelong passion to integrate financial services and build a more sustainable future, and it is the enabler of great and meaningful outcomes,” Biller said. “If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to be fearless and believe in yourself. Women are unique in how we problem-solve and how we try to be much more open to delivering solutions that are beyond our own personal problems to help others.”
Part of those solutions is creating supportive spaces for other women to thrive. As a sophomore finance student at Suffolk University, Laura Velez noticed the finance clubs on campus were predominantly male-led. Through conversations with other women, she realized it was often difficult for them to speak up and take leadership roles. She recognized the need for a female-driven community and started the first university chapter of FinTech Women.
“So much of what we’ve done is help other students get internships, help guide them based on our mistakes and our success,” Velez said. “You have your own path, but we’re here to help you along the way. That has been one of the most rewarding things: getting to work with other women who are so passionate and who just want to help each other. Sometimes it’s rare to find people who just genuinely want to see each other grow.”
From pitching the club to administration and building out an executive board, Velez gained confidence and communication skills. Even after her graduation, she finds herself integrated within the club’s supportive network, frequently speaking with the club’s current executive board, attending events, and providing mentorship. For Velez, being a woman in fintech means empowerment, community, and support.
“At FinTech Women, I found an inclusive community helping women in fintech advance professionally and build a diverse ecosystem,” Velez said. “FintechWomen doesn’t have to be your organization, but you should have an organization, you should have a community because so much of learning happens outside of the classroom. It’s all about those life experiences that nobody can teach you unless you experience them yourself.”
Building these supportive spaces can help create a paradigm shift: one in which women leading in the fintech space are no longer considered something out of the ordinary.
Last year, Mendoza and her family were driving through Times Square, and as they drove past the NASDAQ billboard, her husband told her daughter “look, that’s the board your mom was on!”
“A nine-year-old Latina girl’s first impression of Times Square was ‘oh, my mom’s been on that billboard’,” Mendoza said. “[My husband and I] have these moments where we think, if we stop what we’re doing, that is still her reality and that’s world-changing.”
Written by Shivi Sharma