Pocket Sun lost her first corporate job thanks to a computer-generated lottery — but it turned out to be a lucky break.
As a Chinese-born international student in the US, she was not guaranteed a work visa. Under the H-1B program, foreigners vie for a limited number of places each year, selected at random.
Sun, who arrived in the US in 2009 to study at Virginia's William & Mary college, was loving her job at a corporate marketing firm when all of a sudden she found herself no longer able to work.
Scrambling to find a way to stay in the country, she signed up for a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Southern California, where she founded female networking group SoGal.
Today, the Singapore-based entrepreneur runs the SoGal Ventures, a multimillion-dollar, female-led, millennial venture capital firm with investments in more than 50 companies. At 24, she was one of the youngest people to ever grace the cover of Forbes magazine.
"It was pretty accidental, I would say," said the now 27-year-old.
"It started when I was studying. I was really determined to start an entrepreneurial venture but I didn't know what it would be. When I was exploring the ecosystem, everywhere I went there was all these women around me and there was a lack of role models. It was a problem I was really motivated to solve."
SoGal started in a classroom at USC and quickly grew to events, summits and start-up competitions — and ultimately an idea to start a venture capital fund.
"I realised the biggest problem was everyone was lacking access to capital and that was really hurting the chances of women entrepreneurs," she said.
Sun met her co-founder Elizabeth Galbut in a venture capital course at Stanford University. With the vast majority of funding decisions made by men, who invest in start-ups founded by men, the pair saw a gap in the market.
"The capital market is still very dominated by men, that means the female way of thinking and perspective of the future are not as valued as they should be," she said.
"Currently the struggle is funds started by women or that have at least one female partner are still such a minority, the majority of the industry is still geared towards one way of thinking. We need to be looking forward, we need more female way thinking, more empathy, more focus on wellness, the holistic balance of everything, more collaboration and community. All of these things are not emphasised enough."
SoGal Ventures started out with the goal of only investing in female founders, but "we realised that would be a problem in reverse, so we decided to focus on diversity".
"Right now we invest in companies that are changing the landscape on how the next generation works and stays healthy," Sun said.
"When we look at investment opportunities, the criteria are (the business) needs to be global minded, design focused and needs to have a community spirit. These are the pillars we look at, and of course we look for a diverse founding team."
SoGal Ventures' investments include Lovevery, which makes baby toys designed to promote brain development, customised hair care product maker Function of Beauty, and Sydney-based online talent agency The Right Fit.
Sun, who will be in Sydney to speak at the StartCon conference at the end of next month, said sexual harassment was still a major issue for young female entrepreneurs, particularly in Silicon Valley.
"Sexual harassment definitely happens and it has happened to several of our CEOs," she said. "It is painful because it really creates mental damage to these women who are ambitious, trying so hard to claim their space in the world, yet they're facing disrespect, being put down as business people and seen as a sexual object."
She revealed that the founder of one of her start-ups returned half a million dollars to the lead investor in her company after discovering he was a "sexual predator".
"Luckily she got a female investor who made up that allocation, but it was difficult," she said. "It's already so difficult for women to raise money, and a lot of the money they raise turns out to be not of good quality."
While in that case the woman wasn't personally harassed by the investor, he had reportedly "sexually harassed dozens of women" over decades. "It was supposed to be one of the biggest dark secrets of Silicon Valley," Sun said.
She added, "I'm excited to meet more start-ups in Australia and to nurture and nourish the ecosystem for women, not only for entrepreneurs but also investors. I think women need to sit on the other side of the table."