There isn’t always a clear ROI on community for venture capital funds, at least not right away. The entrepreneurs, executives, advisors, co-investors, partners, talent, and friends your team connects with today, and connects with each other, will likely start and join new companies in 2–10 years. And the seed-stage companies you passed on, or didn’t have the chance to invest in yet, will be fundraising again in the future. The investors that are most helpful to an entrepreneur, regardless of an investment commitment, will be the investors they recommend to friends and pitch again in the future.
Building strong ecosystem relationships and inclusive communities today will give your fund a strategic advantage tomorrow that your portfolio, investment team, and greater community can all benefit from.
The funds that limit their community activities to just their portfolio, people who look like them, people who went to their school, or people who are networked enough to get a warm intro to pitch for investment are missing out on opportunities for deal flow, portfolio growth, insight, and inspiration.
Below is a list of programs and tactics I’ve seen or implemented in my six years in VC/tech, and inspired by the teams and work of Collaborative Fund, Backstage Capital, RRE Ventures, Female Founders Fund, Cowboy Ventures, and Kapor Capital. If your fund is interested in creating or participating in inclusive communities, or if you want to get a job opening at your fund in front of women and people of color, email me.
Treat All Entrepreneurs with Respect
Investing in women and underrepresented CEOs shouldn’t be lumped into your fund’s charity budget or an annual quota, it should be part of your investment thesis. Women are intelligent, creative, curious, scrappy, empathetic, and have access to insights, skills, talent, consumers/customers, and networks that the average white male entrepreneur might not possess.
Be authentic and transparent about your inclusivity efforts, and treat allentrepreneurs with the same level of respect. The way your fund treats people will be shared in backchannels, so make a good impression.
Build a Diverse Investment Team
Not only in genders and races, but in past companies, universities, skills, interests, passions, and perspectives.
Encourage your team to blog, use social media, and speak at events about your portfolio, investment thesis, their unique expertise, and opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with your team. This helps your fund access a wider audience of entrepreneurs beyond your existing closed network.
Host Pitch Practice Events
Host small events for 2–5 female and underrepresented entrepreneurs to pitch investors at your office, with no requirement to make a deal on either side of the table. The goal here is to give entrepreneurs a safe space to practice their pitch in a board room like setting, get valuable feedback, and connect with investors who might invest or make intros to other investors. This is an event concept I’m happy to donate my time to help organize.
Recommend Inclusive Investors
Inspired by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and Female Founders Fund, keep a list of funds you respect and trust to refer to your portfolio and friends.
Invest (and Co-invest) with Female-Led Funds
Invest directly in female-led funds with your personal capital, or make introductions to potential limited partners for these new, diverse funds. I know of two funds raising right now with incredible portfolios and deal flow that focus on investing in women and underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Example: Albert Wenger and Susan Danziger are LPs in Female Founders Fund and Lattice Ventures
Give Women a Seat (and Voice) at the Table
Hiring women at your fund isn’t enough, you must give them a seat and voice at the table. Ask us what we think about potential investments, especially if we previously worked in an industry or company relevant to the deal. When possible, give women on your investment team the chance to join your Partners in board meetings and pitches with entrepreneurs.
While women have obvious insight into what women buy, like, eat, and consume, we’re also…[continue reading]