8 Actions to be a Better Ally and Drive Capital to Black Founders

Source: Reuters/Darren Ornitz

If you’ve been reading and listening to Black voices in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, one thing is very clear: this has to be more than a social media moment. Let’s start with an acknowledgement: systemic racism has been with us for 400 years and is just as virulent and present as ever.

For those of us in VC and tech there is day-to-day work we should all be doing in our workplaces, in our homes and our communities. It’s time to focus on the concrete things we can change within our own organizations and extended networks to be better allies and drive capital to BIPOC founders. Many of us have been quiet, but as founder Freddie Harrel, CEO of Radswan, said on our Zoom call last week: “It is a great privilege to be nervous about what to say.” We encourage you to overcome that nervousness and begin the work in earnest. If you haven’t gone deeper into the issues affecting Black lives in America, we urge you to start. We’ve been drawing from a breadth of Black voices, social justice organizations and anti-racism reading to learn how to be better allies. At the end of this post, you can find a list of resources that we shared with our founders last week and are constantly updating.

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Below are eight steps we can all commit to, and stick to when the media coverage dies down and the pandemic is over. As we move forward, we plan to amplify the voices and share the ideas of BIPOC we follow and learn from, many of whom we have referenced below. This list is just a start, and we’d ask both our Black and non-Black venture and start-up colleagues to add their thoughts to help further define these ideas.

  1. Acknowledge systemic racism — at your company, your firm, in your fund, in your life. No matter how attuned to racism we think we are, our processes and decisions have been negatively impacted by systemic racism. As founder Jessica O. Matthews noted, “You have to make yourself uncomfortable every day, until it’s no longer uncomfortable. That means committing to intentional review of every step in your process. It’s going to slow you down for a while; accept that.”
  2. Talk about what’s happening with your team and your employees: We’re guided by the advice of Dynasti Hunt, MD of Talent and Equity at Third Sector: “Be mindful of opening up meetings and interactions with “how are you” or “how was your weekend” right now, which could re-trigger or dismiss the experience of your Black colleagues; acknowledge what is happening and share your empathy; ask your Black colleagues if they’d like to make space to talk before you do so (not everyone will be ready); and if your Black colleagues do say yes — listen but don’t place the burden on them to educate you or to create space for your own feelings of helplessness.” Read the detailed thread from Dynasti here: 5 Dos and Don’ts for White Leaders and Colleagues Who Want to Discuss Racism at Work. Also consider: What Leaders Can Do for Black Employees from Diversity in the Workplace Coach Akilah Cadet or How to Talk Trauma and Protests at Work from Benish Shah. For more suggestions on how you can be an ally at work read 5 Ways You Can help as an Ally at Work Starting Tomorrow (Fana Yohannes) and Building Effective Allyship Skills is Critical: Here’s How You Can Start (Paradigm). We also encourage you and your teams to take Harvard’s Project Implicit Unconscious Bias Test.
  3. Hire diverse leaders onto your executive teams and your investment teams: Commit to making the pipeline for every new hire diverse. Does your top of funnel have enough BIPOC candidates; what percent make it to in-person interviews? Reflect on where you posted and which networks you reached out to for warm referrals. Make it clear you’re looking for diverse recommendations. For start-ups and investment firms alike, explore hiring tools like Textio and Pymetrics, job boards like Black Tech Jobs or Diversify Tech, and mentorship platforms like The Whether. Consider whether the stated qualifications or your pattern recognition are adversely limiting the pool (e.g. resumes with HBS, Stanford, U Penn, McKinsey, Bain, GS, or Google). Think about whether a different set of questions could draw out the qualities you look for, like creative problem solving and resilience. We are working on doing the same. If you’re a BIPOC looking for a summer internship to crack into VC, email us at hello@bbgventures.com.We can further this work in VC by investing in the success of BIPOC in the investment community. Per Sydney Thomas from Precursor Ventures, think about BIPOC investors for the following: startups building boards, VCs adding new GPs or Venture Partners, or to speak on panels. You can use Sydney’s list of Black Women in VC or HBCUvc’s 31 under 31 as a starting point. As a reminder, don’t add these folks to your panels to talk about being a Black person or diversity in VC — add them to talk about investing.
  4. Expand your founder network to include BIPOC founders: To founders and VCs alike: do all your founder friends look like you? This is an important question we’re asking ourselves regularly. We need to build genuine relationships with BIPOC founders and bring them into the “trusted networks” that get founders funded. Invite them to happy hours, recommend them for panels, and get to know them better so you can send warm introductions on their behalf to your investor network. Do this not just because it’s right, but because it will make you more successful: addressing today’s global challenges and opportunities demands diverse voices and diverse points-of-view. Specifically, to the female founders in our network who have been silent for fear of saying the wrong thing: we urge you to start following Black female voices on social media. As Glennon Doyle said, “We aren’t going to get anywhere until we follow Black women. [They] have been leading the fight for liberation for centuries. We need to follow their leadership and center their voices.” In following them we will all learn. We suggest teachers like Rachel Cargle, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Elaine Welteroth and VCs like Arlan Hamilton, Sarah Kunst, Monique Woodard, and Sydney Thomas as well as the group BLCK VC.
  5. Increase investment in BIPOC founders by reassessing your process: Be honest with yourself: have you ever said, “We fund the best talent” when asked about the lack of diversity in your portfolio? We still hear it, and read it even more frequently, despite the unspoken and boneheaded implications. Instead: let’s commit to expanding our deal flow pipeline so we can find BIPOC talent, by going to pitch competitions for BIPOC founders; scouting in cities where Black founders live, or at a different set of universities, like HBCUs. (Read more: How to get more Black entrepreneurs venture capital investment). Even more critical, let’s amend our processes so we actively consider our own implicit biases when assessing pipeline and doing diligence. When meeting BIPOC founders, consider that their journey to overcome systemic racism and investor biases may have created the core attributes we all look for — things like resiliency, grit, creative problem solving. Ask questions that get to the heart of their entrepreneurial journey, not just those that allow you to pattern match. (H/t to Jessica O. Matthews for these suggestions.) We recommend following and getting to know Precursor Ventures, Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital and Cleo Capital for their pre-seed and seed pipeline, joining Lolita Taub’s group of angel investors or working with accelerators like Founder Gym, Black & Brown Founders and Hillman as well as inviting more BIPOC founders in your area to your events, perhaps from the The Black Founder List. At BBGV we’ve previously, though sometimes imperfectly, committed to taking every meeting with an underrepresented founder regardless of whether it’s a warm introduction or cold outreach. We will continue to do so. Email us at hello@bbgventures.com to set up a meeting. We are further committing to strategies to expand our own scouting networks, as well as the accelerators and pitch competitions we align with. We’ve invested in Black founders, but we have more👏🏽work👏🏽to👏🏽do👏🏽.
  6. Btw, LPs need to fund BIPOC GPs: Another “be honest” moment: as an LP, have you ever asked a BIPOC GP how their fund is different from another BIPOC’s fund? Recognize that the question incorrectly implies that all BIPOC GPs are the same, and are a “diversity play”. Instead make it known that you’re interested in expanding your pipeline of GPs beyond your existing network. If you have an emerging manager program, put out a call to the GPs in your portfolio asking for referrals of the best underrepresented GPs they know. We recommend spending time with Fairview and Plexo Capital who have executed thoughtful strategies in this area. And VCs? Make warm intros to LPs for your underrepresented GP colleagues. Don’t do the thing where you send a one line intro and pat yourself on the back. Take the time to expand your GP network and give meaningful referrals.
  7. Use your privilege to donate to and act for organizations driving systemic change against racism: Do support the bail funds for demonstrators — especially the city-specific bail funds, a list of which can be found here — but recognize that the bail issue is much bigger than today’s protests. 65% of people held in local jails have not been convicted of any crime; they are stripped of their freedom because they couldn’t pay the cash bail. They end up losing jobs, contact with family, and all-too-frequently plead guilty to a charge just to get out. Consider supporting organizations driving systematic change here, such as bailproject.org, which is working to end the racial and economic disparities in the bail system and combat mass incarceration. We can give our time, and empower our teams as well, to make calls on behalf of of organizations like Communities United for Police Reform, who are pushing to repeal legislation like 50-A in NY that keeps police action misconduct private; or to mayors’ offices to adopt the model use of force policy from Campaign Zero (h/t to Kanyi Maqubela for this easy to understand breakdown of state by state use of force policies). We can also offer to match our employees’ or our founders and their teams’ donations. As GPs at BBG Ventures we have personally donated to a dozen organizations and will continue to support groups working for justice next month and next year. Some of the organizations we’ve donated to are listed at the end of this post.
  8. And finally, hold candidates accountable for the issues that matter — and vote: We have an opportunity and an obligation to create change in November. Black Lives Matter has launched #WhatMattersMost2020 to focus voters on key issues like racial injustice, police brutality, criminal justice reform and voter suppression. BIPOC will be a third of eligible voters in November; one in 10 eligible voters will be Gen Z. Engage your community, promote voter registration, and give time to organizations like Spread the Vote, the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, Adopt a State and Rock the Vote to make sure that everyone who has the right to vote is allowed to do so. This goes beyond the national election. The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels — mayors and county executives; DAs and state’s attorneys. Voter turnout in local elections is abysmal, and they are often won or lost by hundreds of votes. Let’s impact those outcomes by giving employees time to canvas, time to vote, and by setting an example by putting in time ourselves.

LIST OF RESOURCES

Petitions & Immediate Actions:

Where to Donate:

Resources on Allyship:

Resources for the Workplace:

Accelerators and Resources to Support Black Entrepreneurs:

VC Thought Leaders to Follow:

BIPOC Thought Leaders to Follow:

Organizations to Follow (also accepting donations):

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