The language isn’t meant to be strictly enforceable, but rather to introduce a conversation that investors usually don’t have. In other words, it’s pretty toothless, something Guerrero acknowledges. “The diversity rider is not a silver bullet,” he says, “but it is a framework.” Talking about how white the industry is can be awkward, which is why Guerrero thinks firms need to standardize a diversity check in each deal. “Sometimes it’s difficult to find a moment for like, when do we bring this up, how do we bring this up?”
Industrywide, however, there’s still a long way to go. “Every time there’s a conversation about how there are people who have been left out, there are other people who just want to move on,” he says.
Brian Dixon, a partner at Kapor Capital, wrote a blog post last summer encouraging firms to look beyond their own networks to hire talent, including partners. “If you do not publicize the jobs that are available at your venture firm, then you are intentionally being exclusionary,” he wrote. The blog struck a chord with the VC firm First Round, which held an open call for its latest partner search. It ended up hiring its first Black investment partner, Meka Asonye, this year.
Groce says he has seen concerted efforts to recruit Black VCs at the junior level. BLCK VC launched a program called the Black Venture Institute in 2020, which has now trained more than 100 operators on how to make venture and angel investments. A separate program, called Breaking Into Venture, is designed to train would-be Black investors on the basics of crafting an investing thesis, sourcing deals, and performing due diligence. Groce says 70 percent of people in that program have secured jobs as analysts or associates at venture funds.
Other initiatives aim to provide support to a diverse set of emerging fund managers. Screendoor, a new $50 million investment vehicle backed by ten general partners at prominent VC firms, will provide capital to a class of underrepresented investors who are raising their first institutional fund. “Waiting for today’s venture capitalists to embrace diversity will take too long,” the partners wrote in a blog post. “Our goal isn’t just to raise funds, but to help build lasting firms.”
Programs like these aim to support and grow a new class of investors. But the industry has a long way to go, especially at the partner level. “The reality is that there are only 34 Black investors that can write a $3 million check,” says Groce, based on BLCK VC’s data. “That’s a seed round.”
Wealth requirements placed on investors are another barrier to entry in the field. Most venture firms require a “GP commit,” meaning that between 1 and 5 percent of the committed capital comes from the fund’s general partners. The requirement is meant to ensure that partners have skin in the game, but also reserves power in venture capital to those with the highest amount of wealth. Similarly, angel investors have long been required by the SEC to meet income and wealth criteria that exclude all but the wealthiest people. And in the US, the wealthiest people tend to be white: The net worth of a typical white family in 2016 was nearly 10 times greater than a Black family, according to research from Brookings. Racial disparities, discrimination, and wealth inequality feed off each other, exacerbating problems in so many facets of American life, including VC.
Some investors have turned to nontraditional platforms to help close the racial funding gap. Clarence Wooten, a longtime entrepreneur and investor, created the venture studio Revitalize last year to “change the complexion of tech” by investing specifically in Black founders at very early stages. The firm leverages equity crowdfunding platforms, like Republic, as a way to diversify the cap table. Those platforms let people invest small checks into startups, which Wooten says can help Black founders engage their communities, as well as help those communities in turn to benefit from their success. “We don’t just want to make wealthy people wealthier,” says Wooten. “That’s why we’re bullish on crowdfunding. We want to democratize wealth-building opportunities.”