“I discovered I was Black when I landed in the US five years ago.”
“I am a Black male immigrant and I run Interlace Ventures, a Black led VC fund dedicated to Commerce Technology”. I sometimes surprise myself by saying these words.
As shocking as it may sound, I discovered I was Black when I landed in the US five years ago.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not about identity recognition, I embrace my African heritage and proudly display it.
It’s more a sense of belonging to a group, a community which outlines were conceptual to me before. Evolving now in a communitarian social contract, based on historical divisions, changed the concepts in a cold tangible reality.
No complaint. I consciously chose the US and established myself here. For the good.
I grew up in France, in a small city in the west side of the country. After starting my career in Paris, I quickly decided to export myself to China where I spent 10 years before landing in San Francisco. I don’t recall suffering any direct, obvious discrimination and racism (even though anybody who knows me well, also knows how discrimination has impacted my family, deeply).
Nowadays, when asked about our diversity and inclusion practices at Interlace Ventures, it’s always challenging to answer precisely. Our approach and considerations are indeed influenced by a culturally fluid vision of society. A vision that does not fit a divided American society, where this division can be measured (when ethnics data is forbidden in my home country). And if my partner and I are embracing the codes and the elements of language, the sensibility, and even the processes to reduce unconscious biases, this fluid conception remains. Back home, they called it integration and assimilation. Much less sexy than inclusion to say the least. But nevertheless I grew up among Asian, Caucasian, North African or SubSaharan African kids. United colors it was. And this is not a slogan. It is how I experienced society.
So yes, Interlace is a Black led VC fund (if we want to check boxes) dedicated to commerce tech.
But as a matter of fact, our D&I practices are natural and genuinely intrinsic. We don’t need a mandate for that. And the best way to demonstrate it is to look at our deal flow and our portfolio.
Diversity is in our DNA, in our story.
You already have a glimpse of my background. My partner’s one is even more multicultural. His caucasian features and his blue eyes will never never make you think that between him and I, he is the “real” African. Joseph grew up in his early years in Djibouti, a small country on the horn of Africa while I only stepped twice the soil of Burkina Faso, where my dad is from. I look like a Fulani but I love camembert (actually, there may be a connection here…) much more than Jo. His parents also spent part of their childhood in Africa between Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria…
Jo is a true Third Culture Kid, later growing up between New York and a handful of cities in France for Middle and High School. He spent his university days in Scotland and business school in Paris (and Buenos Aires) where he started his career. The two of us met in China, a destination he chose to complete his cultural exploration.
Everywhere we lived, everywhere we worked, we saw wheat and chaff, each time with their own flavors. We experienced first hand the outperformance of diversity.
We blend easily in European, Black and Asian crowds, acting like chameleons somehow. You should see us switching to Mandarin when talking to a Chinese founder for example.
As far as dealflow is concerned, we have access to a blend of sources. Our personal networks cover Europe, China and the coastal US. To complete the recipe mix, we are involved in inclusive organizations. Just to name a few: BlckVC, Hustle 2.0, Founder Institute…
We actually measure the diversity of our dealflow. No specific objective (and that’s an important point) there but today the pipe is made out of more than 50% of deals that check the box of under-representation.
We are proud of who we have invested in and we have an opportunity to continue diversifying our portfolio. Meet the real heroes :
When evaluating founders, five criteria are fundamental for us:
- Founder market fit
- Grit over Greed
- Visionary / contrarian vs followers
- Sounded mind / Emotional intelligence
It may sound crude and probably risky to state but we observed a deep correlation between grit and underrepresentation. A modest background may also positively impact the scale and the relevance of the vision by addressing a larger market or targeting a blue ocean audience.
A concrete example in our portfolio. (And I changed the name for the sake of their privacy). Ash is an immigrant first generation. The most vivid American dream feeds their ambitions. Coming from a modest family, their appetite seems limitless. Their product can benefit the mass market, a real consideration of the 99% of the world vs. the 1% of Silicon Valley.
We so much agree with Adeyemi from Base10, “Invest in underrepresented founders — it’s just good business.”
And beyond the founding team dynamic and its complementarity, we care about diversity in their hiring plan.
We actually could not be consistent if we do not apply the same logic to build our own team.
So if I want to summarize, D&I is clearly not a mandate for Interlace. We don’t need statements and quotas. We measure to increase our awareness and orient our efforts. But more importantly we send the wire and will make the hire.
As we value diversity of thought, experience and background, it would not be surprising that Interlace’s complete portfolio of 25+ companies ends up being a blend of ethnicity, profile, and story with ratios far beyond any classification standards in use in the industry.