Celebrating Pride: Q&A with Managing Partner Harry Briggs

OMERS Ventures
Jun 24, 2019 · 4 min read
Harry Briggs (left) at Pride & Prejudice with friend & fellow speaker Eric Collins

Harry Briggs is an OMERS Ventures managing partner based in London, UK. Prior to OMERS Ventures, Harry was a Founding Partner of BGF Ventures, an early-stage venture fund, focused on UK technology companies. Before BGF, Harry was a Principal at Balderton Capital, one of Europe’s leading venture firms, where he initiated investments such as The Hut Group, Revolut, GoCardless, Lyst, Touch Surgery, Magic Pony and Appear Here.

Three months ago, it was announced that you had recently joined OMERS Ventures to lead the expansion into Europe. Can you share more on how things are going so far?

We’ve barely drawn breath (is it June already?!), but honestly I couldn’t be happier. The European tech ecosystem is booming right now, and we’re seeing more great investment opportunities than I’ve ever seen in my 10 years as a VC. It’s also super-competitive of course, but founders are embracing OMERS Ventures and the broader OMERS even more warmly than I could have hoped. And the support we’ve received — both from our Ventures colleagues across the pond, and from the rest of OMERS — has been incredible.

We have so much still to do of course — but we have a wonderful team on board, and we’re all passionate about establishing OMERS Ventures as a first choice fund for Europe’s most ambitious tech founders.

In addition to being an established leader in the Ventures space, you’re also passionate about inclusion and diversity. What are some of the things you’re involved in outside of OMERS?

One of the things that first struck me when I left my startup and moved into the Venture world 10 years ago was the shocking lack of diversity. Our investment meetings were 10 male investors casting judgment on a revolving door of all-male founding teams. The Alpha-male environment made me, for the first time in several years, feel deeply awkward about my sexuality — I heard just enough inappropriate banter around the office in those first few days that I worried that if I “came out” to my new colleagues, I wouldn’t “fit in” and it might affect my prospects. It’s easy to forget, with hindsight, the sleepless nights worrying about what my new bosses knew and what they might think… [I wrote more about this Here]

And likewise I felt for the (very occasional) female founders coming to present in this unrepresentative environment — the pressure to conform, feeling an outsider.

So to help address this, I’ve been a founding board advisor and champion of an ambitious initiative called Diversity.vc, that aims to bring more women and under-represented minorities into Venture Capital and entrepreneurship — that I believe is already having a dramatic impact in European VC. And I’m also a regular speaker on LGBTQ forums, from Economist Pride & Prejudice to EurOut. But I know I could do a tonne more.

Harry Briggs speaking on diversity issues on Sky News

Inclusion and diversity initiatives, programs, and impact within the workplace has come a long way in the last decade (…with obviously a long way to go). How have you noticed that change on a personal level?

When I was last in a large organization — at McKinsey nearly 2 decades ago — I wasn’t aware of any Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, although I did choose McKinsey partly because it felt like a place where you weren’t pressured to conform to a “type”. But I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that I didn’t “come out” myself until I was running my own business a couple of years later.

The world has changed a great deal since then, and it’s amazing to see how places like McKinsey and all the big professional services firms now embrace diversity, with LGBTQ groups and Pride events and speaker platforms. And great to find, at OMERS, how seriously Inclusion and Diversity is embraced at all levels, with the CEO’s support of Pride month a wonderful example. The evidence is clear that employees perform better when they feel they can bring their full selves to work — and I know from experience how taxing it is to try to keep up a facade or evade certain pronouns in conversations. And it’s incumbent on all of us to express our commitment to diversity — because sometimes it’s the people we last expect who are going through personal struggles, and if there’s even a shred of doubt about how colleagues will react, those people may decide it’s not worth the risk of bringing it up.

Do you have any advice you’d like to give your 21-year-old self?

1. Read The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs (it wasn’t written back then!). I read it recently, and it captures really vividly the common neuroses and challenges of men who grow up gay.

2. We all have shortcomings. We all have things we need to work on — in our work, in our relationships, and in our character. Acknowledge them, get comfortable with them, don’t hate yourself for them:- it’s only by being comfortable with your authentic self that you can live with integrity.

3. Life is short. Spend more of it with people you love, who bring you joy, and who care about you.

OMERS Ventures

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OMERS Ventures is a multi-stage VC investor in growth-oriented, disruptive tech companies across North America and Europe.

OMERS Ventures

OMERS Ventures is the venture capital investment arm of OMERS, one of Canada's largest pension funds with over $95 billion in net assets. OMERS Ventures is a multi-stage investor in growth-oriented, disruptive technology companies across North America.

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