Black Lives Still Matter
Opportunities for VCs to address racial inequity
As 2021 begins, it’s difficult not to acknowledge the precarious state of American society: the Covid-19 pandemic continues to grip our country, high unemployment signals underlying challenges to the economy, and our nation remains bitterly divided following a closely contested presidential election. Amidst this backdrop, we continue to grapple with many cultural issues reignited last year, most notably racial equality.
As Alex Nwaka and I wrote in the spring, Touchdown’s team believes that racism and human rights’ abuses are antithetical to our values, as individuals and as a firm. To that end, our entire company has committed to contributing responsibly to do our part to end racial inequality in America through long-term, sustained action. During the past six months, our 40 professionals have divided into four teams, beginning to pursue what we believe are complementary approaches to addressing systemic racism:
1. Internal Education
Led by Selina Troesch, our internal education effort focuses on ensuring that Touchdown’s team members have the tools and training to understand and manage our own biases. The purpose is to help us eliminate racial bias in our own hiring, onboarding, promotion practices, and investment decisions.
This team researches the latest trends and studies related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) and presents learnings to the entire firm. The internal education team is also responsible for coordinating diversity training for the entire firm, following recognized best practices.
How to get involved: if you are aware of resources or organizations that can assist with our internal education goals, please contact Selina.
Brooke McGillis and Jane Simons co-lead our hiring efforts at Touchdown, and they have also been coordinating our exploration of a new “micro-internship” model. The idea to create multiple 4–6 week, paid internships per year that require no previous venture capital experience, allowing qualified candidates to get a “foot in the door” of the venture industry.
To facilitate a pipeline of underrepresented intern candidates, Touchdown has partnered with Parker Dewey. Parker Dewey’s recruiting platform allows us to expand our reach to find qualified minority hires. As a result, we hired two micro-interns in the second half of 2020, focusing on tactical research projects.
How to get involved: if your venture capital firm would be willing to hire a paid micro-intern in 2021, please contact Brooke. We will share our relationships at Parker Dewey and provide a sample job description format you can use for your own hiring process.
3. Primary Education
Beth Kearns and I co-lead our primary education team, which focuses on teaching business fundamentals and igniting entrepreneurial spirit in high schools whose students are from underrepresented communities. The goal is to reach historically disadvantaged populations with potential career inspiration and relevant role models.
Together with our friends John and James Onwualu, we will pilot our high school curriculum for the senior class at Verbum Dei high school in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in February. John and James run Afia Capital together, syndicating startup investments with professional athletes. John is also Managing Director of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and James is a linebacker for the Las Vegas Raiders in the National Football League.
How to get involved: if you are an investor who might be willing to teach a one-hour class to high school students later in 2021, please let any Touchdown team member know. We are compiling a database of potential teaching volunteers and plan to share our curriculum after we’ve completed several pilot classes.
Our fellowship team is led by Olga Belyanina and ties together each of our other programs.
To kick off these efforts, Touchdown provided modest financial support for HBCU.vc, a non-profit that runs an educational program for qualified undergraduate and MBA students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU.vc sourced our first micro-intern, who did an excellent job on a corporate innovation research project for an article we are writing, and he will receive credit for his contributions. HBCU.vc also invited Selina Troesch to guest lecture on venture capital term sheets as part of its Saturday speaker series. Deborah Zajac also participated in HBCU.vc’s Lab Fund mentoring session for entrepreneurs last fall.
How to get involved: if you are aware of an organization operating a fellowship program for underrepresented minorities, or if you would like an introduction to HBCU.vc, please contact Olga.
We believe that each of these programs has the opportunity to effect meaningful change within our modest corner of society, the venture capital industry. Taken together, we view these efforts through a lens of persistent and sustainable progress towards ending racial inequality. Humbly, we hope that we are able to rally our investor friends and colleagues to these initiatives, or to inspire others to take action in their own way.
We are optimistic about the opportunity to scale these nascent efforts once we’ve learned more. Touchdown’s team communicates with more than 1,000 venture capitalists every year; if each of our investor friends hires one micro-intern or teaches one high school class per year, our community can begin contributing positively to systemic change.
Touchdown Ventures Principal Alex Nwaka contributed to this article.
Scott Lenet is President of Touchdown Ventures, a Registered Investment Adviser that provides “Venture Capital as a Service” to help corporations launch and manage their investment programs.
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