Work-Bench
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Work-Bench

How We’re Going to Do More: An Imperfect Start

Like so many people across the country, we have been devastated by the horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others. Their deaths underscore the continuing legacy of deep, structural racism in our country.

One thing we know: no part of our country’s systemic racism will truly change until we change our actions.

There is more that we as VCs must do than just write checks. We need to put in time, talent, energy, effort, and reach out our arms, and open our networks to lift others up alongside us.

We have not done enough here at Work-Bench to support black communities, and we recognize that. We took time to reflect and ask ourselves very honestly: how are we going to change this moving forward, and more than that, keep it up? This is not an exhaustive, nor a perfect, list, and for that, we welcome constructive feedback.

Below are the tactical things we’re starting with:

1. Donate to Organizations Doing Important Work

As a firm, we are donating money to organizations who are doing transformative work to promote equality and justice:

  • Equal Justice Initiative: Working to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality through legal representation, criminal justice reform, and public education (Also, read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy)
  • Southern Poverty Law Center: Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy to fight hate and bigotry and to seek justice for the most vulnerable members of our society
  • Color of Change: Online racial justice organization fighting to end the war on black people in our country

We are grateful that we are in a place to financially donate. But we recognize the danger here too: it can be tempting to write a check, feel good that we “did our part”, and move on, when in reality we’re just asking other people to do the hard work for us.

So how are we putting in the work? Thank you to Web Smith for his “#hireandwire” framework for concrete action steps that VC firms should take: Hire the Person and Wire the Investment.

2. Hire the Person: How can we help increase the pipeline of black VCs to hire?

The number of black investors at VC funds is painfully low.

We’ve always believed that you cannot just hope for or expect the talent pool to be there when you’re hiring. You need to invest in growing and developing the pipeline.

Great Existing Orgs:

  • HBCUvc is already doing incredible work in this space, as a nonprofit that trains students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in VC and entrepreneurship. We encourage you to reach out to them, donate, and partner with the sessions they host for their VC fellows.
  • Other important VC firms who have invested in supporting black VC professionals: @BLCKVC, @HarlemCapital, @Backstage_Cap, @NewVoicesFamily

Where We Can Help If There is Interest:

If there is interest by aspiring investors in the black community, we’d be happy to co-host monthly mock Investment Committees with a few other investors. Bring a deal you’re interested in, and let’s talk about it as a group. We can also show you how we discuss deals from our Work-Bench enterprise IT point of view (every VC fund does this differently!). Sign up here.

3. Wire the Investment: How can we help increase the pipeline of black founders of enterprise startups to invest?

We all know that broadening how investors source is one critical way to increasing the pipeline of black founders. The real question is: how?

One small but specific way we at Work-Bench have worked toward this is through our public Founders of Enterprise Startups (Who are Women) Database, where we track all women founders of VC-backed enterprise tech startups. We regularly review newly-added companies in our Investment Committee (IC), which have helped lead to our investments in women-led enterprise startups.

Great Existing Database:

There is already a terrific database of black founders that we encourage you to use and review in your IC meetings:

Where We Can Help If There is Interest:

  • For other enterprise-focused VCs, we are happy to collate a public database for Founders of Enterprise Startups (Who are Black), as a subset of The Black Founder List. If this would be helpful (both for founders and for investors), let us know here.
  • The reason why we keep our databases focused on enterprise software is because we want these databases to actually lead to action — reviewing these companies in our IC, reaching out to founders to meet and track, engaging and supporting them through our community of enterprise events, meetups, dinners, panels. In our experience, databases that are overwhelmingly long often lead to inaction. If you’d like to start your own sector-based list — Black Founders in Healthcare, Black Founders in Biotech, we encourage you to do so.

These are just a few of our imperfect ideas. We know they will change and be refined, based on demand, suggestions, and learning. We welcome feedback from anyone who would be kind enough to offer it.

This is the first of many, many more critical steps that need to be taken by our VC ecosystem to support the black community and to dismantle structural racism in our country. We hope you’ll join us.

Team Work-Bench

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Work-Bench

Work-Bench is an enterprise technology VC fund in NYC. We support early go-to-market enterprise startups with community, workspace, and corporate engagement.