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Driving diversity: Nonprofit is on a mission to bring more Latinxs to the VC profession

The number of Latinx people in venture capital is nothing short of dismal. LatinxVC, a nonprofit organization built by Latinx venture professionals and funded by Silicon Valley Bank, plans to increase Latinxs’ representation in the rooms where venture-funding decisions get made

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Does the term “venture capitalist” conjure up images of corporate boardrooms populated with well-heeled, well-connected white men calling all the shots? If it doesn’t, it should. The lack of diversity, especially in Big Tech and VC firms in Silicon Valley and beyond is hardly an industry secret. 

There’s plenty of lip service paid to diversity’s inherent business value and the need to improve it, but meaningful change is scarce. “Ivory towers” remain that color for a reason.

Consider this damning data compiled by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures, in 2019. He found that 58% of venture capitalists are white men, 20% are Asian men, 11% are white women and 6% are Asian women. Only 2% of VCs are black men and 1% are black women, while 1% are Latinx men and nearly 0% are Latinx women.

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What’s more, Kerby determined that out of 1,500 VCs, 40% of them went to just two schools — Harvard or Stanford — resulting in what Kerby calls a lack of racial, gender and cognitive diversity. Yet the VC diversity problem is worse than it looks. The majority of VCs — the 58% who are white men — control 93% of all venture capital dollars in the U.S.

There’s no disputing this dismal data; venture capital has a huge diversity problem. But as any VC professional worth their portfolio’s value knows, huge problems present massive opportunities. Let’s take a look at one group that’s leading the charge to increase Latinxs’ representation in venture capital.

A mission to increase Latinxs’ representation at the VC table

In June 2019, nine Latinx venture capital professionals gathered to share observations about the state of venture capital and to discuss ways they could improve Latinxs’ representation within the industry. They reached out to more than 30 other Latinx VC partners from Silicon Valley VC firms — including Base10, Cowboy Ventures, Menlo Ventures, NEA, Norwest, Reach Capital and Shasta Ventures — and held a brainstorming workshop to strategize priorities and goals that could drive a change in VC firms’ diversity.

That’s the abridged origin story of LatinxVC, a nonprofit co-founded by Maria Salamanca, a partner at Unshackled Ventures, and Rami Reyes a co-founder of NextEquity Partners. But the story is just beginning to unfold. The nonprofit’s objective is simple, if challenging: increase the number of, and provide ongoing support for, Latinx VC investment professionals.

Maria Salamanca, co-founder of LatinxVC. Photo: Courtesy

Latinxs’ representation in venture capital hasn’t changed much since Kerby’s 2019 data. In its first annual State of Latinx VCs Report, the nonprofit found that while Latinxs comprise 19% of the U.S. population, only 2% of partner-level VC professionals at institutional venture capital firms — e.g., companies with an active fund of at least $100 million in assets under management (AUM) — are Latinx. 

The institutional venture pipeline for up-and-coming non-partner level VC pros is even worse: a mere 1% are Latinx. One hypothesis is that more junior Latinx VC professionals work in emerging funds with less than $50 million AUM. Those funds — typically started by outsiders who want to challenge the bigger funds — tend to be more open to junior professionals and generally don’t require what Salamanca called a “Goldman Sachs pedigree.”

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But Salamanca et al are determined to build and sustain a bigger pipeline for Latinx professionals across the entire VC ecosystem. 

“Representation matters especially in an industry that relies deeply on past experiences and relationship-building,” said Salamanca. “Those networks provide a real advantage because people invest heavily in what they know and what’s familiar.”

The inspiration to form LatinxVC came as Salamanca and Reyes saw other demographic-specific nonprofits — such as All Raise and BLCK VC — make a real difference for women and Black investors, respectively. Yet Salamanca and Reyes recognized an issue specific to the Latinx community.

Unlike Black investors or self-identified female investors, when you go on a VC firm’s team page it is not always easy to figure out who is Latinx. We span all races, cultures and religions, and, although we suspected the numbers were low, we didn’t know what the data looked like for our specific demographic.

Maria Salamanca, co-founder of LatinxVC

However, they knew they had an opportunity to do good work similar to All Raise and BLCK VC: by increasing the number of Latinx-identifying people in venture capital, providing mentoring and professional-development opportunities to grow careers and networks, increasing the AUM for Latinx venture investors and supporting the people already working in venture capital.

Positive yet pragmatic, LatinxVC worked to identify issues the organization would focus on to have the most impact.

“There are a lot of structural racial issues, but we’re not trying to boil the ocean,” said Salamanca. “We decided to focus on a couple of things that will move the needle.”

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What started with community events to get to know each other, build relationships and share deals soon morphed into something bigger.

“We realized that we were not going to change the numbers unless we start placing more people into VC jobs,” said Salamanca. “That’s where the idea for the LatinxVC Fellowship: Breaking into VC program came from.”

The eight-week program, designed for people who identify as Hispanic or Latinx and are interested in a career in venture capital, provides tools and community support to prepare them for successful jobs as analysts, associates or senior associates. The inaugural cohort — which numbered 22 strong — graduated recently with promising results.

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Several members are now working at VC firms, and more of them are in their final-stage interviews while others, interested in late-stage investing, have opted to gain even more experience by working at a startup before going into venture capital.

“As an organization, we can build out the community, help this talent pool succeed and eventually get them to a point where venture capital is part of their career path,” said Salamanca.

LatinxVC and Silicon Valley Bank: A partnership to build a bigger pipeline

Last month, LatinxVC announced a new partnership with Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) through its Access to Innovation program, which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the founding sponsor, SVB will provide funding to support the nonprofit’s goal of increasing Latinxs’ representation in the VC industry.

“When we learned what LatinxVC aimed to do, we not only believed in the founders as individuals but, more importantly, we believed fully in their mission,” said Courtney Karnes, the director of Access to Innovation. “Growing the number of Latinx professionals in the VC ecosystem intersects perfectly with our primary objective to increase representation of and funding to women, Black and Latinx individuals.”

Courtney Karnes, Silicon Valley Bank’s director of Access to Innovation. Photo: Courtesy

LatinxVC is an all-volunteer organization whose founding members also hold demanding full-time VC jobs. SVB’s sponsorship will not only help the nonprofit exit the volunteer paradigm, but it also demonstrates the bank’s commitment to driving diversity.

“SVB wanted to place the first bet and said, ‘We will support you to hire an executive director, a full-time staff and to test out your programs,’” said Salamanca. “A lot of our peers, like All Raise and BLCK VC, have worked with SVB. They’re great partners.”

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In one sense, the partnership is not unlike a VC firm (SVB) investing in a startup (LatinxVC). Pressing the analogy even further, inking a founding-sponsor deal is like scoring seed-round funding. That cash infusion makes a big difference.

Prior to her role at SVB, Karnes spent years in the nonprofit sector, and she knows how powerful funding can be for a volunteer-driven organization.

I know firsthand how important it is to have operational dollars for a mission that’s going to impact change. While doing it in partnership with volunteers is a beautiful thought, it is a considerable amount of work for volunteers to execute on such an important mission.

Courtney Karnes, silicon Valley Bank’s director of Access to Innovation

The road(map) ahead

Over the next three years, LatinxVC will focus on building the organizational infrastructure, hiring a full-time staff and proving that the programs they implement are effective. 

“The goal is to double the number of Latinx investors within the first five years,” said Salamanca. “Although we’re still working through the specifics of how to measure and track our progress, we’re committed to releasing data in our annual reports to hold ourselves and the industry accountable.”

There’s no shortage of work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, LatinxVC will focus exclusively on investors rather than founders. Only when they prove their ability to place and retain more Latinx will the organization consider more direct ways to increase and support Latinx entrepreneurs.

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“You’ll see a natural increase in Latinx entrepreneurs receiving funding just by supporting Latinx investors, because their networks include many Latinx people,” said Salamanca.

That belief lines up with Access to Innovation’s core thesis.

“When you change the demographics of the folks writing checks at the table, it drives changes in funding decisions made across the venture capital ecosystem,” said Karnes.

“Growth” and “Latin American market” are nearly synonymous, and Salamanca noted that many of the investment funds currently making money on their LatAm bets don’t have any Latinx team members.

As the LatAm ecosystem continues its rapid growth, the Latinx investor community — with their regional understanding and network of entrepreneurs — will have the advantage. We’re excited to see big changes that will be good for everyone, and we hope that other funds will recognize the benefits of partnering with our organization.