One Man's Effort to Get VCs to Commit to Bringing Underrepresented Investors into Startup Deals

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

One Man's Effort to Get VCs to Commit to Bringing Underrepresented Investors into Startup Deals
Sapann Design/ Shutterstock

Ten venture capital firms have committed to include a "diversity rider" — a promise to startups that they made their best effort to find underrepresented investors — in their deals.

The project was the brainchild of Alejandro Guerrero, a partner at Los Angeles-based Act One Ventures and the child of Mexican immigrants, who often found he was the only person of color in the room when investment deals north of six figures were being made.

"This is about moving diversity forward and there's two themes of how we address that: Money and access," he said.

Inspired by the George Floyd protests and the push it gave the industry to recognize long standing inequities, Guerrero reached out to several venture capital firms and investors with a proposition: add diverse investors in on the deal.

In the end, Greycroft Partners, First Round Capital, SVB Capital, Harlem Capital Partners, Fifth Wall, Plexo Capital, Precursor Ventures and Equal Ventures signed on.

Each of the firms are committed to adding "boilerplate rider language into their standard term sheets" that encourages the addition of underrepresented investors to cap tables.

Alejandro Guerrero often found he was the only person of color in the room when big investment deals were being negotiated.

Studies have shown diverse investment teams deliver better returns, Guerrero points out.

"The same way you would have to have a conversation about, 'how much money do you want to raise, at what dilution'," he said. " You want to throw in there, 'who has a diverse investor?'"

Historically, the answer has been few.

A 2018 Deloitte study found 80% of investment partners at U.S. venture firms were white; 15% were Asian/Pacific Islander; 3% were Black; and 3% were Latino. Women accounted for 14% of partners.

In Los Angeles, one of the country's most diverse metropolises, the figures were even worse. Just 2% of VC investment partners identify as African American or Latino and less than 10% of VC-funded companies are led by women or people of color, according to PledgeLA.

The chasm is more than numbers to Guerrero.

"Sometimes it is uncomfortable being the only person of color in the room, being the only Latino person in the room," he said. "You know we're talking about a town in Los Angeles that's 50% Hispanic."

The largely exclusive world of venture capital has remained largely white in part because of the way it operates, relying on tight-knit networks that circle back to people of similar backgrounds. Guerrero said he thought a lot about that and the systematic inequalities that the Black community faced as he watched the video of police killing George Floyd.

"If you're a person of color, or an underrepresented individual you can kind of feel how you know you've been overlooked for opportunities," he said. "You haven't gotten those chances, not because you don't work hard or you're not there, but because you don't come from those networks, you don't have that wealth, you don't have that privilege and that's what's hindering you and that's not your fault. Sometimes you just don't hit the birth lottery."

The effort is an attempt to unlock access to investors of color and underrepresented groups, but it also build their reputation and eventually generate more wealth through increasing who owns a stake in companies.

"Long term, this is a step forward in changing the mindset in venture to ensure more investors are frequently considered for co-investment and follow on opportunities," said Henri Pierre-Jacques, managing partner at Harlem Capital Partners, in a statement.

It comes as others in the industry are trying to address longstanding inequities. Softbank launched a $100 million Opportunity Fund to invest in minority-owned businesses and Andreessen Horowitz announced the Talent x Opportunity Fund.

Guerrero said he's hoping that it will catch on not only with venture firms but will encourage founders to ask for diverse investors.

Firms interested in joining the initiative can sign up here.

Geekwire contributed to this story.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.