dot.LA Summit: VC-led Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Still Need More Funding

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
dot.LA Summit: VC-led Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Still Need More Funding
Photo by David Ruano

In 2021, women raised just 2 percent of venture capital in the US in 2021. Black founders raised just 1.2 percent of total VC funds last year — and will likely raise even less this year amidst the economic downturn. This is all to say that efforts from VC funds to invest in female and racially diverse founders don’t appear to be enough.

So what more can be done to create equity in the world of venture capital? In a panel at the dot.LA Summit,’s Ko Trinidad-Williams spoke to the heads of a number of diverse VC funds about solutions for creating more inclusive organizations.

Marcos Gonzalez, the founder of LA-based VamosVentures, urged firms to build a pipeline of diverse talent —— from intern level to mid-level positions to partner. Recruiting diverse candidates at all levels will ensure that firms will be able to move people into seats that “have a say” on what type of deals they look at and the amount of funding. “Those networks are a critical part of creating equity,” Gonzalez added.

Merely recruiting diverse candidates for internships isn’t, however, enough. “It’s not about that internship,” said Derek Smith of Plug In South LA, which aims to build out the tech ecosystem in South Los Angeles. “It’s about converting that internship into a job, and then converting that job into a professional career, and then converting that career into an entrepreneurial endeavor.”

Stuart McCalla of Evolution, a leadership coaching firm, said organizations have to figure out what internal changes need to happen to draw more diverse candidates.

For example, VamosVentures, which focuses on LatinX and diverse funders, has seen increased interest from aspiring entrepreneurs in recent years. “In 2015, I travelled the country and found about 200 deals led by Latino founders that I thought were VC-backable,” said Gonzalez. This year, the firm has over 1500.

Even as recently as five years ago, Gonzalez said it was rare to find Latino-led firms that have raised over $5 million in funding. Now, every firm in VamosVentures’ portfolio has done that.

Gonzalez’s firm also offers help to founders who didn’t quite make the cut, either offering founders constructive feedback or connecting them with people who could aid their company’s growth. “What bothered us ins that when we looked at 100 companies and invested in two, we had to say no to 98 of them,” Gonzalez said.

Aisling Carlson of Diversity VC, which researches diversity in the VC industry, agreed that while there’s been an uptick in women and founders from minority backgrounds receiving funding — the total amount is still “orders of magnitude” smaller than what goes to white male founders.

Even funders that have launched “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives have diverted a tiny fraction of resources to those efforts. “We’re talking about an average fund size of $250 million for your more homogenous funds and $20 million for your DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) fund,” said Carlson. “So that difference is just so big, and as much as we should be saying, ‘Oh, this is great progress’, it’s just not enough.”

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Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at
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Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

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Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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