'There's a Lot of Diversity BS in Venture Capital': Bessemer's Elliott Robinson on Why Funding to Black-Led Companies Is So Low

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He 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 samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him

'There's a Lot of Diversity BS in Venture Capital': Bessemer's Elliott Robinson on Why Funding to Black-Led Companies Is So Low
Image courtesy of the Upfront Summit

Sign up for dot.LA's daily newsletterfor the latest news on Southern California's tech, startup and venture capital scene.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, the corporate world was forced to reckon with its responsibility to communities of color—and one of the industries with the most soul-searching to do was venture capital.

VC firms have tried to make strides toward racial equity in recent years, but for many of the industry’s leading Black investors, the changes have been mostly symbolic. Speaking at the Upfront Summit in Downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Elliott Robinson, a partner at Bay Area venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, said many VC firms opted to make surface-level changes that didn’t alter their actual, white-heavy power structures.

“There's a lot of diversity BS in venture capital—there still is,” Robinson said in a conversation with Upfront Ventures partner Kara Nortman.

Elliott Robinson at the 2022 Upfront Summit in Los Angeles. Image courtesy of the Upfront Summit

Addressing the mostly white crowd on hand at the conference, Robinson noted that “fundraising for Black [venture capital fund] managers is half of what it is for non-Black managers. So for all the [limited partners] in the room, you really do have to just ask yourself: Why is that?”

Robinson is a board member at nonprofit group Blck VC, which is working to double the percentage of Black investors and venture capital partners by 2024. Yet Blck VC’s targets in reaching those goals are still a relatively thin slice of the overall industry: only 6% and 4%, respectively (up from 3% and 2% currently).

Robinson said that in order to have more Black startup founders—who still struggle for a disproportionately low percentage of venture capital funds—it’s critical that those founders can find support among VCs who represent their same cultural interests. Yet Black partners on VC funds remain rare, while it’s even rarer for a Black person to be a limited partner investing in a VC fund.

“A decade ago, a lot of funds decided to change everyone's title to partner so they could [say], ‘Look at all these women partners and [people of color] they have’—but there's no economics, no check-writing authority,” Robinson explained. “I think there's five Black partners that can cut a check over $10 million in the country,” he added, noting that one of them was GV partner Tyson Clark, who unexpectedly passed away last year.

Robinson said that helping to change those dynamics in his chosen profession is a key barometer of “what success means for me” as a venture capitalist.

“It's being the best investor I can—such that I can have very honest conversation with LPs in the room who I admire and respect, but can also level the playing field so that my skin color or the fact that I went to Morehouse College does not impact my ability to invest in the brightest and best founders that will define the next generation of business,” he said.


Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui On How Small Funds Can Better Support Young Founders

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui On How Small Funds Can Better Support Young Founders

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui talks about why he moved earlier stage in his investing and how investors can best support founders.

Lui joined his friend—and first angel investor—Ben Ling as a general partner at Bling Capital, which focuses on pre-seed and seed-stage funding rounds. The desire to work in earlier funding stages alongside someone he knew well drew him away from his role as a partner at multi-billion-dollar venture firm DCM, where he was part of the team that invested in Musical.ly, now known as TikTok.

Read moreShow less

This Language App Is Using Social Media Influencers To Raise Its Profile

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.

This Language App Is Using Social Media Influencers To Raise Its Profile
Photo courtesy of HeyPal

Katy Johnson, a reality TV star and globe-trotting travel blogger, has lately offered some advice to her more than 100,000 Instagram followers.

“I urge you to learn a new language,” the model has told her fans, noting how locals in the foreign countries she has visited appreciate the effort. “It’s essential to be able to connect with people as much as possible while I travel,” she wrote in another post last month. Johnson, a former contestant on the TV show “Joe Millionaire,” has repeatedly suggested one particular way to study a new language: HeyPal, a one-year-old language-learning app.

Read moreShow less

TikTok Parent ByteDance Eclipses $1B in Mobile Games Sales

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

TikTok Parent ByteDance Eclipses $1B in Mobile Games Sales
Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

TikTok parent company ByteDance’s big bet on mobile gaming is paying off.

The Chinese tech giant’s growing portfolio of mobile games has brought in more than $1 billion in revenue over the past 12 months, according to a report by data analytics company Sensor Tower, which examined player spending from Apple’s App Store and Google Play dating back to June 2021.

Read moreShow less