Can Venture Capital Solve Its Whiteness Problem?

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Can Venture Capital Solve Its Whiteness Problem?
Illustration by Candice Navi

Editor's note: This is the first in our series examining diversity in venture capital. Read the second and third stories here and sign up for our newsletter to get updates.

The nationwide protests in response to the killing of George Floyd led to a flurry of discussions and self-reflection in the overwhelming white male world of venture capital about what needs to change to make the industry more diverse. While many VCs were quick (or not so quick) to take to social media to say they support diversity or attend webinars on inclusivity, meaningful concrete action has been less common.

"The venture field has been probably the slowest to let minorities and women in," said Sue Toigo, co-founder of the Toigo Foundation, which helps underrepresented minorities get careers in finance. "It has the worst record of all asset classes."


Just 4% of VC employees are black, according to a 2018 survey by the National Venture Capital Association, an industry trade group, which announced a new nonprofit arm this week focused on diversity. However, the true numbers are likely much lower because that survey – like all others examining diversity — is self-reported. Only 203 of the 1428 VC firms NVCA contacted even bothered to answer. A local initiative to increase diversity, PledgeLA, has also been hampered by limited participation.

Along with Softbank, Andreessen Horowitz has been the only major firm to announce a new fund in the wake of the protests that will focus on underrepresented founders. But its new Talent x Opportunity Fund will start with just $2.2 million in donations from partners, a relative pittance for a firm with $14 billion under management.

"I'm worried that this is being treated as more of a charity case rather than doing the work to reform our internal process so that we don't discriminate against founders of color," said a black VC who works in L.A. She asked to remain anonymous because she was afraid speaking out could harm her future career prospects. Asked why she was afraid of using her name even after so many in the industry have spoken up in support of diversity, she said, "There are professional ramifications that may come with being known as the investor who only invests in founders of color. When you speak about diversity you're the diversity person and you're taken out of deals that don't have diverse founders, which is sad."

This VC said she was happy to finally see more people "waking up" to biases in the industry and that most have good intentions but she wonders if partners are willing to do the harder things necessary to truly change how investment decisions get made. "Companies need to tie their executive compensation to these efforts if they're serious about it," she said.

Luma Launch, the four-year-old investment arm of the film studio Luma Pictures, is a typical VC firm. Its three investors are all white and out of the 28 companies in its portfolio, none were founded by a black person.

"The reality is we are the problem," said Luma's lead investor, Laurent Grill. "We've obviously all contributed to this in some form or fashion whether it was passively or actively."

In 2017, as the country was roiled by the Me Too movement, Grill and his partners revamped their deal flow to ensure more female founders get funding. He says the percentage of female founders the firm sees increased from 10% to 30% and now he is determined to hold the firm accountable to invest in more people of color.

"This is not being charitable," Grill said. "We are not trying to just invest in companies to check a box, that's when things will crumble and fail. I don't have the perfect solution. We are genuinely having conversations about this."

The effort to add more female VCs after #MeToo can provide a helpful template for increasing diversity, according to Paul A. Gompers, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies the demographics of finance. He found that after 25 years of virtually no gains, over the past four years the number of female VCs hired nearly doubled, though it is still just 18%.

"We have these strong biases to associate with people who are like us," Gompers said. "I think most venture capitalists aren't sexist and they're not racist but these unconscious biases affect our decisions."

Gompers has found VCs who have daughters tend to hire more female partners and their portfolio performs better. He's now turning his attention to ethnic diversity, gathering data to see if VCs who played on diverse intercollegiate athletic teams are more likely to hire people who do not look like them.

"Who you invest in looks a lot like who you are, so white men who went to Stanford and worked at Google like to invest in white men that went to Stanford and worked at Google," he said. "We know there are underserved pockets of entrepreneurs out there and those opportunities could perhaps create greater returns."

Internships are a crucial pipeline for recruiting new talent, but Toigo says VC firms can often be reluctant to bring them on, blaming fears about exposing proprietary deals to someone who might only stick around for a summer. "We have a hard time placing our interns at firms," said Toigo.

If nonwhite people do somehow make it in, they rarely advance, especially to the highest levels from principal to partners, who are usually brought in from the outside from those who can raise capital themselves or have operated their own company.

"When you don't have representation on your investment committee, it is very hard to properly assess people that come from backgrounds very different from yours," said Austin Clements, a partner at early stage venture firm OPV and the managing director at Grid110.

Just 10% of VC-backed companies in Los Angeles are run by a person of color or a woman, according to PledgeLA.

If one was trying to create a deal- making process from scratch to perpetuate whiteness, you would be hard pressed to come up with one more exclusionary than the current one where pre existing networks and who you know are paramount. Many firms require "warm introductions" before they will even consider evaluating a company.

"The same VCs who complain about 'not getting deal flow' from diverse- or females-led companies are the same people who have the 'we prefer a warm intro' line on their website," tweeted Samantha Smith, founder & CEO of Vishion.

Clements said he sees it all the time. "When people come and speak to South L.A. or predominantly minority communities, the common thing to say is 'to get in touch with me through a warm introduction'," he said. But many in the room think "'how can you possibly look at me and think we have any mutual friends in common.' I don't know that (investors) really have accepted that. People think if you have enough hustle you can get in touch."

Making matters more difficult, investors typically don't want to put money into startups that other VCs have not already invested in. And in the absence of the sort of financial metrics that would usually be the most important criteria for more mature companies, VCs have to weigh something far more subjective: Whether they trust a founder.

"The question is what makes people trust people?," said the VC who wished to remain anonymous. "Is it how educated they are? Is it how many friends they have in common? Their similarities? People tend to trust people that are more like them. It's easy to see how certain demographics are cut out of the very beginning of deal evaluation."

Editor's note: This is the first in our series examining diversity in venture capital. Read the second and third stories here and sign up for our newsletter to get updates.


https://twitter.com/thebenbergman
ben@dot.la

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

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.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

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.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

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.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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