Maryam Haque, executive director of Venture Forward, hopes to provide resources to the VC industry … [+]
Venture capital’s longtime leading lobbyist group has launched a new non-profit to support diversity and education efforts free of its policy ties.
The National Venture Capital Association announced on Tuesday that it had launched Venture Forward, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with close links to the NVCA but a separate board of directors. Venture Forward has raised $5.5 million from more than 60 donors so far led by Silicon Valley Bank, says executive director Maryam Haque.
While Venture Forward calls diversity, equity and inclusion one of the founding “pillars” of its mandate, the non-profit’s origins pre-date the recent Black Lives Matter protests and renewed discussion about venture capital’s lack of diversity in its investors, especially the few number of Black investors in check-writing roles. Venture Forward was set to announce itself to the world in March, Haque says, before those plans were put on hold by the disruption caused by Covid-19.
Unsurprisingly, DE&I has become even more of a focus for the non-profit in recent weeks, especially as the VC industry has shifted to a pandemic workflow based on phone calls and video conferences over tools like Zoom. “We’ve been very concerned that the industry fall back into habits relying on existing networks or portfolio company relationships that may reverse some of the momentum we’ve seen in the industry in terms of prioritizing diversity,” says Haque.
The creation of Venture Forward decouples the forty-seven-year-old NVCA’s historical focus of public policy and lobbying for the venture industry’s interests in Washington from more recent efforts to help the industry from within, efforts that took on more urgency in 2017 as the venture industry reckoned with its #MeToo moment and groups like non-profit All Raise emerged to focus on promoting more women investors and entrepreneurs.
“I think we’ve seen some positive growth for good when it comes to the numbers and in the female general partners who have increased over the past couple of years, but from the data, we see that that is above and beyond what you see in the partner roles for Black and Latinx individuals,” says Haque. “We want to make sure we have that intersectional approach to offering resources and programs to help the community help those who want to enter the industry, and then really helping those firms to be accountable to try to change when it comes to their investment decisions and how they are making hiring decisions at their firms.”
At the last in-person programming set up by the NVCA’s initiatives now spun out as Venture Forward … [+]
Venture Forward’s other mandated areas of focus include education to provide tools and information to aspiring investors and the general public, research and data focused on VC trends, and history, which taps into insights from the industry’s past. Other initiatives developed in recent years, including the NVCA’s VC University program for educating potential investors, for which it provides scholarships, and its LP Office Hours program to support new fund managers in raising capital, will spin out with Venture Forward. The non-profit has two executives to start: Haque, who joined the NVCA in 2015, and Rhianon Anderson, its program director.
A tax-deductible group, unlike the NVCA itself, Venture Forward’s 60-plus investors already include Silicon Valley Bank, Deloitte and law firm Gunderson Dettmer. Its board consists NVCA chief executive Bobby Franklin, Christy Chin, venture partner at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Jennifer Friel Goldstein of Silicon Valley Bank, Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures, Ray Leach of Jumpstart, Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners and Scott Sandell of NEA.
“For an industry that has been very active in pushing entrepreneurs to upend industries and produce breakthrough products, the venture capital industry itself is in need of more openness and innovation,” Hudson told Forbes in a statement, adding that Venture Forward “will help propel our industry toward a future that includes a wider variety of voices at the table and an industry that welcomes a wider spectrum of people.”
At Venture Forward, Haque notes that efforts like Venture Forward cannot succeed without long-term buy-in from the VC firms to commit to changes themselves. “At the end of the day, it’s really the firms who have the power to make the decisions when it comes to investing or hiring,” she says.