As part of our new video series examining diversity across venture capital and tech, I recently invited investor and BLCK VC founder Sydney Sykes to talk about breaking into venture, the mission for BLCK VC, and the current ecosystem for Black investors. We also invited members of the BLCK VC community to submit questions.
I first heard about venture capital in 2001, when I graduated from Stanford. At the time the industry seemed like a very esoteric community that was just impossible to break into. After business school, I worked in investment banking and then corporate development at a large company. That helped me build a network among VC contacts. GV was instrumental in giving me a chance, by taking a bet on me before I had an investment track record.
Meanwhile, Sydney went into VC right out of college. In sending countless cold emails, she learned about the challenges of breaking into the industry. It wasn't as welcoming as the typical recruitment process for new grads. "Looking at the VC team pages, I didn't really see anyone who looked like me," she recalled. "I'm one of those people who gets excited by a challenge like that."
We talked about how much the path to becoming an investor has changed. While investment banking and business school were once the only road to VC, now data science or product management is the ideal place to start. But it's still far from a easy path. As Sydney asked, "If you allow a lot more wiggle room in terms of what is considered a good qualification or a good background, are you just moving the goal post?"
So how do we move efforts of equity, diversity, and inclusion forward? When I asked Sydney for her take on how experienced investors can use our leverage to make changes to the system, she said, "The two most important things for me, in terms of helping our community: the warm intro, and how you help people of color build a track record."
The more we talk about these issues openly within our partnerships, the better chance we have to create new opportunities for people of color in venture capital. We aren't going to diversify the VC industry overnight, especially at the partner level; I believe it will take a decade before people of color gain a meaningful position across the VC ecosystem and can truly hold firms accountable for hiring diverse candidates.
We just have to do the work today. Luckily, we are in a place where the broader VC industry seems to be in agreement.