Howie Diamond is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Alpha Bridge Ventures and Dr. Kari Sulenes is a Partner at Alpha Bridge Ventures and well-regarded in the startup ecosystem for her work as a life coach and therapist with Founders and VCs. Howie and Kari recently joined Burkland’s Ruben Austin for a discussion about diversity in venture capital and startups.
Q: Please share with us what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean to you and why they’re important.
For us, relationships are at the center of what we do and what makes us human. As a result, our definitions and ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion are relational. Diversity is the variety of perspectives, beliefs, and experiences that, when shared, give each of us the opportunity to increase our creativity and empathy. Equity is about fairness. Each of us was born into the world in a set of circumstances that has with it different proximity to power and privilege. As our lives develop we may move closer or further away from power and privilege while some aspects of our experience leave us stuck in some ways. Equity is what we strive towards while acknowledging and fighting the ways in which our societies are not equitable. Finally, belonging is one of the most important experiences a human needs to thrive, and vital for creating high-performing teams and prospering societies. Inclusion is the practice of creating and maintaining spaces that promote psychological safety, physical safety, and a welcoming experience for all people.
…belonging is one of the most important experiences a human needs to thrive, and vital for creating high-performing teams and prospering societies.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most challenging and beneficial aspects of working in a diverse environment?
Diversity is fundamental to innovation (creativity and gaining new perspectives) and without diversity, groups and lives become stagnant and eco-chambery. However, along with the many opportunities and richness that comes with spending time in diverse groups also comes the need for clear communication, which sometimes includes misunderstanding and challenge to our egos in areas where we have previously been unchallenged.
Q: What does it mean for you to have a commitment to diversity? How have you demonstrated that commitment in your fund and with your startups?
For us, a commitment to diversity starts with checking our own areas of bias and oversights that prevent us from standing for equity and inclusivity and therefore reduce the diversity around us. Our team regularly engages in self-reflection and group reflection exercises to help us uncover the ways in which systematic oppression and our own proximity to power and privilege have caused us to act unconsciously and not stand for inclusivity. However, of course, reflection is necessary but not sufficient to create the changes that are needed in our world. To begin, as a white person, I am constantly acknowledging my power and privilege and the ways it has made me unaware of the experiences of those different from me. As a result, we have partnered with amazing groups like Fears Advantage, SoGal Foundation, funds focused on capitalizing on under-estimated founders, and organizations like The Loveland Foundation who are already creating the changes we wish to see with wisdom and experience to uplift their work and to learn.
Q: What steps does your fund take to eliminate bias from your investment process?
We make a conscious effort to proactively take meetings with minority and BIPOC founders and believe as a general principle that great companies can come from anyone, from anywhere, and from any background.
Q: Why is it so important to have diversity in a startup and what are the biggest benefits?
- Culture Building: Having a diverse culture will attract and retain top-level talent. Can be a huge competitive advantage and set you up for long-term sustainable success.
- New Ideas: Diverse experiences and perspectives bring fresh new ideas to the table.
- Idea Meritocracy: Cognitive diversity can be a great check and balance system for sussing out the best ideas.
Q: What are the best takeaways for startup founders?
Write this down and repeat it to yourself every day: Diverse companies outperform non-diverse companies. Not just a theory, there is plenty of data that backs this up. A study found that diverse companies were 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.
Write this down and repeat it to yourself every day: Diverse companies outperform non-diverse companies.
Q: What do you believe is the outlook for Diversity & Inclusion in 2021?
It is now table stakes for companies to not only acknowledge and understand DEI but to walk the walk. I think we will see companies enact early training for their executive teams and then integrate the learnings into their operations and recruitment strategies. The ones that do it will advance and thrive and the ones that don’t will fall by the wayside.