You don’t have to be a hedge fund bro to know that the venture capital (VC) world is an overwhelmingly white, male space. What you might not know, however, is exactly how white and how male it actually is.
According to AllRaise, just 13 percent of the decision-makers in VC are women, and there’s a notable dearth of Black investors, as well: As recently as 2018, less than three percent of investors at VC firms were Black or Latinx.
Perhaps even more disheartening: Less than three percent of funding in this country goes to women-led companies (this, despite loads of data suggesting that women are far more capital-efficient investments than men). And less than one percent of capital goes to Black founders.
Enter Sarah Kunst, managing director of San Francisco-based Cleo Capital, the third-largest venture firm started by a Black woman, and a VC game-changer as far as who gets access to funding. She’s also an active investor, senior advisor at Bumble, contributing editor at Marie Claire, entrepreneurial sage—particularly for women and people of color—and she’s racked up endless honors and top spots on various “innovator/success/rockstar” lists, from the likes of Vanity Fair, Forbes, Business Insider…and so on.
“I do this crazy thing that is hiring people that aren’t just white dudes,” Kunst said. “It works really great—you guys should try it.”
Pre-Cleo, Kunst had a handful of business experiences: Post-college, where she studied advertising, she worked for top-tier companies like Apple, Chanel and Red Bull, then became an entrepreneur and startup boss herself in 2015, when she launched an app called Proday. (The app, which allows users to work out with professional athletes, got backing from the Los Angeles Dodgers accelerator and funding from heavy-hitters like Arielle Zuckerberg and Sara Haider.)
In 2018, she found herself on the other side of the investing world, as a scout for Sequoia Capital, a time that really cemented her realization that there were lots of good ideas, talent and promising entrepreneurs left out in the cold (along with great investing opportunities) because of underrepresentation in the VC industry.
Cleo Capital would aim to change that.
Through Cleo, which Kunst got rolling in 2018, she invests in “scouts”—successful business founders who are mostly women—who can then invest the money in promising businesses they learn about through their own networks.
The firm is already a noted success story: The Cleo portfolio is diverse, impressive and growing, and Kunst has become one of the nation’s foremost proponents for and advisors on upping the diversity and equity opportunities in the VC and startup worlds—which isn’t as complicated a prospect as some would have it portrayed, she’s said more than once. (“I do this crazy thing that is hiring people that aren’t just white dudes,” she riffed at a TechCrunch panel in 2018. “It works really great—you guys should try it.”)
For Kunst, the goal isn’t just about what she wants for Cleo Capital. “The goal,” as she told Medium this past summer, “is to have an industry that looks like our world—people of all genders, races, abilities, orientations. Until we get there, we haven’t come nearly far enough.”
As it happens, this goal is part of what Dalila Wilson-Scott is doing across the country in a different industry entirely. Here in Philly, Wilson-Scott is the new executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Comcast, as well as president of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation.
Before she came here, she spent 16 years at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she served as head of Global Philanthropy and president of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Wilson-Scott has for years now been immersed in the work of helping solving some of the more pressing problems of modern America, and has been named as one of the “most powerful women in business” by Black Enterprise, and an “innovative rising star” by Forbes.
“The goal,” as Kunst told Medium this past summer, “is to have an industry that looks like our world—people of all genders, races, abilities, orientations. Until we get there, we haven’t come nearly far enough.”
At Comcast, Wilson-Scott is in charge of overseeing all of the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for the corporation … including its $100 million commitment to advancing social justice and equality.
Beyond the obvious role Wilson-Scott might play in changing the landscape for women and people of color in the Comcast corporate and tech setting, she’s also spoken in the past about the need for more women of color in executive roles and about the lack of diversity in technology and the importance of helping people create their own tech companies.
In short? Wilson-Scott and Kunst are two unique voices and powerful leaders in the national conversation about what it takes to get more diversity in places that cry out for it; what the stakes and benefits are for all the players; best hiring practices for a diverse work community; and what comes next on the quest for a more representative power structure.
And you can hear them talk about all these things (and more, including personal lessons and advice!) at our 3rd annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival on December 15. Tickets are available here. And check out the rest of the lineup of speakers and thought leaders here.