Bessemer’s Elliott Robinson on Diversity in Venture Capital

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In the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, the corporate world was forced to consider its responsibility to communities of color – and one of the most introspective industries to do was venture capital.

Venture capitalists have tried to make strides toward racial equity in recent years, but for many of the industry’s top black investors, the changes have been mostly symbolic. Speaking at the Upfront Summit in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Elliott Robinson, a partner at Bay Area venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, said many venture capitalists chose to bring surface-level changes that did not alter their actual potency. structures.


“There’s a lot of BS diversity in venture capital — there always is,” Robinson said in a conversation with Upfront Ventures partner Kara Nortman.

Eric Robinson at the 2022 Upfront Summit in Los Angeles.

Image courtesy of Upfront Summit

Addressing the predominantly white crowd at the conference, Robinson noted that “fundraising for black people [venture capital fund] managers is half of what it is for non-black managers. So for all [limited partners] in the room, you really have to ask yourself: why? »

Robinson is a board member of a non-profit group VC blackwhich is striving to double the percentage of black investors and venture capital partners by 2024. Yet Blck VC’s goals to achieve these goals still represent only a relatively thin slice of the entire industry : only 6% and 4%, respectively (against 3% previously). and 2% currently).

Robinson said that to have more black startup founders — who are still fighting for a disproportionately small percentage of venture capital funds— it is essential that these founders can find support among VCs who represent their same cultural interests. Yet black partners on venture capital funds remain rare, while it is even rarer for a black person to be a limited partner investing in a venture capital fund.

“Ten years ago, many funds decided to change everyone’s title to a partner so that they could [say]’Look at all these female partners and [people of color] they have “- but there is no economy, no authority to write checks,” Robinson explained. “I think there are five black partners who can write a check for more than $10 million in the country,” he added, noting that one of them was partner GV Tyson Clark, who died suddenly Last year.

Robinson said helping change those dynamics in his chosen profession is a key barometer of “what success means to me” as a venture capitalist.

“It’s being the best investor possible so that I can have a very honest conversation with LPs in the room that I admire and respect, but can also level the playing field so that my skin color or the fact that I went to Morehouse College will not affect my ability to invest in the brightest and best founders who will define the next generation of companies,” he said.

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