IS LACK OF DIVERSITY IN VC REALLY A PIPELINE PROBLEM?
Inspired by the potential to create impact for women and minority populations, Sultani completed a summer internship at Kapor Capital, a social impact investing firm in Oakland, California, in summer 2020. “I realized that this space is where I can help people who look like me — minorities and women of color — have a chance to build something for our communities,” she says.
While the lack of diversity in many industries — including VC — has been pegged as a “pipeline problem,” Sultani and Heyward don’t buy it.
“In Silicon Valley, this is a huge conversation,” Sultani says. “To some degree, I don’t believe it. I think that (VC firms) don’t know Black minorities or women of color within their own network. It’s not an excuse; our student-run Fund has pools of educated minorities and women.”
Heyward also has a hard time believing that the “pipeline issue” is the cause of the limited amount of BIPOC in VC, noting that his consortium classmates from other schools are involved with venture capital fellowships and student-run funds like the SSVF. He says, “There’s a big groundswell of Black and Brown people that are there. They’re not going to take no for an answer in terms of getting into the VC space. It needs to be diversified.”
THE DREAM TEAM
Sultani and Heyward’s mutual passion of using money for good led to their friendship and subsequent working relationship at the SSVF.
They’d regularly make time to go for coffee — mainly to discuss their frustrations with how the Fund was being operated. “We wondered, how come we don’t see founders that look like us? Our portfolio looked like we weren’t representing ourselves,” says Sultani.
Despite the Fund having $2M donated from alumni and a board of investors, Sultani says that it wasn’t operating like a real fund, nor was it leveraging the potential impact that was possible. Determined to make a change for the better, Heyward and Sultani decided to apply for leadership positions.
“We came to the agreement that if Hawa was president and if I was the COO, we could make things happen,” says Heyward.
When it was time to apply for the leadership roles, the former management team put Sultani and Heyward in a room with eight people who were to ask them questions. But Sultani took a different approach. “When I walked in, I was so frustrated with the way things were working. I was like, ‘I don’t want you guys to ask me questions. I have a full presentation. I need you guys to see my vision.’ In hindsight, I can’t believe I did that. I walked in and told them to put down their laptops and look at my presentation,” she says, laughing.
“I’m the Robin to Hawa’s Batman,” jokes Heyward. “It almost seemed like we were destined to lead this fund.”
In addition to Sultani as president and Heyward as COO, they have three vice presidents: Nelson Rosa, VP of deal sourcing, who drives the mission of bringing in women of color and minority founders into the pipeline; Khushi Vijayakumar, VP of portfolio management, who deals with new partnerships and ensures that companies are able to recover from Covid with free resources, interns or consulting; and Sabeen Khan, VP of education and outreach, who makes sure that there’s no discrimination in terms of how much knowledge analysts have when they’re recruited, and that there’s equal opportunity for those interested in venture capital.
The process goes like this: the management team sources deals based on companies that fit the fund mission and portfolio; the fund’s 27 analysts perform due diligence by reviewing pitch materials and conducting market, financial, and valuation analyses; the analysts then present the deal to the SSVF board of investors, where an investment decision is then made; and finally, the Fund provides value by building portfolio connections and offering university resources to promote company success.
The fund is industry agnostic, meaning they invest in a range of industries, such as healthcare, technology and energy. While priority is given to alumni funding, they also invest in companies with no prior relations to the university. “There’s always a risk, but we want to find founders we can believe in. We can add value to founders and help make their dreams a reality,” says Heyward.
Despite Simon Business School being small from a numbers perspective, Heyward still believes in the potential of its students to make a big impact.
“We give a lot of credit to the last management team,” Heyward says. “They built a great platform operationally. They gave us a chance to make a leap. Now, we want to push ourselves to bring it to the next level.”