VC diversity programs are shifting online to try to maintain momentum

Key Points
  • The monumental challenge of tackling venture capital's systemic lack of diversity is going virtual. 
  • Diversity VC has swapped its internship program for a series of webinars and mentoring sessions, while Included VC opted to run a virtual retreat for its cohort. 
  • VC has a reputation for being among the least diverse industries in the world.

Programs aiming to tackle the venture capital industry's systemic lack of diversity are shifting online amid the coronavirus pandemic as they try to sustain their momentum.

This year, London-based Diversity VC and Included VC have tweaked their courses, which aim to get more people into tech investing from diverse backgrounds.

VC has a reputation for being among the least diverse industries in the world. In the U.S., the industry is 70% white and 80% male, while 40% hail from Stanford or Harvard, according to analysis by Equal Ventures. In the U.K., just 13% of top VC jobs are occupied by women, according to a report from Diversity VC. It's a self-perpetuating prophecy: most of the industry's capital still flows to a relatively narrow group of founders who tend to have things in common with the VCs themselves.

Going digital 

Instead of running its normal "Future VC" internship program for 30 people, Diversity VC decided to run a series of online webinars and mentoring sessions for 300 people.

The sessions, which began on June 9, are being led by renowned tech investors working in the industry, such as Balderon Capital's Suranga Chandratillake and Eight Roads' Lillian Li.

Check Warner, co-founder and CEO of Diversity VC, said she was concerned that the coronavirus pandemic will have a negative impact on diversity and inclusion in VC.

"In the face of adversity and trying times, investors may go back to 'bad habits', such as relying on their network for introductions to both potential portfolio companies and team members," said Warner.

"Stifling diversity of thought in this way is bad for everyone: for VCs, and for tech entrepreneurs. That's why, in the face of the obstacles, we are keen to ensure Future VC 2020 goes ahead this year."

Another program run by Included VC, which offers a 12-month VC fellowship for 40 individuals from diverse backgrounds, was forced to make its cohort "retreats" virtual this year due to the pandemic.  

Fully remote

"An in-person retreat in Madrid that was scheduled for June was virtualized and events that Included VC encourages fellows to lead in their local communities to share their knowledge about the VC sector have been put on hold," Included VC co-founder and director Nikita Thakrar told CNBC via email.

Other initiatives that aim to support start-up founders from diverse backgrounds have also moved online in response to Covid-19.

Venture capital firm Playfair Capital made its Female Founders Office Hours program "fully remote" earlier this year, rendering geography a "non-issue" in the process. The program allows female founders to meet tech investors.

"Going fully-remote, via Zoom Breakout Rooms, gave much-needed structure to the scale of 800 one-on-one meetings," said Henrik Wetter Sanchez, a venture capital investor at Playfair Capital.

"It also enabled us to host a second event at short notice to accommodate huge demand from another 100 founders and 30 VCs."