a message from Phil Weilerstein, CEO and President of VentureWell
The events and changes of this past year have transformed the world. The brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery sparked ongoing global protests against racism and police brutality, heightening awareness of systemic racism in the United States and the violence it begets, intensifying the urgency for change. The COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life for billions of people and caused immeasurable grief — this too was exacerbated and compounded across racial lines in the United States. A year later, great strides toward progress have been taken and there is still much more to resolve: violence against Asian Americans is on the rise across the country; the pandemic is still ongoing and in many parts of the world, worsening; and though millions have taken a stand against systemic racism, achieving long-term racial equity will require consistent, continual, and rigorous attention and effort.
Last year, we made a commitment to actively increase racial equity in our work, and to gather and share strategies to support change with our network of innovators, faculty, and investors. Since then, we’ve listened, learned, and set a plan of action based on conversations with our staff, consultants, and partners to prioritize racial equity in our policies and in our engagement with the broader STEM and I&E communities. I write today to share a few of the outcomes from these strategies, and to voice VentureWell’s ongoing commitment to improving access and inclusion in innovation and entrepreneurship, changing the demography of our field and sharing what we learn as we go.
Increasing Access and Lowering Barriers in Our Programs
Over the past year, we’ve begun to redesign our program opportunities, particularly our E-Team program for early-stage innovators, to be more equitable and inclusive to Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. We knew it was important to invite a more diverse pool of applicants and participants, and we did so by decentering our voice in tailored, authentic outreach and working in collaboration with partners that serve Black, Latinx, and Indigenous groups. We also incorporated new programmatic and curricular enhancements to center equity and inclusion in our early-stage innovator workshops, and we will continue to learn and innovate.
We have also begun a partnership with Black Tech Ventures, an organization that works to empower African American tech innovators and entrepreneurs, and to foster a culture of entrepreneurship at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to promote entrepreneurial leadership among African American tech professionals and to accelerate venture formation at HBCUs.
System-Wide Listening, Learning, and Sharing
As a small US-based, white-led, nonprofit organization, we’ve learned that in order to contribute to combating systemic racism in innovation ecosystems, we need to listen deeply and learn from racial justice experts. We’ve developed and deepened relationships with new and existing members of our network, and have developed channels to receive and rapidly act on feedback. We also created shared learning spaces to elevate the voices of experts whose equity and inclusion work is far more advanced than VentureWell’s, including the Community Conversations for Advancing Equity, a companion webinar series we launched alongside our Advancing Equity report.
We’ve spent significant time reflecting on how we can best contribute in these spaces and conversations, and more clearly defined our role as a “convener-participant” — gathering, listening, synthesizing, and sharing insights and strategies with our network.
Centering Racial Equity and Inclusion Internally
Since my letter last year, VentureWell has looked inward, placing a deeper and more intentional focus on internal culture change and practices that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. In June 2020, we launched a bi-monthly, staff-led series of conversations to candidly discuss topics related to race and racism, including intersectionality, white fragility, and the role of the media and popular culture in shaping public opinion.
We are in the process of updating our hiring and compensation policies and practices across the organization. We’ve opened our recruitment and hiring processes to be more flexible and geographically diverse. We’ve updated our website to feature our staff-led affinity groups, crafted new equity language in all of our job descriptions, and included discussions on our commitment to equity and inclusion during our hiring process.
We wouldn’t be able to do this vital work without the support of the many partners and field experts who have shared their time and knowledge to help us learn, improve, and grow. We are grateful for their support as we strive to “commit to imperfection” — recognizing that we have both accomplished some things and we still have much work to do.
Black lives matter. Black innovators matter. Racial equity is at the core of VentureWell’s mission, and we remain committed to advancing equity across our organization, programs, and the wider I&E ecosystem.
– Phil Weilerstein, CEO and President of VentureWell
Read more about our advancing equity work and see how you can get involved.