When I moved down to London from Manchester and started university at UCL, it never occurred to me that, at a university with 40,000 students, the lack of diversity would be so jarring. In the 354 strong cohort of my undergraduate Economics course at UCL, I am one of just three black students. A similar picture emerges when looking at my halls and the societies I’ve joined. In the heart of a multicultural hub like London, this came as a shock.
Directing the UCL Entrepreneurs Society’s VC Fund, I’ve found a similar lack of diversity among founders — last year we received 110 applications from UCL startups for funding and interviewed just over 40 of these. Of these, just two founding teams were made up of students of African-Caribbean descent and only one of these was female. I come across a drive and passion for innovation and entrepreneurship within many black people I meet. However, this currently just isn’t translating into the student entrepreneurship scene.
A major cause of this problem is the lack of representation. People coming from a background like mine don’t see themselves in the leaders of a lot of fast-growing startups. They don’t look similar, walk the same way, talk the same way and can make many young people question whether it’s possible for them to reach such heights. The VC industry in which we operate has an especially bad track record — in July 2019, Forbes found that of the 2,114 venture capital professionals in the U.K, 76% of them are white, 18% attended Oxbridge, and just 13% of funds had women in any senior roles. For an industry that has such an outsized influence over who will be the leaders of tomorrow, this is a pressing issue — it’s this lack of diversity which led Melinda Gates just a few months ago to remark, ‘The VC industry funnels money to white men’.
‘The VC industry funnels money to white men’.
We need to redress this balance and we need to see people from more diverse backgrounds reaching higher roles and inspiring the next generation of student entrepreneurs that they can do the same. A mention should be made to a few of the many individuals and groups already agitating for to change this status quo.
Powerful Media, led by Adenike Adentire, publishes the Future Leaders magazine, which identifies and promotes the top 150 BME entrepreneurial students in the UK who are making a difference, as well as the Powerlist, highlighting the most influential BME professionals in the UK. This year’s no.1, Keita Oreleja at the University of Loughborough, founded Skouted. His online platform connecting undiscovered football players with scouts from a range of teams has attracted the attention of the likes of Puma and New Balance. Powerful Media is not only recognising such talent, but also providing them with mentorship to enable these students to make real change. Last year’s Powerlist no.1 Rick Lewis, the founder of Tristan Capital Management, has gone on to co-found ImpactX Capital, a VC focused solely on supporting black founders. Closer to home, at our recent training day for new student investors, we were lucky to talk to Francesca Warner, the co-founder of Diversity VC, about diversity within VC and entrepreneurship as a whole — their events and influential reports and research have done much to show us where the industry can improve and where we should be aiming to go next.
Powerful Media is not only recognising such talent, but also providing them with mentorship to enable these students to make real change.
At the Creator Fund, we believe we have a role to play in inspiring and supporting students at universities who aren’t traditionally represented in entrepreneurship and VC to take that first step on their entrepreneurial journey.