Steps Towards Repairing Harm We’ve Caused Black and Brown Entrepreneurs
In the categories:
- For Startups
- Open Call
The NMV team and I have heard from a number of Black and brown founders about frustrating and harmful experiences that they had during NMV Open Calls in the past few years. While we assume that some white founders also had poor experiences in these processes, we understand that the dynamics have been disproportionately harmful for Black and brown founders.
We deeply appreciate the founders who have been in touch with us and given us this honest feedback. We acknowledge and are sorry for the harm we have caused. We are committed to doing better. Below I’ll describe the changes we’re making in response to this feedback, but first I want to outline the primary ways we harmed Black and brown founders.
In attempting to diversify our pipeline, NMV staff encouraged a number of Black and brown founders to apply to our Open Calls multiple times; most of these applicants never received funding from us. In some cases, we encouraged them to apply after having interviewed them or named them a finalist in previous years, and then after encouraging them to re-apply, rejected them without an interview. This practice wasted those founders’ time. It was not fully rooted in equity, and certainly not in full consideration of the impact of our actions on the founders.
On the flip side, white founders had disproportionate access to the handful of “off-cycle” investments we made each year outside of the Open Call. The investments made outside the Open Call were sourced through networks, and had a more founder-friendly process with much faster turnaround time on decisions.
NMV took far too long to communicate with founders about their status as they went through our application, interview, and diligence process. In some cases, we failed to communicate at all, without explanation. While these communication failures frustrated founders of all races and ethnicities, I understand that the impact was disproportionate for Black and brown founders. In the most grievous case during my tenure, a POC-founded startup was named publicly as a finalist for NMV funding, and then never heard back from us about next steps. That kind of experience is unacceptable and I apologize for it unreservedly.
NMV’s investment team sometimes committed racial harms in how they communicated with individual founders, especially when explaining reasons for rejecting startups led by Black and brown founders – in some instances, implying that the work that these founders were doing was not important enough to warrant our investment. While we are unable to fund every applicant, we should, and will, take care to communicate those decisions in ways that encourage and support the difficult and critical work founders are undertaking.
Thank you, again, to all the founders who gave us feedback about these problems. We appreciate it, we apologize, and we’re working hard to make sure we no longer perpetuate these dynamics in our application process. Toward that goal:
We have shifted away from an investment process focused on large Open Calls across our entire thesis area, intended to bring in many hundreds of applications at once, to a continuous investment cycle where entrepreneurs can request funding at any time. Not having to process all of a given year’s applications for NMV funding in parallel will allow us to dramatically shorten the timeline for processing applications. We commit to all startups hearing from us within 30 days of submitting their Startup Intake Form, and we aim to make final funding decisions within 2 months on average.
We now provide applicants with a regularly monitored email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to contact if they do not hear from us within the timelines expected. We are also collecting structured feedback on the process from applicants at regular points throughout the application process so that we can make further improvements as warranted.
We have changed from a single application form that could take hours to complete, to a 2-step process for the written application to NMV where the first step (the Startup Intake Form) only takes 20 minutes. We then assess for basic fit with our thesis and invite only those startups who have a real shot at funding to apply, thus saving founders time.
As we have built out our new investments team over the past year, we have prioritized hiring and empowering staff with extensive experience supporting Black and brown entrepreneurs, as well as deep networks among those entrepreneurs and lived experience in Black and brown communities.
Regarding our intention to communicate with applicants in a more timely fashion, we have stabilized our team after almost 2 years of substantial transition, migrated to new systems for better coordination, created a more manageable intake process, and settled into the new norms created by the pandemic. We are committed to delivering an excellent applicant experience for all.
For all Black and brown founders who reach the interview/“initial diligence” stage of our process, but who we do not end up funding, we will offer personalized feedback on your pitch and business plan. We hope that this will provide you with some value from going through the process even in the absence of funding.
We continue our organization-wide equity and inclusion process, which started several years ago and gained momentum last year via our engagement with the Interaction Institute for Social Change. This process is now led by our new COO, whose background includes substantial experience as a DEI consultant. Along with deep culture work, we have also introduced structural changes: e.g. skill with equity and inclusion is now one of the qualities we explicitly evaluate for in hiring and in our performance review process, and figures into decisions for promotions and raises at NMV.
We continue to have 1-1 conversations with impacted founders, and would welcome more such conversations with anyone who would find it helpful.
To Black and brown founders, I would like to add: I truly believe that our collective liberation is tied together. I am in this fight with you against oppression in all forms. I will surely make mistakes along this journey, as will NMV, but we are committed to repairing those harms where possible, and we deeply appreciate the faith in us that you have shown by providing this feedback and working to hold us accountable. I hope this apology can be a step in the direction of dismantling white supremacy together, and an invitation for relationship.