VC Office Hours: Exploring 5 ideas with the founders of LGBT+ VC

Silicon Valley’s full of people from all walks of life, but very little of its wealth is distributed evenly, especially when we’re talking about the LGBTQ+ community.

Currently, it’s estimated that less than 1% of venture capital goes to openly LGBTQ+ founders. There are no numbers on how much of that capital goes specifically to trans founders or how many investors identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. What is known is that LGBTQ+ founders still feel the need to hide their identity from investors.

Enter LGBT+ VC, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+-allied venture investors. Launched by investors Tiana Tukes, a Black trans woman who has worked at Accenture, Sequoia Capital and Silicon Valley Bank, and Jackson Block, a former early-stage investor who identifies as bisexual, the nonprofit hopes to foster a new generation of inclusivity within the venture ecosystem by cultivating and educating investors to champion and accept LGBTQ+ founders and funders.

To that end, LGBT+ VC plans to run networking events, conferences and education classes for the LGBTQ+ community to help them learn how to become accredited investors, one of many steps needed to change the mindset and add more intersectionality within venture theses.

“We are trying to change who is an investor and who these founders can have opportunities with,” Block told TechCrunch+.

“The best investors right now are investing in LGBTQ-founded companies,” Tukes added. “Open AI is a prime example. That, to me, is the hot-ticket company at the moment.”

The initiative comes amidst a historic wave of hate being directed at the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S., with anti-trans legislation sweeping the country and crimes against the LGBTQ+ community increasing nationwide. In fact, Tukes and Block were inspired to launch the nonprofit after the Colorado Springs nightclub shooting late last year, which saw a gunman target the only LGBTQ+ club in the city and murder five people.

“It was really difficult to see the silence of the venture community,” Block told TechCrunch+. “Tiana and I came together, and we thought, ‘where can we make a difference?’”

That resulted in the duo tapping into their networks and assessing the relationship the LGBTQ+ community currently has with the tech ecosystem. So far, Tukes says the reception has been warm and the nonprofit has managed to attract investors from a few law and accounting firms as well as banks and larger tech companies.

On June 19 and June 20, the nonprofit will host its first summit in New York City, dubbed Stonewall to Silicon Valley. This is all part of a larger mission to change what it means to be a venture capitalist. I recently sat down with the two investors to talk about their nonprofit, how they started it and their plans to build a network of allies.

(Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity)

Why did you decide to launch this nonprofit together, and how did you know now was the time to take the risk?

Jackson Block: There’s a huge opportunity hiding in plain sight. Twenty percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+. Moreover, according to Gallup, the LGBTQ+ community is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population. That’s a market opportunity.

Tiana Tukes: Our mission is to help all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer people prosper. In U.S. history, in particular, there are moments, particularly in the civil rights movement, where Black leaders and Jewish leaders [Block is Jewish] came together in times of crisis for social advancement. We see this as a continuation of that legacy first and, secondly, as part of our LGBTQ+ history.

You said the biggest problem LGBTQ+ investors face right now is a supply issue. What do you mean by that and how do you hope to alleviate that?

JB: From OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to Apple CEO Tim Cook, LGBTQ+ founders and tech leaders are leading the way when it comes to innovation. We want more decision-makers like GV’s Laela Sturdy and Cake Ventures’ Monique Woodard, who understand the value and challenges of our community.

But we haven’t reached parity yet. To succeed in the long run, LGBTQ+ founders deserve more champions. A wider range of investors is needed, from full-time venture capitalists to angels.

TT: It can be lonely being the only one, and one of the best ways to combat that is by connecting with a community like ours. We want everyone to prosper, and it matters now because wealth compounds across generations. Partly due to discrimination, queer people don’t always grow up with traditional families, so we choose our own. Here lies our opportunity to create new strategies for cultivating and sharing resources together.

Relationships within the LGBTQ+ community can be fraught, especially when race and gender are considered. How do you seek to build a network of allies within the community?

JB: Starting from day one, we believed in coalition and leading by example. You heard a bit earlier about my and Tiana’s relationship as a continuation of the past as well as an opportunity for the future between Black and Jewish relations: myself, bisexual; Tiana, trans. We really believe in the power of bringing people together.

TT: I agree. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to build coalitions across differences, but it is possible. We will prioritize our time, attention and energy by doubling down on people and parties who already understand our mission and the value that we add to the ecosystem.

It is a moot point or superfluous for us to turn our attention to those who are against us from the beginning or show immediate friction to our mission. We’ve been really fortunate from day one to have partners who are just so earnest about their interest in working with us.

I know that a common narrative is that it’s divisive and that there are those who don’t want to work together. But frankly, that’s not been my experience, particularly because I tend to turn up the volume on those [who are] already at the table and working with us.

How would you like to see LPs, government legislation and emerging funds working together to create a more economically fair system within venture capital?

JB: We’ve already spoken with the SEC small business advocacy team about education efforts for LGBTQ+ funders and founders, as well as other government officials here in New York City and their economic development corporation.

The thing that we talk about most is really a supply of funders and having incentives for them. That’s really important, as well as things like the Equality Act. There’s no legislation protecting LGBTQ+ funders and founders from discrimination in private and public markets. The Equality Act, which marks its 50th anniversary next year, will ensure that LGBTQ+ people are treated the same as all other Americans. It’s one example of an educational topic to discuss within the innovation economy.

TT: Our mission, from day one, included increasing the number of accredited investors and to be the LPs, angels and VCs who can make those investments. That’s where our attention lies.

When people look back at this nonprofit in 10 years what do you hope its legacy will be?

TT: We are focused on today. And from today, we’ll make a better tomorrow.

This article was updated to clarify the nonprofit’s mission.