Do you actively encourage the startups you invest in to improve their diversity?
We believe that you get diversity through quality. I wrote an article about our views on (e)quality on LinkedIn a couple of years ago. Looking at our own firm, there's no reason to believe that you can’t find that same diversity and quality in startups.
Early-stage startups rarely start with well-balanced complimentary teams. So they're automatically going to miss some personality traits and skill sets. Certainly in our field (tech), these teams may be very good at building products, the question then is: Are they solving a problem? How big is that problem? Are they also good at selling? How are their storytelling skills? Can they create a compelling customer journey? And, ultimately, how can we help complement the team in this phase with the budget and the tools we have available?
One of the companies we’ve invested in, Equalture, has developed a great tool for this and are shaping the world of unbiased hiring. Equalture provides a software solution that helps assess candidates based on their skill sets, ambitions and personality traits. Not on their age, gender, color, background or anything else. They do this with a combination of gamification, artificial intelligence, online information from sources like Linkedin and other data points.
The solution then compares the candidate outputs with those of the hiring company’s existing team and with people in similar positions at other companies. This way candidates are objectively ranked and easily compared based on scores, giving you a recruitment pipeline made up of the best candidates that possess the skills and traits you’re missing or require in your team. Equalture is active in eight countries and growing.
This is an incredibly powerful tool to help companies overcome unconscious bias in their recruitment pipeline at all levels. Just look at the recent #Kiesmij campaign from the Dutch Government.
Do you have any advice for VC firms that want to attract more diverse talent?
A lot of it comes down to the talent pool, both at VCs as well as startups. We have excellent people in The Netherlands, but to increase diversity, we need to do an even better job at attracting international talent. Our country is fabulous, well-organised, relatively affordable and a beautiful place with excellent infrastructure for people to come live and work, before, during and after coronavirus. Yet, I see little to no international people at VC firms, and that includes us too.
Luckily, there is more international talent in the Dutch startup landscape. We’re constantly engaging with mixed Dutch or all international teams and that’s diversity too. A great example is our portfolio company Envision started by two inspiring people from India. One moved to study here and the other joined from India to become co-founder of Envision. Envision is a software platform that uses artificial intelligence to help the 300 million blind and visually impaired people and the 700 million dyslexics globally to hear what we can read or see using the camera on their mobile phone or via smart glasses.
Today, c.18 months after our investment, the team is very diverse in terms of gender, cultural background, as well as working with visually impaired team members. The beauty of it is that they hired purely based on the quality of skills and the personality traits they needed. Not on diversity. For Envision, like for Equalture and for us, diversity is a result of searching and hiring for excellence.