5 minutes with… Stephen Millard, Included VC
The Drawdown (TDD): What is Included VC and what does it do?
Stephen Millard (SM): Included VC is a fully-funded fellowship, or pathway programme for individuals from diverse communities, who have a passion for venture capital, but are often overlooked or excluded. We aim to provide access to the venture capital world, through arming these individuals with the knowledge and opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The fellowship runs for eight months and includes masterclasses, mentoring, foundational learning, simulation investment committees as well as in-person retreats.
We’re fortunate that one of our co-founders, Nikita Thakrar, created a genius breakthrough which really helped the programme to take off. She built relationships with various communities outside of ours, such as groups which represent certain disabilities or neurodiversity, people of different ethnicities or sexualities and so on. This transformed our fellowship because before, through our own networks, we still weren’t widening the pool enough to reach those individuals who are overlooked, for the obvious reason - they weren’t on our radars.
Once on the course, the fellows are exposed to the venture capital world. They’re supported through one-to-one mentoring, expert masterclasses, case study learning and dealflow deep dives as well as European Summits. This set up enables them to fully immerse themselves in the VC world, armed with the tools to do the job.
We’ve seen great cooperation from VC firms too, which have been incredibly helpful by doing the selection process for candidates entirely blind.
TDD: Lots of people are addressing D&I concerns right now. What does Included VC do differently that hasn’t been tried before and creates success?
SM: I’d say what has been transformational is the blind selection process. For example, the applications go through three stages of randomised, blind assessment. This provides us with a wealth of empirical data which can verify that these genuinely are the best responses to each question and these individuals are the best candidates for the fellowship and for the VC roles of the future.
It’s about trying to see candidates the same way we value investment opportunities. When searching for the best investments, algorithms are in place to find the best deals. That is a form of blind selection, because the results are based specifically on data, and ultimately gives you the best opportunities available. If however, the majority of your investment opportunities come from recommendations or referrals, they’re constantly only coming from within your network. So each time you dip into it, the pond is getting smaller and smaller. It’s the same with candidates; the more diversity you want from candidates, you need to widen the talent pool beyond your current network to reach people you’ve never reached before.
TDD: You’ve recently completed your second fellowship and you’re taking applications for the next. Can you tell me more about this?
SM: We’ve been recruiting for our third fellowship, and applications are closing shortly. So far we’ve had more than 2,000 applications from about 150 nationalities. A huge proportion of applications have come from black and Asian communities, and a very significant proportion are women, so these initial glances at our talent pool are already very exciting. And of course, once the application date closes, the candidates will go through our rigorous selection process, and our third fellowship will begin in January 2022.
In terms of our recent fellowship, I think about 23 of 29 individuals who have been looking for jobs are now in full time roles in VC. An additional 20 haven’t taken a role just yet through choice. Of course, not everyone should necessarily work in VC, as it’s not an industry to everyone’s liking. And what’s great about the fellowship is, for some individuals, it gives them the opportunity to make that call and realise they want to rule venture out, at least for now, and do something different. Perhaps go into an operational role at a startup or an advisory role at a management consultant. And in many ways that’s equally a success.
TDD: What happens to those fellows who weren’t able to secure jobs in VC? Do you stay in touch after the fellowship?
SM: Yes, we absolutely do. Of course, we ourselves are a start-up too, we’re just heading into our third year, and so it’s taken this time for the alumni group element to really kick off.
To an extent it is and needs to be, self generated, the same way networks form in any industry. Those individuals are the best ones who can support each other because they understand the journeys each of them are going through. And they are the ones who can support each other in their search for suitable roles, the same way any close contacts would help each other out. However, going forward this is an extension of the fellowship we want to improve.
TDD: Why do you think firms struggle to attract or retain diverse talent?
SM: Diversity isn’t necessarily the right word, it’s about the inclusion (or lack thereof). If organisations do not have high permission, high trust or are not open and conscious to allowing their employees to be their true selves, nothing will change. And unfortunately it’s making that change which is the hardest part.
It’s down to the power dynamics of firms - they’re pretty entrenched from the get go. For inclusion to really work, you need to be an organisation with high levels of permission and autonomy, which is open, that has built high levels of trust. This enables people in the business to feel comfortable enough to do their best work and say, “hey, I don’t agree with this for XYZ reasons.” They need to be able to stand strong, knowing they have a different perspective, and that that is welcomed. Unless the firm is willing to let alternative voices be heard and are willing to listen and take note, then, sure they’ve created some form of diversity, but nothing has changed because inclusivity hasn’t been addressed.
This is a top down challenge in every organisation. Senior people need to play an active role in the change. The most interesting thing is, the more active their role in this shift, the more they get out of it. It makes you a better person, a better employer and a better employee.
Ultimately diverse and inclusive companies will outperform their peers, I am sure of this. Firstly, they are open to a much wider talent pool, secondly, they welcome the different experiences and perspectives those people bring. And lastly - and most importantly - they provide an environment in which those people can do the best work of their lives.