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As venture firms struggle with diversity, the Kauffman Fellows program is grooming candidates to help

Jonathan Shieber
Image via Getty Images / normaals

Recognizing the need for a more diverse venture capital industry, the Kauffman Fellows program is looking to take steps to train its most diverse class of would-be investors and is adding to its board to foreground diversity and inclusion going forward, the nonprofit said today.

A longtime resource for startup founders and the venture capital industry and a voice for bringing the tools of venture investment to a broader national stage, Kauffman Fellows is bringing diversity to its boardroom with the appointment of Marlon Nichols as one of the organization's newest directors. Nichols, a founder of MaC Venture Capital, joins Melissa Richlen, who heads up limited partner investments in private equity and venture capital for the MacArthur Foundation, and Allen Taylor, whose work at Endeavor and Endeavor Catalyst is focused on investing in entrepreneurs in undercapitalized markets in the U.S. and around the world.

"This organization is taking diversity very seriously and it’s starting from the top down. The board is now 25% Black and 38% women. And the new class of Kauffman Fellows is the most diverse class in the 25-year history of the program," said Nichols. 

A graduate of the Fellows program, Nichols said the new emphasis on diversity will help to get more new fund managers exposure to a network of dealmakers and potential limited partners.

"It's setting them up for longevity in the industry so as those funds grow, they're going to grow from a diverse base, and that foundation in diversity will lead to investments in more diverse founders," said Nichols. "Instead of setting up a committee to talk about diversity, [the Fellows] is pulling them into the game and setting them up by giving them the resources to succeed in the game."

The twenty-fifth class of Kauffman Fellows is also the most diverse cohort the Fellows has assembled. Out of 61 fellows, 41% are women and 49% are people of color, while 11% are underrepresented minorities.

"Since our inception, we have believed that in order to best understand the world's challenges and continue to catalyze innovation, the future of the VC industry must be diverse and more reflective of society as a whole. This has been at the core of the Kauffman Fellows mission, and it started with an extremely diverse group of Fellows in our charter class 25 years ago," the Fellows said in a statement. "Over the years, we have measured the importance of a trusted diverse network and how it impacts the success and longevity of the best investors in the industry. Research has shown that Kauffman Fellows not only have larger returns than the industry average, but they stay in the industry 15+ years post-fellowship, which is 2X the minimum number of years it takes to recognize success in venture capital."