Welcome to ‘The DEI Digest’ with Romey Oulton, a Q&A focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment.
This Q&A series is an opportunity for our North American Consultant Romey Oulton to discuss Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment with lead changemakers in the space who are championing DEI. Each week we will ask burning questions, providing a platform to share career advice, discuss innovative strategies to overcome challenges, and how to lead by example.
Twenty Five Ventures’ sole purpose is to create an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem with access to financial and knowledge-based resources where founders and investors can thrive and scale.
Twenty Five Ventures creates greatness with founders and entrepreneurs. After collectively assisting dozens of companies over the last twenty years, we made a conscious decision that we could impact the next generation of thought leaders by investing our time, experience, and financial resources in early-stage companies.
What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why are they important?
For context, I am the son of immigrant parents. After arriving in the United States from the Philippines in the late 1960s and being born in California in the 1970s – I learned from their experiences the value of hard work, perseverance, and grit.
DEI is a mindset, a collection of experiences that allows an individual to be more connected with the people around them. A human mandate where we are open to new perspectives and ways of operating our businesses. This requirement brings fair access to opportunities and strives to include all the stakeholders’ representation at the decision-making table.
Leaders need to understand and support DEI to be relevant and connected to those they are attempting to lead. This purpose can align company goals, solidify culture, create an atmosphere of belonging, and purposefully grow together.
Why is cultural diversity so important to the makeup of Twenty Five Ventures and also have there been challenges with this along the way?
During my formative years, my mentors showed me the beauty of creating diverse organizations. Because of this, it is my responsibility to do the same.
From my perspective, many VCs and funds focus on specific aspects of diversity, while I commend them for all their doing. However, we could do more by bringing a broader and deeper perspective by employing a universal narrative to our investment approach.
The biggest misconception we have tried to overcome was the limited size and scope of the diverse start-up community. From our first 25V pitch competition in Las Vegas, NV., we wanted to prove to our detractors that we could find successful companies from our network. We were right.
Even more so, we have found partners like LMRE that share our vision of championing equality in the workplace.
What strategies do you share with founders to help them have a DEI lens early on when building their business?
There is a balance between trying to be helpful and interfering with what the founders are trying to accomplish. So, we look at their core business from a short-term, mid-term and long-term lens.
We work with the founders about ways they can structure their organization, whether that means utilizing more channels to sourcing diverse talent. Or it could mean looking at their businesses and analyzing unintended results that may cause harm to customers and communities alike.
Three actions are crucial in forming a successful organization.
All that said, our fund is still relatively new. However, we have thought about how we can best impact our founders, and investment in the business has been a meaningful action. Recruiting with a DEI focus is crucial in creating a thriving start-up environment.
We are proud that 50% of our team, including our partners and advisory board, are female, and 75% are people of color. Therefore, aside from our thesis, we know how it is necessary to have representation in our core ranks to help build a more fair and inclusive mindset.
How does your value proposition differentiate you from other VCs operating in a similar sphere?
We offer a perspective unique to the VC community. Our twenty-plus years in the real estate technology and financial industry gives our investors insight into changes in behaviour, trends, and needs on a real-time basis. It has worked well for us as we have worked and partnered with some of the industry’s most successful real estate and financial technology start-ups.
We take an old-school approach to investing and stress being data focused on a disciplined strategy to look for details that will help companies thrive in today’s environment while capitalizing on market opportunities.
We are ultra-focused on real estate and financial technology compared to other investors that tend to be industry agnostic. Specialization is crucial as we try to find services and products to further the endeavours we have grown to love. One way to look at what we do is a simple phrase – we eat what we cook or in other words, we use what our founders make.
We are also very proud of the advisory team we have compiled. It gives us a definite advantage as companies can come to us for partnership development, operational know-how, and M&A.
To what extent do you think founders should be interested in a VCs ability to help them attract talent? Or is this something that clouds the main focus of a VC firm?
Attracting talent and the offerings of a VC are an inescapable pair. As a by-product of reviewing all these great companies, we meet some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs. If our ultimate goal is to help the company succeed, then it makes sense that we will do what we can to move it towards that goal. If that means we can help with an introduction or sourcing a key person, we will make an effort to do it.
How do you think the PropTech sector will fare in comparison to other technology-related industries (i.e FinTech) given the current unexpected economic climate?
Both PropTech and FinTech won’t fair well in the short term. So it is something that we have been thinking about as a company.
Both spaces will directly see a slowdown, and we expect to see companies shutter, get acquired, or pivot; FinTech took a few steps backward this past year. As a result, any trust and goodwill created and destroyed during this crypto-boom will have some lasting effects.
The global economy has been overheated and requires rebalancing. In the US alone and in direct response to the Pandemic, the Federal Government made direct payments in the form of Stimulus Checks to Individuals during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This amount totaled more than $931 billion to help with COVID-19. This influx of money was a part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden in 2021, implementing a $1.9 trillion package of stimulus and relief proposals. Money poured into every corner of the economy; too much money was seeking out not enough goods and services, leading to high inflation in all facets of our daily lives.
Growth will be difficult, and fundraising will be just as challenging for many companies. But, on the other hand, the companies that can survive this period – those companies will be well-positioned for success once the global economy regains its footing.
What advice would you give to someone looking to have a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce?
The most straightforward advice would be to look inward before you build an outward-facing workforce. In other words, diversity begins with DEI as a mindset.
Whether they are small or large, are there companies you think have been particularly successful at achieving DEI? And why?
At my previous firm, we worked with Veteran United Home Loans. As a result, I learned much about their hiring practices and training. In addition, I was impressed by their recruiting mandates focusing on talent from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and former military service members to participate in internships at their headquarters.
But probably, I think Google takes the cake. Aside from being employee friendly and being one of the most extensive and storied companies in Silicon Valley, they take DEI seriously, championing Blank and Latino hires and building a diversity-first campus that combines layout and thoughtfulness with cuisine from all over the world that represents their employee base and the customer they serve. Twenty-Four years after being founded in 1998, Google was and continues to be the pioneer in building diversity.
In their 2022 Diversity Report, Google coined a phrase we can only aspire to – they are ‘breaking the bias.’ So we have to ask ourselves this in the form of a question, what can we do in our business today to ‘break the bias’?
It is an excellent place to start.
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