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Leading investors, including the Techstars CEO, give their take on where to find tomorrow’s talent.

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Or so the old adage goes, at least.

In an age when it’s just as easy to work remotely in Timbuktu as in Toronto, opportunities are similarly limitless for entrepreneurs – no matter where a person lives or what their background may be. Where (and how) can founders catch a break in today’s competitive startup landscape?

Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet, Overlooked Ventures general partner Janine Sickmeyer and Renegade Partners co-founder Renata Quintini talk about this and how VCs approach diversity when looking for new talent.

Box ticking or real diversity?

One of Maëlle’s observations on diversity in the VC space is that it can be nothing more than an exercise in box ticking for some.

The Techstars CEO believes that the VC industry operates on the basis of ‘box ticking’ – the belief that founders must tick a set number of boxes for their investors.

“If you happen to be different – very different – and you don’t tick any of these boxes, there is always this unconscious reaction of, ‘Oh, I don’t know if that’s too risky’,” Maëlle said.

The second issue around diversity, as Maëlle pointed out, is that money generates money, and founders who come from less advantaged communities do not have the social or familial financial support that’s often necessary in founding a business.

“If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to have great talent in your company, amazing board members, a lot of supporters, and the clients that go with it,” Maëlle explained.

“And a lot of under-served founders were not born in conditions where this is given to them. And the VC industry does nothing to correct that.”

Ageism is an issue within the VC world

Ageism is also a significant and often overlooked problem in both tech and VCs. “I realise how much our industry, in tech, looks down on people once they pass 40 – let alone 50. And, by the time you’re 60, you better not show up,” said Maëlle. So what can founders do? The three experts agreed that optimism and persistence are key. “If you’re a founder, I think what you need to do is don’t take ‘no’ as a discouragement,” said Janine. Renata agreed, saying, “Have ‘yes’ conversations instead of engaging on the ‘why is this not going to work’ or ‘why this is risky’, because this industry is inherently risky. And most companies fail. So actually try to find out what is interesting.” Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet, Overlooked Ventures general partner Janine Sickmeyer and Renegade Partners co-founder Renata Quintini were in conversation with Harvard Business Review editor Amy Bernstein on Centre Stage at Collision 2022. Subscribe to 🎙️ The Next Stage 🎙️ wherever you get your podcasts, and download this episode or listen here right now.

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Main image of Maëlle Gavet, CEO of Techstars, on the Startup University Stage during day three of Collision 2022: Eóin Noonan/ Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)
Tags: diversity, Founders, funding, Techstars, VCs

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