New England VC on Protest, Inequality, and Commitment

Racial and socioeconomic disparity in the impact and prevalence of COVID-19 was already forcing the United States’ massive, inequality to the forefront of national conversation (again). And then an unarmed Black man’s death at the hands of law enforcement was captured on video (again).

On the backdrop of near-20% unemployment, and a pandemic levying a disproportionate economic and physical toll on minority communities, George Floyd’s death — and less gruesome but more insidious incidents like Amy Cooper’s 911 call and blatant racial profiling of young Black entrepreneurs at a private gym — has ignited widespread protest across the country.

From deep within the high-tech, high-science, 100-mile-an-hour bubble of New England’s (overwhelmingly white) venture ecosystem, it is perhaps easy (for white people) to forget/ignore/rationalize the realities of our country and industry.

But protest at scale can be effective. It makes ignorance untenable.

Startupland is often framed as the ultimate meritocracy (and after a certain point in the journey, it may be). But the barriers to reaching that point are many and tall.

As an organization, the NEVCA has been working on those barriers for quite a while — through programs like Hack.Diversity, our commitment to a gender -balanced Board of Directors, and programming to address unconscious bias and sexual harassment. While it feels somewhat hollow to tout such work at times like these — times like these are critical to inspire action, so it is critical to share.

While the work done when the world is not actively burning is perhaps the true test of commitment, the outpouring of support for Hack.Diversity and its Fellows over the past week (over $50,000 in donations from the VC and startup community) speaks to the power of protest; the power of imagery; the power of connectivity. Make no mistake: that it takes a man’s death captured on video and marches by the hundred-thousands to spur action is troubling — but action is necessary, whatever the catalyst.

Much is made of virtue-signaling in the halls of power. And it is indeed fair to demand proof of the action behind words of solidarity and condolence; to question the staying power of simple statements.

But in turn, silence speaks volumes.

As an association, we are proud of to be vocal (it is the least we can do), and we are proud of the work, done and in progress, to effect change in our corner of the world. We are proud of our many members who have chosen to be vocal in their own right, and who’s support powers our own change-making initiatives.

We will be prouder still of the commitment we will all carry forward as an industry —to the dollars we deploy, to the people we hire, to the programs and initiatives we support, and to the ways we will further equal access in the future.

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New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) members support entrepreneurs winning. Great VCs depend on great entrepreneurs.