Canada’s Venture Out Conference Reinforces the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion
“If we can help teach companies and help create those experiences for young people or let them know they exist, that would be awesome.”
Fostering diversity in Canada and in Canadian workplaces is forging ahead. Over the last few years our country has experienced a number of changes forwarding diversity; including the federal government’s gender-balanced cabinet, a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown corporations, the launch of movethedial; a movement dedicated to increasing the participation and advancement of women in technology, CVCA’s own diversity task force; formed with the objective to seek ways to improve diversity in Canadian venture capital and private equity, and diversity requirements for the recently announced Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI).
While there are various ways Canada has pushed forward in gender-specific diversity initiatives over the last few years, 2017 also saw leadership in LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion with the launch of Venture Out; Canada’s conference for LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship. The first-of-its-kind event in Canada took place in Toronto in March 2017 and was attended by over 400 people with over 30 companies participating.
Like gender diversity, there are serious advantages for including LGBTQ+ people in Canadian workplaces. LGBTQ+-supportive companies see positive outcomes for employees and LGBTQ+ innovation helps companies solve problems and tap into new markets.
In a 2016 study by StartOut, 37 per cent of LGBTQ+ startup founders in the United States did not come out to their investors, and LGBTQ+-founded companies raised 11 per cent less capital than a sample of their non-LGBTQ+ peers. While the study was conducted in the United States, the study concludes that the LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented in the innovation ecosystem.
The idea for Venture Out came from its three co-founders, Jeanette Stock, Associate, Highline Beta; Albert Lam, Product Manager, Telus Digital and President, Start Proud; and Stefan Palios, Customer Success Manager, ScribbleLive and contributor for Betakit.
Venture Out aims to highlight companies or teams that are actively working to make the workplace more LGBTQ+ inclusive, to share best practices and learn from each other and to highlight amazing LGBTQ+ leaders in tech and the work they are doing, to create more mentors, role models, and leaders in the LGBTQ+ tech community.
Attention for Venture Out was unanticipated in 2017, selling twice as many tickets than expected, says Stock.
“The thing that really surprised us is that half those tickets were to students and to young professionals. Half those tickets were to folks that are typically outside of our target demographic (35 years and older).”
Stock says that the lack of formal structures in workplaces drove a lot of the interest for the conference outside of their target.
“We were getting people way outside of our target demographic coming because they were just like, ‘we don’t have the network anywhere else.’ Which is really cool and really exciting, and kind of a surprise.”
Stock says that while early stage companies may aspire to create LGBTQ+ inclusive environments, some new companies may not have a formal policy to encourage and protect LGBTQ+ people.
“There are things that people can do every day to make people feel safer and more included at work. If we can help teach companies and help create those experiences for young people or let them know they exist, that would be awesome.”
Deal Flow Opportunities
While Venture Out is helping to drive the tech community to be more inclusive in Canada, it’s also opening the door to some unique deal flow opportunities. Lam, who co-founded Venture Out, is helping to bring Gaingles to Canada. Gaingles is a US-headquartered investment vehicle and network that’s investing in startups with LGBTQ+ founders and executives.
“It’s still a very ad hoc group (in Canada) right now,” says Lam. “There’s a group of maybe six of us that are organizing pitch events and info sessions to educate prospective angel investors about what the group is, and how it all works. So, we’re really focused on building that community and awareness about what we do. We’re all doing a little bit of everything, and we’re connected to Paul Grossinger and David Beatty (Managing Partners, Gaingles) in the US to keep them looped in on how we’re doing, but our collective vision is to really grow this community in Canada because it doesn’t really actually exist right now.”
Gaingles, now in it’s third year, is invested in about 35 companies at around US $10 million.
Paul Grossinger, Managing Partner, Gaingles, says Canada is part of the overall strategy for the organization.
“A lot of our Canadian members want to back LGTBQ+ Canadian founders very significantly, and a lot of American members also want to see really good interesting Canadian deals. There is a lot of interest in the Toronto and Montreal markets, particularly.”
Venture Out is an umbrella organization of Start Proud (formerly known as Out on Bay Street) which strives to empower members of the LGBTQ+ community to be Canada’s leaders of tomorrow; where all institutions embrace inclusiveness within the workplace and diversity within the workforce.
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