Jarrod Barnes and Chris Quaidoo, investment partners with Dorm Room Fund, speak to us about the Blueprint Investor Track. The six-week course launched last summer, in tandem with the Black Lives Matter movement. As former participants, Barnes and Quaidoo helm the track this year.
Why did you choose to lead the Blueprint Investor Track?
Barnes: Going through the program as a participant, it truly and fundamentally changed my own perspective about what was possible for my opportunity within VC.
If you think about what the social justice movement of last year did in this country, there was so much focus on this diversity gap. The moment was impactful. This year, you start to see that momentum die down.
As Chris and I were thinking about this opportunity, it was not just that we wanted to do this because of us. We benefited from this opportunity ourselves, so how can we continue to create the opportunity for 30 more individuals who look just like us?
Quaidoo: Last year’s events spurred people into action. The importance of doing it this year and doing it just as well, hopefully improving on some areas, is making this a repeatable established pipeline versus a reaction to horrible things that woke some people up.
As a former participant, how did the Blueprint Investor Track expose you to venture capital?
Quaidoo: I was already working in VC by the time I started the track last year. Even so, it was extremely impactful. I was exposed to folks in the industry that normally, I wouldn’t have been able to get connected with.
Barnes: As someone who didn’t have venture capital experience, Blueprint gave me the tactical training needed to break into this space. If you don’t have the access or the tangible training, it can be hard to break into this competitive space. It’s about developing new skills but having the chance to gain repetition and an understanding of what a good, better and best framework looks like, whether that’s from skills to thought processes to the framework you use.
What do you hope to improve in this year’s Blueprint cohort?
Quaidoo: One of the big things for us was improving ways for members of the cohort to get to meet each other better. These are the folks who are going to be some of the leaders in tech, startups or in VC. Just as people in these established networks have folks to rely on, we want to establish that network in our community.
What is the value of bringing people from diverse backgrounds into venture capital?
Quaidoo: A few years ago, it was more of a mystery. Now, there’s been study after study that shows having more diverse leadership leads to better returns. Having more diverse board members and investors leads to better returns. The case for improving diversity is at this point so obvious, whether it’s from a moral or return standpoint, that one might think these things should be moving quicker.
What do you think is the barrier to entry from your cohort who want to break into venture capital?
Quaidoo: This is an area where I don’t think it makes sense to bite your tongue. When you think about how VC differs from other industries, it’s clubby. Once you’re on the inside, it’s easy to meet people. But it’s hard to move from the outside to the inside.
You need someone to bring you in. A lot of the people in power are not actively bringing in people from different communities as much as they could be. That to me is the biggest issue. We need more people who come from these communities to be in positions where they could bring people in.
Barnes: Growing up as a child, the concept of ownership, equity or investing weren’t discussed at the dinner table. Those as pillars were foreign to me until I got to college. Even then, in college, I understood it but I didn’t have the exposure, access or knowledge to really understand what they were and how to bring them into space. That’s where the investor track comes in. It’s about building the supply side to solve this equation.
What have been the most challenging or surprising parts of running the Blueprint Investor Track?
Quaidoo: Just to put the cohort together and run it requires over 100 people. There are 30 students in the cohort, and each gets two mentors, so that’s 90 folks. Each of the six classes has speakers. You have 100–105 people running this six-week course, plus we have a showcase, so I’m not sure how many people we have there.
Given the amount of work needed to create the program, how is it worth your time?
Quaidoo: Last year, the program was so impactful for me, even more so than the other things that I was doing. I was highly engaged and thinking of ways that it could be improved. The mission is just so important. It’s an impressive cohort — people of all different backgrounds, coming from different countries and continents. Some of them are more experienced, and as far as venture capital, some of them with less experience are still passionate about VC and bring skills to the table that can help augment the other skills of folks in the cohort.
Barnes: I’ve been thinking about why some diversity initiatives fail or do not continue. It may come down to budget or timing. For us, the budget was allocated and the timing was set. It came down to having the people to lead it. If the budget, timing and demand are there, it’s hard to say no.
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