IVCA Profile: Jackie DiMonte, for the Board of Organizations of Chicago:Blend

IVCA Profile: Jackie DiMonte, for the Board of Organizations of Chicago:Blend

February 3, 2021

With 2021 in first gear, many firms are just implementing the policies and mechanisms to reach their annual goals. A primary focus of the Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) is providing information and action on ongoing diversity initiatives within the VC/PE industries. In the city there is an organization – Chicago:Blend – that made big gains in 2020. Their descriptive is “… a collaborative effort of Venture Capitalists in Chicago who know that diverse teams and inclusive environments are critical foundations for both the startups we invest in and our own venture firms.”
 
Jackie DiMonte is a Principal at Hyde Park Venture Partners (HPVP), and one of the members of the “board of organizations” for Chicago:Blend. Ms. DiMonte joined Hyde Park Venture Partners in 2016. She began her career as a consultant at Accenture in the Business & Technology practice, focused on ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning], software and SaaS enablement projects. She serves as a board observer for HPVP portfolio companies RoadSync and PartySlate.
 
The IVCA got the opportunity to get some insight from Jackie DiMonte regarding Chicago:Blend.
 
IVCA: What is the background and origins of Chicago:Blend? What type of environment concerns in the Venture Capital culture motivated the beginnings of the organization?
 
Jackie DiMonte: In 2018, we launched with a critical question – where are the major gaps in demographics in Chicago’s VCs and startups, and where do we, as VCs, have an opportunity and obligation to enact change? What we found upon launching the organization … though Chicago is approximately one-third LatinX, one-third black, and one-third white, 86% of the VCs in Chicago are white. Two years later, in 2020, this number is 81%.Though the city is 51% female, roughly 86% of VCs at the executive level are male [2020: 83%].
 
Numbers and dollars aside, we think intentionality is an obvious start, and have pushed the venture community to be intentional about team building and investing. We’ve prioritized creating transparency, visibility, and access, for both founders and candidates, to the sometimes opaque world of venture.
 
Chicago:Blend is a collaborative effort, led by Chicago’s Venture Capitalists, to track, support, and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion at our own firms and the startups we invest in. We incorporated as a 501c3 this past summer in order to take this mission to the next level.
 
IVCA: The mission statement talks about diverse teams and inclusive environments as critical foundations for start ups. How, in your point of view, does diversity and inclusiveness contribute to both the environments and decision-making processes during a start-up?
 
DiMonte: We know DEI [Diversity Equity Inclusion] matters, numbers don’t lie. According to a McKinsey study, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. DEI companies build better products, recruit the best teams and produce better financial results.
 
We also know that the longer a company waits to be intentional around DEI, the more difficult it can become to make an impact later. For example, there is a great representation of women within companies with women CEOs and there is a greater representation of nonwhites at companies with CEOs who are nonwhite.
 
It is important to build an inclusive and respectful culture, and critical to do it early on. …because the results speak.
 
IVCA: Now that the organization is off the ground, what currently is the main focus of Chicago:Blend, and how will that focus help to achieve the goals within the mission statement?
 
DiMonte: We know that this work is a marathon, not a sprint, and that there’s a lot more that we can do. In 2021, we’re kicking off the next leg of our journey to build a sustainable institution.
 
Moving forward, our focus is “Hire and Wire.” HIRE: meaning we’ll focus on bringing folks who are underrepresented, and may have non traditional backgrounds, into venture. WIRE: meaning we’ll focus on creating more connections between VCs and startups led by underrepresented founders. Soon, we’re launching a startup matching program to help enable those connections.
 
We want to make venture, and Chicago’s Venture Capitalists, feel more accessible, and eliminate that pipeline problem excuse. We want to provide VCs, and the startups they back, the tools and resources to build equitable and inclusive teams. We want Chicago’s VC community to collaborate on best practices around DEI in order to better serve founders.
 
IVCA: Finance and entrepreneurship has long been the domain of white men, and currently remains so according to your data. What do you observe about that leadership class of businessmen regarding their attitudes on diversity and inclusiveness? Is that becoming more of a priority?
 
DiMonte: DEI is becoming more of a priority across the board, made evident by the 50-plus Chicagoland VCs that are Chicago:Blend supporters and the six founding champions, consisting of Energize Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Listen Ventures, Origin Ventures, Food Foundry, and Manifold Group, that quickly stepped up to support our mission.
 
More and more we see the start of a cycle in which entrepreneurs care about who their investors are and their participation in DEI, and vice versa.
 
IVCA: Your educational background is rich in the foundations for a career in Venture Capital. What is your opinion on how lessons in entrepreneurship can be taught at the grade school/high school levels, and can diversity increase in the industry if there was a focus in that curriculum?
 
DiMonte: At risk of oversimplifying, for me it began with STEM and other technical education. I was one of one or two women in my physics classes in high school, and one of a handful in my engineering classes in college. That was the launchpad to everything that I have been able to do since. I would love to continue to see more diversity among those programs and I’m happy to say it is happening. As more and more entrepreneurship education has become core to high school and college, I would hope that becomes an additional avenue for exposure and empowerment.
 
Certainly, we can make progress on expanding the pipeline by focusing on individuals while they are still in grade and high school. However, this is not the only way to increase diversity in Venture Capital. Instead, by focusing on making VC more accessible, we can make more immediate impact. That may mean for potential job candidates, we focus on transferrable skills versus prior experience. At Blend, for example, we host office hours for aspiring VCs to make the industry more accessible and help craft these narratives.
 
IVCA: Finally, how can the Illinois Venture Capital Association contribute to Chicago:Blend, to assure both the organization’s success and more diversity in the VC Industry?
 
DiMonte: There are three avenues for empowering Chicago:Blend …
 
We always welcome submissions of women, black and LatinX board members for The Blendlist. You can submit on our website … BlendList — Chicago:Blend 
If your organization would like to support us financially, reach out to [email protected] to learn about sponsorship opportunities. We also welcome donations from individuals via Paypal, linked to from our site … Donate — Chicago:Blend 
We hope you can use our data and best practices to take back to your organization: Data — Chicago:Blend 
Keep an eye out for more on this front from us!
 
For more information click on Chicago:Blend