Venture capital is failing neurodiverse and disabled people
These are my personal views and I welcome any debate on this topic in the comments section.
- Note, I see myself as neurodiverse but according to the law, the “impairments” to my life from my dyslexia and ADHD meets the definition of disability covered by The Equality Act 2010. I don’t see myself as disabled in any way but I will use this language in this blog post for the sake of legality…
- Opacity in venture capital means there is no statistics on disabled founders who are backed
- Application processes for accelerators still focus on text-based Q&A type questions and are not flexible enough to allow neurodiverse thinkers to showcase their talent
- Accelerator programmes don’t acknowledge that founders may be neurodiverse….
- Neurodiverse founders and entrepreneurs need to be more visible
My journey with Venture capital
For full disclosure, I have attended three accelerator programmes and have researched the topic of venture capital funding as part of my entrepreneurship journey. These reflections are from my own research and experiences as I navigate this complex world of venture capital.
Neurodiversity and venture capital, why it matters?
For people not aware or have not come across the world of venture capital, how I see this world as a pool of money being made available to entrepreneurs to finance their ideas. The hope is to finance the next best company that would eventually IPO (i.e. sell on the public market) or be acquired and so make the venture capitalist a lot of money. For me, it’s all about access to money and mentorship to get an idea off from the ground.
Simple right? Not really. As I delved deeper into the world of venture capital, as with anything, there are so many structural barriers to women, race and disability.
This matters because the money that is swirling around looking for good ideas to invest in… the money is not going to diverse founders.
This bothers me because it means products or services that can cater to people from a diverse background is not being funded. This is extremely frustrating for example in the neurodiverse community where there is a lack of service.
Opacity in the Venture Capital world, we don’t know how many disabled founders are being funded
I applied to the Bethnal Green ventures and they were the first firm to publish statistics on the percentage of disabled founders they funded (6% of respondents identified as disabled, 2.4% did not wish to say). Disability can be invisible or visible. According to Scope charity, 19% of working-age people are disabled. Of course, I wasn’t shocked by this statistic. For my community, disability is invisible which is a double-edged sword because visibly, we appear “fine” but actually inside, we are struggling with invisible conditions that really impact us. This has implications across a wide range of statistics from unemployment rates, mental health rates and substance abuse etc.
Bringing it back to the world of finance. This lack of investment in neurodiverse talent is a problem for Venture Capital firms.
It’s not a moral argument to increase diversity in the portfolios. It’s an economics one which is about diversification.
Venture Capital firms need to do more to disclose the percentage of founders they fund who identify as disabled. Only by sharing these statistics can there be visibility on the chronic underinvestment in neurodiverse talent.
Accelerator programmes still have the neurotypical way of screening applicants
I’ve applied to a few accelerator programmes. These programmes are structured and are meant to help entrepreneurs “accelerator” their business from the idea concept onwards. The application processes have been dreary and downright boring.
Long questions and Typeform is not exactly the way a neurodiverse person wants to express their passion and ideas.
Not one instance did I see an option to video my responses. I can’t stress enough the importance of offering alternative ways of sending in an application because, for neurodiverse people, the typical process of sending an application form is not compatible with our communication style. Neurotypical people will not understand the mental energy it takes to conjure up answers to long questions when you are dyslexic and frankly hate expressing yourself via succinct sentences. It’s not that hard to make an application process more flexible!
Accelerator programmes don’t acknowledge that some of the founders may be neurodiverse
Ok, I get that accelerator programmes are meant to focus on business concepts… but not acknowledging that some founders are neurodiverse means help is not tailored to neurodiverse people on the programme. This is important because I’ve been on accelerator programmes openly talking about my dyslexia and ADHD and I found that many other founders were also neurodiverse. It’s not a surprise to me because neurodiversity is highly correlated with entrepreneurship and creative thinking. Why then are accelerator programmes not acknowledging this and catering to our needs? I don’t mean to tailor all your resources. What I mean is to provide some basic coaching for neurodiverse people like ADHD coaching for entrepreneurs who have ADHD. Or have a speaker come in who identifies as being neurodiverse so there is some visibility for founders so they can feel comfortable about asking for help if they need to. Accelerators need to do a tonne of more work to make their programmes more accessible for neurodiverse people.
Neurodiverse founders need to show up and be visible
When I found out Elon Musk had Aspergers, I was so happy… I suspect I have a mild form of Asperger’s and so I felt I could aspire to entrepreneurship too. Richard Branson talks openly about his dyslexia as a strength and I used to read his books to help my self-esteem when the world was criticising my differences. However, our community needs more entrepreneurs, leaders and celebrities to talk openly about neurodiversity!
Neurodiversity is part of the diversity of the human species yet there is a severe lack of visibility in the media.
I would love to see more neurodiverse entrepreneurs share their stories and speak up for our community so that a new generation of neurodiverse entrepreneurs can aspire to change the landscape of the future by opting for entrepreneurship.