Forward Partners becomes first UK VC to reveal portfolio diversity

At Forward Partners we know the businesses of the future are going to be built by diverse teams, both in terms of gender, race, education, sexual orientation, experience and passion.

  • 44% of the portfolio have at least one female or ethnic minority founder (implied gender/ethnicity)
  • 29% have at least one founder of ethnic minority
  • 19% have at least one female founder -- but 14% were all female
  • We receive fewer all female applications (7%) but they succeed (14%)
  • Mixed female and male teams perform worse than expected (23% of applications vs 5.8% of investments)

Closing the diversity gap is a complex problem and it’s not always clear how best to create change. Indeed there is no apparent silver bullet. What we do know however is that things don’t grow in the dark so by shining a light on the issue we hope to seed meaningful progress.

We are disrupting the VC model and we want to knock off some of the cobwebs from this rather antiquated industry. So for the first time ever we are releasing the data on all of the companies in our portfolio.

Opening the Door

When I came into tech from medicine it felt strange that suddenly I was classed as a ‘minority’. Given that women make up half of the population, it sounded rather strange that this could be the case. However I quickly saw that as a female I was often significantly outnumbered and venture capital is a particularly homogenous part of tech.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female in the UK to qualify as a doctor in 1865, and she did so through a loophole in the system that was then changed to stop other women from entering the profession this way.

This shows it is often not a ‘glass ceiling’ to be broken but rather a ‘sticky door’ that others also struggle to open in order to follow. However now we train as many female doctors as male in the UK and I strongly believe that venture capital, both in terms of investors and investments, can undergo the same radical transformation (...and I don’t think it will take 150 years either!)

Venture Capital Today

The diversity of VC investors and startups that receive VC funding is poor but there is a growing movement to improve it.

In the US Melinda Gates has been investing in female founded companies through Pivotal Ventures and has also become an LP in Aspect Ventures and Female Founders Fund that prioritises female and ethnic minority founders and are run by female investors. Backstage Capital raised a $36 million dollar fund to focus on black female founders who are severely underrepresented in the industry and A16Z has also dedicated a fund to black founders.

In Europe we’ve also seen a rise in funds dedicated to investing in diversity such as Voulez Capital, and Silvergate Investments.

Diversity is helping us, not the other way round

The NHS operates around ‘multidisciplinary teams’ - that is experts from different fields that work together to treat the patient. The result? Increased survival rates, shorter time to diagnosis, improved patient satisfaction and even improved mental well-being for the healthcare professional.

Sometimes in business and in tech, diversity is seen as an obligation or a ‘quota to be filled’. And it can often start a conversation in the wrong way. However, Individuals and companies should be thinking about how diversity and inclusion is helping them, not how they are helping diversity.

There are large amounts of evidence that diverse teams are smarter, more innovative and produce higher returns in business. And in venture capital diverse investment teams create higher returns. As well all of these compelling arguments it also just creates a nicer place for people to work.  

Lifting the Lid

Now we know that we’ve got a long way to go and we are by no means perfect but by ‘lifting the lid’ on our investments what we want to say is: this is where we are at and we are committed to keep improving.

We believe if others join us, we can start to drive change here. We would love for other VCs to join us.


Louise started out as a medical doctor and has experience in a number of medical and surgical specialities. She has undertaken research in a world-class laboratory, is published in an international medical journal and has presented work at multiple national and international conferences.

Following this, she joined Entrepreneur First where she developed a healthcare communication platform.

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