Last June, Intel rolled out its Diversity Fund, a $125 million fund that seeks to invest in female, black, Hispanic, and Native American entrepreneurs. It instantly became the largest fund of its type, and, a year later, has made five investments under the leadership of Lisa Lambert. She also heads up Intel's investments in software and services and is the CEO of Upward, a not-for-profit she founded to connect executive-level women.
Lambert wants her fund to make scads of money, of course. But she also hopes the fund's success will inspire other corporate venture capitalists, as well as other VCs, to broaden their ideas about which entrepreneurs have the potential to create billion-dollar companies.
"I think we're the gold standard in this area, simply by virtue of the fact that we stepped out," says Lambert. Of others, she says, "We will inspire them to change."
Here, in an edited interview, Lambert speaks about the importance of backing diverse entrepreneurs, the homogeneity of the venture capital industry, and, of course, her advice for entrepreneurs seeking funding.
How do you define a diverse investment, and how did you choose that criteria?
For us, it was pretty straightforward. Ethnic minorities--blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans -- plus women.
The CEO, founder, or at least three executives on the CEO's staff have to be in one of those groups.
We went with three executives because for most startups, that represents a significant part of the management team. And when you have diversity on the executive team, the employee base becomes more diverse.
There are many reasons to invest in diverse entrepreneurs. Which are most important to you?
Intel services people in every single ethnic and gender group. So building products without having those people on the design teams, the go-to-market teams, does a disservice to the product.
A perfect example is the wearables space. Just imagine trying to sell a watch or bracelet designed for a female without having females design it. It's really laughable if you think about it.
Has it been hard to find good companies? When I ask venture capitalists why they don't invest in more women or people of color, they often say they don't get pitches from those entrepreneurs.
I believe that the same argument I made earlier, about how diverse executives on CEO staffs bring in diverse employees, is the same for venture capital firms. VC teams aren't diverse. If you don't have Hispanics or African-Americans or any women on your investment teams, you're not going to find that deal flow. People in those groups have those relationships and they're credible. If you're not in one of those groups, you're not readily going to have access.
I started a nonprofit focused on women executives, and we have a lot of entrepreneurial women in our membership. I went out and talked to them. They could get a meeting with VCs, but not funding. There is not a lack of ideas or a lack of will to start companies, but there is a lack of serious consideration.
Why, given all the research showing that more diverse teams make better decisions, do you think the venture capital industry has remained so homogenous?
If it's not broke, don't fix it. I'm sure that's their mindset, and I can understand it. They see no reason to change. There haven't been enough successful outcomes led by women and minorities to make venture capitalists change their models.
One of the things we want to do is to get enough success stories to change the minds of the venture capitalists.
What advice could you give to entrepreneurs seeking an investment from the Diversity Fund?
So often, the entrepreneur hasn't done the due diligence to understand Intel Capital, our strategic mandate, or what we target. Most do know there will be some sort of engagement with Intel the mother ship, and yet they don't have a case for why an investment would be strategic for Intel.
That should be part of the pitch if you're pitching Intel Capital. You should know how your product helps our business and how we can partner together to help each other.
What is the strategy behind your investment in Brit + Co, which I think of as a Martha Stewart for millennials?
A lot of what Brit + Co does is technology. The demographic they target is female millennials. That is a category of buyers that Intel most definitely wants to reach. We want them to start using our technologies to build these gadgets.
That's the value proposition there. It's not an obvious one, but it's still very meaningful.