Accenture Ventures leader Kathryn Ross has advice for black founders that could be initially deemed counter-intuitive. In the middle of the pandemic, Ross says it’s time to actually buckle in and accelerate. And she tells Ramon Ray exactly why she thinks that and how that should be done.
Kathryn is well-placed to shares insights about black founders and how they are faring in the world of venture capital and entrepreneurship. Twenty-seven years into her career at Accenture, she’s with Accenture Ventures, the venture capital firm of the global business. There, she leads the Black Founders Development Program, launched just in September.
She and Ramon talk about why a global consulting giant has launched a program to elevate black founders and entrepreneurs. They also discuss what exactly Accenture Ventures can do to support persons of color at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey.
Kathryn says we are in unprecedented times. That’s both in terms of what the pandemic has brought and how businesses have adapted. That includes the use of technologies to be able to do more work remotely.
Being we’re in uncertain times, Kathryn says it’s actually the right time to push.
“Recent numbers would say that this past summer, in the last two to three months, over a billion dollars has been pledged specifically to help elevate black founders,” she says. “That is unprecedented.”
The support is coming from multiple sources. It’s coming from venture capital, corporates, and organizations of all kinds, she says.
“If there’s nothing else, this is the time to push. This is the time to reach out,” Kathryn urges black founders.
If there’s nothing else, this is the time to push. This is the time to reach out.
But before you make the push…
“I think you’re going to start to see more phones being picked up or more emails being answered than ever before,” Kathryn says.
However, there are quite a few things that black founders need to polish before they make their push. This includes getting a business plan together.
That involves understanding your idea and knowing your differentiation in the market. Being prepared also means you know who your customers are and what they are looking for.
Another area she says needs attention is new opportunities. Entrepreneurs need to step outside of the challenges of the past to look at the current opportunities. Maybe the changed business landscape has brought about challenges or needs that are just waiting for solutions.
Black Founders Development Program
Consequently, Kathryn believes that maybe those solutions are in the minds of black founders. The problem is they are not being given the chance.
She tells Ramon that not only are black founders not getting a seat at the table, they may not even be in the building. The Accenture Ventures Black Founders Development Program aims to change that. It will do it by providing more opportunities to access venture capital, corporate mentorship, and strategic connections.
Brought in her role in December, Kathryn was tasked to create a diversity and inclusion agenda for Accenture Ventures. While the investing arm was looking for what they could do for underrepresented founders, she saw from an internal thought leadership study that less than 1% of the billions invested in startup founders are going to black founders.
“What do you think of less than 1%? Personally, I think: ‘That’s a rounding error, right?’” she tells Ramon.
Seeing what needs to be done, coupled with the passions inflamed by what happened to George Floyd, Kathryn says she was resolved that she needed to do something. She also says she’s lucky to be fully supported by Accenture leadership to drive the company’s efforts on diversity and inclusion to the next level.
Widening the circle
Kathryn believes that to really make a difference in diversity and inclusion, venture capital needs to widen its circles. By doing that, investments can be made in more varied businesses.
“Our circle determines what we do, where we invest, where we go to dinner, what we expose our children to,” she explains. “That circle needs to expand, because there’s a portion of the population that, frankly, at the end of the day, can help you make money.”
That circle needs to expand, because there’s a portion of the population that, frankly, at the end of the day, can help you make money.
After all, that’s the goal of venture capital. And this portion of the population is being ignored because they didn’t go to the same schools or clubs.
In her personal practice, Kathryn says she makes a conscious effort to look in the right places for candidates. She adds that this extends to finding potential businesses for Accenture Ventures, which she explains has a unique advantage as a business partner for small businesses.
How Accenture Ventures can help
With more than half a million employees around the world, Accenture is not only a big business, it’s a diverse business. Accenture Ventures leans on that diversity to help the entrepreneur, Kathryn says.
It’s actually one of the main ways it can help the small business reach new heights, she explains. Accenture Ventures has the technologists around the world who understand the challenges.
If you can get your idea validated for market relevancy, that starts to change the game for funding.
Most importantly, they know the technology community, since they work in it every day. Tapping this rich vein of expertise makes all the difference, she says. It can even be as important as getting funding.
“If you can get your idea validated for market relevancy, that starts to change the game for funding,” Kathryn says. “If we can get you in an early position in front of potentially some of the clients or some industry practitioners and technologists who can validate or help you evolve your idea to the point where it has market relevancy, that really starts to change the funding game.”
Moreover, the company can actually make introductions that can be the crucial first steps for accelerating a business. Even for ideas that are not right for Accenture Ventures, Kathryn says she wants to make the right “warm transfers.”
Who Accenture Ventures is looking for
Accenture is looking for the next software technology idea. It’s looking for B2B businesses. That’s where its expertise lies, says Kathryn. That’s where the company excels in helping business leaders ratify their idea.
However, it may not be readily apparent that a business has a product that translatable to other industries. That at its core are technology products maybe even the founders aren’t fully aware of yet.
There are certain companies that are obviously not the right fit. “If you are a hair salon or a product company, that’s not my niche. I can’t help,” Kathryn says.
However, she is also not too quick to say no, because she and her team have also found gems that are just not polished yet.
“That’s why I don’t say no right out of the gate,” she says. “I want to see what the idea is.”
And if the idea is truly not for Accenture Ventures, Kathryn is also building a global network that hopefully has the right partner for those businesses. She says she wants to introduce all businesses that she comes across with the perfect connection.
She’s making an effort to do this because the entrepreneurial journey is near and dear to her heart, she says.
“I actually come from a family of entrepreneurs myself. My husband is an entrepreneur. My mother is an entrepreneur,” she shares. “I’ve been in the midst of their struggles. I firmly understand.”
She says she looks forward to black founders and entrepreneurs reaching out because she wants to evaluate their idea. At the very least, she could also connect them to someone else if Accenture Ventures is not the right fit.