The Changing Face of UK VC 2020: Akash Bajwa, Portfolio and Investment Analyst at Cass Entrepreneurship Fund

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Companies like Applied are trying to mitigate structurally around this, but for many funds, they just haven't applied these hiring practices. So for juniors, I think coming in or even very early in their careers, they feel their mobility, even once they are in, is difficult if they haven't come from those consulting, banking, educational backgrounds. I don't see many companies or many funds actually taking actions to contradict that.

Octopus Ventures has set up a process which is similar to the Applied process, and I really admire that, but overall, I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that people who are coming from these unconventional backgrounds are able to look at their long term career with any confidence.

I think what must be a source of frustration for young people in the industry is that you have little power to impact that change. So I would love to know what your feelings are around that, whether advocating and using your voice is an impactful tool or whether it's not enough.

I feel in other industries, it's very easy to get a mentor, who is usually a very senior person and as you said, a senior role model who maybe sometimes is also an ethnic minority or an outsider in a way. In this industry, I think juniors don't have access to a person of that kind of stature. So yes, to answer your question, we do get frustrated because I think there is a hierarchy in that a principal or a partner really does have far more influence than an analyst or associate.

I think the mentorship piece is quite frustrating. In my previous role at Barclays I had two mentors. In other projects that I've been involved in, I've always been able to get the ear of someone senior and ask them for advice on certain things. In this industry, it's been difficult to find someone who I can relate to and would be willing to give up their time. I do think that for people who are coming already from the outside, they probably feel like they can't approach these people for a mentorship kind of relationship. Whereas people who do have the usual backgrounds, I think they maybe connect more easily and so there's maybe a natural understanding and relationship there.

Is there an increasing amount of opportunity at smaller funds or newer funds that maybe are a little bit more forward thinking about issues like this and you don't have to go with the bigger funds anymore? Do you think that there is a little bit of a slow industry shift happening in that space?

Yeah, and I feel the last few months were quite interesting because there has been a flurry with Ada Ventures, Impact X Capital, Cleo Capital. Truthfully, I think from the conversations I've had with others similar to my position, they would love to work for these funds.

I think the shame that those big funds have is, I think less of a dynamic in VC than it is in banking or consulting or other careers. There is a wider distribution of the returns that these funds generate.

I've read a piece talking about how LPs are now starting to do diversity questions in their fund due diligence, so hopefully that tailwind combines with a recognition that women and ethnic minority founders represent a massive loss of opportunity.

If these new funds in the next two or three years, are able to provide some sort of validation for the thesis, that would be incredible because I think that will open the floodgates for the LPs to start really looking at this.

There's a really interesting Morgan Stanley study: $4.4 trillion of lost value because investors when surveyed perceive that women and ethnic minority founders are getting the right amount of capital when actually, there's a lot of blind spots that they're not aware of which limit the amount of capital they get. Other studies have suggested they create more jobs. It's a very interesting period.

Well, the thing with this industry is the only thing that talks is money. So the only way to validate that is success in investing. So I'm rooting for them.

Also, something which is interesting as a junior is this is quite an opaque industry. I feel like at the very junior levels there is not enough peer to peer knowledge sharing. In other industries you can find forums and things like that and a lot of information is widely shared. I am in the process of preparing my first investor memo for a company we're investing in and besides the usual stuff that's out there, like Passion Capital's term sheet, there's very little publicly available knowledge or resources I can rely on. There's no template.

Because it is opaque and there is no information available when people have to ask these questions there's a lot of unshared knowledge. That does mean it can either stop people at the gates, and they don't actually get in, or they're not able to find enough out to excel in an interview. Or once they're in, it slows down their progress.

Of course you have to hustle, you have to go out there and meet as many people as you can, but the lack of knowledge sharing and ability to amplify what you've learned and share with more people means you have to be making that outreach yourself.

If yourself or someone else in your industry started to put together a public handbook or start to share all these templates, would they be ostracised for it? Is there a reason why people haven't done that?

It's something I have considered in the past. I don't know if you would be ostracised. I do think there's a default mindset not to share things. I guess if someone did produce a blog, and it did get a lot of traction, a lot of readership, if people felt like the secrets were being shared, I think that would contradict their public stance. Publicly at least, people suggest we want to be open. They don't want to share return data and things like that, which is of course understandable, but ideally, if you want to engage more people and make it a more diverse pool of candidates at the top of the funnel, you should be making it clear exactly what you do and how you work and that's the best way someone can understand the role.

I don't know the answer if that person will be ostracised, but I feel it is necessary. It could be one of the ingredients to increasing the number of candidates and diversity of those candidates.

Do you feel like your generation are more open with things like that?

Yeah. I think we all feel like we want to be connectors, we want to be introducing x, y and z. Even if that's a very loose relationship I hold with that person. If someone on a Slack group says that I'm looking for investors investing in African startups, and I loosely know someone, it's not a second thought for me to try and introduce those people.

This story, "The Changing Face of UK VC 2020: Akash Bajwa, Portfolio and Investment Analyst at Cass Entrepreneurship Fund" was originally published by Techworld.com.

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