For the average individual, work makes up about ⅓ of their life. Everyone should have the freedom to not have to hide essential parts of their identity from their colleagues, business partners, or, in the case of startup founders — investors. Unfortunately, this is still far from reality.
While the tech industry is supposedly at the forefront of humanity’s drive for innovation, many people in the LGBTQIA+ community working in tech suffer as a result of archaic and obsolete prejudices. Often, given the lack of external markers of mutual recognition, they do so in isolation, to the detriment of both health and creativity. One investor is hoping to change that.
“I want to find my Queer tribe,” says Sabine Schoorl. “Because when we are together, there’s such creativity, such energy, and such talent.” Schoorl is senior partner at LUMO Labs, an impact-driven multi-stage venture capital fund based in The Netherlands. She is also one of the initiators of the Queer Funders and Founders community, with a meet-up event taking place at TNW City on February 29, 2023.
While there is plenty of data on the gender gap and other diversity issues in funding, there is very little on how much investment goes (or doesn’t) to Queer founders. One significant reason for this is that as many as 75% of LGBTQIA+ founders are hiding this part of their identity from investors.
A home for the LGBTQIA+ tech community
When Schoorl decided to be explicitly open about her Queer identity (she is married to Ingrid Tappin, founder and director of Diverse Leaders in Tech) in her professional life, the magnitude of the response she received served as inspiration for the community she hopes to build.
“I get the most amazing responses. People say ‘oh, I’m so happy that you are open. I would love that too, but I don’t know any other Queer people in the tech industry’,” Schoorl states. “And so I thought that apparently it is important to do this as an investor — to be open about it, and to attract people who also want to be open about it.”
To that effect, Schoorl began working together with Til Klein, German entrepreneur and investor based in Switzerland, to build an LGBTQIA+ community in continental Europe for the tech startup ecosystem. Klein is co-founder and general partner of Identity Ventures, Europe’s first VC fund that invests in LGBTQIA+ led early-stage (seed and Series A) startups.
Another partner in this endeavour is TNW’s own director of events, Zach Butler. The idea that TNW should host the Queer Founders and Funders meet-up at the company’s spaces in Amsterdam arose when Schoorl and Butler shared a snowy taxi ride during the SLUSH conference in Finland last year.
“I’m excited that TNW will host the first Queer Funders and Founders meet-up, and hope that other LGBTQIA+ community members will benefit from having a warm home for sharing stories and connections,” Butler says.
“Sabine mentioned this idea when we were on our way to an LGBTQIA+ meet-up in Helsinki together, and I really see the need, but also the big value that Queer Funders and Founders can unlock from a new niche community platform.”
Flipping the script
Schoorl adds that investors can be really brutal, even telling LGBTQIA+ founders to hide this part of their identity not to “scare people off.” LUMO Labs is a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
“We have a lot of female founders in our portfolio companies, and now I want to add LGBTQ+ founders to our portfolio,” Schoorl says, emphasising the importance of representation. “Now that I’m out and proud and vocal about my own queerness, the Queer community knows ‘okay, I’m safe there, I can be myself — I can be my best self’,” she says, adding that bicultural founders are also most welcome to come work with LUMO Labs.
While funding gaps for founder minorities is a systemic problem, and closing it is, unarguably, the right thing to do, for an investor like Schoorl, it is also a big opportunity. “I always like to flip the script here,” she adds. “For me, it is a great opportunity to meet [LGBTQIA+ founders] and find them to add quality deal flow.”
Just in case you missed the link to sign up for the event earlier in the article, you can find it here again.