New working group, Venture Out, aims to boost LGBTQ+ visibility in VC

A recently formed working group is aiming to tackle lacking LGBTQ+ visibility in the venture capital world.

Venture Out Partnership was formed in 2023 by Amy Siskind. As an activist on women’s issues and a member of the LGTBQ+ community herself, Siskind is interested in building a support system for queer people in venture. Having recently founded a VC secondary fund, she previously spent two decades in finance before pivoting to the nonprofit world.

“Coming back into finance, it’s much worse than it was then, before the era of DEI,” Siskind told Fierce Healthcare. “Here, you’re invisible.”

LGBTQ+ founders have created 36% more jobs, 114% more patents and 44% more exits than the average founder, according to StartOut, a nonprofit representing queer entrepreneurs and involved in Venture Out. Yet these founders have raised less than 1% of startup funding.

Since its inception last summer, Venture Out has amassed 70 members, from investors to lawyers to entrepreneurs. PitchBook and Crunchbase have joined to build LGBTQ+ search filters into their databases. The collective is also looking to expand on existing resources like StartOut to empower allies looking to support diverse founders.

A shifting political landscape has put diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) under attack today, Siskind believes. A slew of lawsuits by conservative groups against companies and venture capitalists have forced some to revise eligibility criteria for diversity fellowships. Venture Out is among the stakeholders now examining the future of DEI, Siskind said.

So far, the stories VentureOut members have shared internally have been telling, per Siskind. Some who are trans and have white, cisgender men as business partners let them take the lead on fundraising. A lesbian woman doesn’t share her sexual orientation with investors. One queer Black woman was told by investors to focus on her merit, not her diverse identities.

Siskind hopes those in positions of power can “soften the soil” for those struggling to navigate VC in an uncertain climate. And, given some investors have said they don’t know how to go about identifying LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, she hopes the collective can encourage more people to come out.

"Not a box to check"

For Robert D’Annibale, VentureOut is a kind of “incubator”—supporting like-minded people in the community and “allowing these individuals to feel comfortable … all they have to focus on is building their dreams,” he told Fierce Healthcare. 

D’Annibale oversees corporate strategy and development at Forge Health, a hybrid behavioral health provider. He is tasked with identifying opportunities to expand access to affordable care for the underserved. To that end, he feels it is important to meet with investors, other founders and leaders in the field—and Venture Out is a vehicle to do so.

“These investors and these asset allocators typically come from LGBTQ+ identities or communities and they understand the challenges that we face,” D’Annibale said.

In a similar vein, You:Flourish founder and Chief Strategy Officer Steven Haden feels Venture Out can build connections and shift the narrative around queer founders—that investing in them is not just an equity issue, but also a strong business case. You:Flourish is a digital wellness app connecting LGBTQ+ people to resources and peers.

“It’s not charity; it’s not a box to check,” Haden told Fierce Healthcare. “And that has been the case over the last decade.” 

Haden believes the trust and relationships he is building at Venture Out will prove useful. “Part of it is just raising awareness that we’re doing this thing. As someone who’s not a serial entrepreneur, I don't have a lot of personal relationships in this space. That is not my background,” Haden said.

Haden’s fundraising experience throughout 2023 was “brutal.” Macro conditions make it tough enough, he said. Since the start of this year alone, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed nationwide. And some have bowed to political pressure, per Haden, withdrawing from investing in queer companies.

“You couple that with a system that disadvantages LGBTQ founders, it just further undermines the likelihood of success,” Haden said.