September’s Community Spotlight features Amber Quiñones, head of Platform at BBG Ventures, in conversation with BLCK VC COO Naima Warsame. Amber is a former fitness instructor and startup operator turned VC. Prior to joining BBG Ventures as their first Head of Platform & Operations, Amber led Growth & Customer Success on the founding team of the proptech startup withco, developing the company’s early product and customer experience. She is now proud to leverage her breadth of experience across GTM, operations, and product strategy to invest in and support women- and BIPOC-led companies. As a Stanford d.school grad, her personal mission is to help founders build delightful products that meet human needs and support underestimated communities.
Naima Warsame: What is your origin story? What led you to venture and to BBGV?
Amber: Before joining BBG Ventures, I had been working in marketing, growth, and biz ops roles at early stage startups. In my last role, I experienced burnout and found myself wishing I had access to VC Platform leaders, not just investors, who could help us get further faster. This led me to BBGV when I reached out to a founder friend about looking for platform roles at mission-driven VC firms. She came back to me almost immediately with a JD from BBG Ventures that had been circulated just hours before. It felt like one of those rare instances when I was in the right place at the right time.
NW: What would you say are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered while navigating the venture capital industry, and how did you overcome them?
AQ: The biggest challenge I’m encountering is in getting this industry to change its modus operandi — especially around increasing funding rates to underrepresented founders. For a collection of people tasked with predicting and investing in the future, I remain confused by how slow progress has been. I do, however, feel like there have been meaningful conversations and mobilization efforts in the weeks since the Fearless Fund lawsuit was announced.
NW: You recently published the State of Seed Stage Funding to Underrepresented Founders” report. What inspired the report?
AQ: The inspiration behind the report was twofold. On one hand, it was prompted by some LPs who encouraged us to take our internal diversity data and turn it into something actionable. We aimed to transcend our existing mandate and level up as ecosystem leaders by shedding light on how others could prioritize investing in underrepresented founders — not just because it’s what’s right or equitable but because it’s an untapped opportunity for driving alpha.
Timing was also a key factor inspiring the report. We had been talking about creating a public-facing DEI report around the same time as the Supreme Court announced affirmative action would be on the docket. Both LP encouragement and the broader socio-political landscape drove us to dig a bit deeper into trends in seed funding.
NW: What learnings came from the report? Did any surprise you?
AQ: What surprised me was probably what surprised everyone else: seeing the cold hard facts of the funding gap in terms of how much money earmarked for “diverse founders” goes to white women. I think I expected to see maybe 50% of VC dollars going to white women and the other 50% tossed amongst the rest of us, but the chasm was significantly greater than anticipated. This issue isn’t simple, though, and the headlines that covered the report (like “79% of seed funding for diverse founders goes to white women” and “White women receive most diverse VC funding”) enraged a lot of folks who clearly didn’t actually read it. Multiple things can be true at once: white women can be chronically underfunded in comparison to white men, and founders of color can still struggle to gain a foothold in VC funding at all.
NW: What advice would you give to VC firms wanting to do the work of investing in diverse founders?
AQ: Number one is to get serious about hiring more diverse check writers. And creating more systems that enable elevation into partner-level roles, especially considering so few VC firms have career progression systems in place. Secondly, I’ve seen some top tier funds use term sheet clauses that enable them to make room in a deal for diverse check writers. This is a great way for larger firms that might not be helmed by diverse check writers to still support the ecosystem at large and enable women and BIPOC partners (many of whom are emerging managers) to get into great deals. When people of color and women funders are able to get into great deals and build up their track records, they can raise more money and keep doing their work (often backing diverse founders) — thereby enabling a virtuous cycle for everyone.
NW: What impact do you hope to make in the venture capital world in the long run, and what actions are you taking to achieve that vision?
AQ: In my career thus far — in venture, at SoulCycle, at startups, and everything in between — I have been highly motivated by increasing access and opportunity for women of color in particular. I believe that once you get into a room, you hold the door open for the next person and you leave that room in better shape than when you arrived. I have been making some good trouble this year, between this report and several talks about increasing diversity in VC, to hold myself and others accountable for changing the dynamics of who is allowed into this room and who gets +1s.