Q&A: BLCK VC co-founder Sydney Sykes MBA ’22 on venture capital’s representation problem

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Sydney Sykes MBA ’22 co-founded BLCK VC, a San Francisco-based nonprofit venture capital firm formed to empower and support Black investors, while increasing diversity in the field. At the age of 27, Sykes is currently an angel investor and venture scout while she works on getting her MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In December she was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list with her co-founders in recognition of their work. 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Could you talk a bit about the work you’ve been doing and what implications this work could have on venture capital?

Sydney Sykes (SS): Venture capital and the tech industry broadly are a huge source of wealth creation that the Black community has largely been left out of. For the few Black people who make it into venture, they’re often the only person at their firm, and that experience can be truly isolating. BLCK VC’s focus is to empower these Black investors, increase diversity in venture capital and ultimately increase Black wealth in this country.

TSD: How did you first become interested in venture capital?

SS: I actually did my college internships in management consulting but wanted a career that felt more hands-on and long-term. That’s why I started looking into a lot of different industries, including venture capital. When I started looking into VC, one of the first things I noticed was all the black-and-white pictures on the team pages. It almost felt like firms were trying to hide how non-diverse their investing teams were.

Even though that felt like a challenge, it also was inspiring because I felt like I could make a difference for Black entrepreneurs and aspiring investors, just by being part of this industry. Since then, VC has taken a lot of different turns for me and provided me a lot of experiences, from institutional investing to angel investing, and now scouting.

TSD: What advice would you give young students of color or young women who might be interested in the venture capital industry?

SS: Hustle hard with purpose. Whether it’s VC or your college choices, there will be a lot of pressure to do what everyone else thinks is impressive, but if you don’t find it rewarding then that experience will never be worth it. Still — no matter what you do — having a rewarding career and being fulfilled with your life is going to take hard work, so always hustle, but make sure you know why you’re doing it.

TSD: What are some of the equity issues venture capital is facing? What can be done to address them?

SS: There’s two issues: the lack of capital in the hands of Black investors, and the lack of capital in the hands of Black entrepreneurs. If we diversify the investor pool, future tech leaders will look very different. One of the quickest ways to get more money to capable Black investors is by increasing the scouting opportunities. Scouts invest on behalf of firms, and it’s a great opportunity for a firm to get a better pipeline, a unique advisor perspective, and to find potential long-term partners. Another important route is supporting up-and-coming Black fund managers. There are some incredible Black VCs who will have really strong funds in the future, so I encourage VCs and LPs [limited partnerships] not to miss out on those opportunities.

TSD: What does being a member of the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list mean to you?

SS: During the day-to-day, my co-founder and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how far we’ve come or what BLCK VC means to the industry. Seeing our names at the top of that Forbes 30 Under 30 VC page was such an incredible reminder that the work we do matters to so many more people than just the two of us. At the end of the day, though, awards and lists are just hype. I feel an even stronger drive now to prove that the work we’re doing and what we’re building isn’t just hype. I want to live up to the legacy of that list. 

This transcript has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

Contact Lea Nepomuceno at lea.a.nepomuceno ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Lea Nepomuceno is a high schooler taking part in The Daily's Winter Journalism Workshop.