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Investing With Pride: An Interview With Gaingels’ Lorenzo Thione

Ben Offringa Hall

June 21, 2022

Pride month is a beautiful time to celebrate the progress that LGBTQIA+ communities have made in the steady march toward equality. It’s also a time to reflect on the systems that allow injustice to perpetuate, and what we are doing to tackle those issues. While MakerSights is laser-focused on supporting more sustainable retail, there is no better time than Pride to ask where climate action and social justice intersect. 

To help us better understand these intersections, we sat down with Lorenzo Thione, LGBTQ+ Advocate and Managing Director of Gaingels, North America’s leading investment syndicate focused on providing resources to companies committed to building diverse and inclusive teams. As a proud member of their portfolio, MakerSights leadership has signed The Gaingels Letter which provides a basic yet crucial framework for promoting inclusion at all levels of our organization – yep, including our board and executive leadership team.

From the writer: I jumped at the opportunity to sit across from one of tech's greatest (and warmest) LGBTQIA+ advocates. In fact, Gaingels' partnership with MakerSights was a primary driver for my decision to join the team earlier this year. It is truly inspiring to see how leadership from both companies walk the walk on fostering inclusion and equity at every possible opportunity, and I hope that this interview serves as a model for success, encouraging even more investors, VCs, and entrepreneurs to place social good at the heart of their business strategies.

Ben: Can you tell us a bit about Gaingels and its mission?

Lorenzo: Today, Gaingels is a mission-driven organization and one of the largest venture investors in the ecosystem. We have a single purpose in our mission, which is to effectively drive and foster equality, diversity, representation, and ownership for all underrepresented minorities within the global venture capital ecosystem, especially the LGBTQIA+ community we originated from. Practically speaking, Gaingels is a syndicate of more than 3,000 individual investors and family offices that are mission-aligned to bring about change in the ecosystem, while at the same time realizing great profit on their investments. 

Ben: Outside of monetary investments, what kind of impact do you think Gaingels has on your portfolio?

Lorenzo: A big way we help is by supporting our network’s recruiting objectives, but we primarily differentiate through three key pillars: 

First, we choose to invest as a community because we believe community is both important and transformational. Our portfolio companies become each other's customers, vendors, sounding boards, mentors, subject matter experts, and valuable connections. When you lean in like we do at Gaingels, there's a larger halo effect when this vast, diverse network stands with you. And the more investors that join us, the faster that flywheel spins. 

Our second pillar is an internal organization that supports our portfolio companies by identifying, qualifying, and hiring board members, directors, and advisors from underrepresented backgrounds.  Building truly representative boards isn’t just the right thing from an abstract moral point of view. It's now pretty clear that organizations with more diverse leadership and boards actually outperform their less diverse counterparts.

Finally, we bring diversity of capital to the table for our portfolio companies. We've invested over $750M dollars in our portfolio, and over 65% of that capital comes from communities typically excluded from wealth-building opportunities: people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, family offices, and women. When you take an investment from Gaingels, you're including people that have long been left out. And when you build a company that is super valuable, that wealth percolates through to those communities.

Ben: What do you hope those great financial returns will contribute to underrepresented communities? 

Lorenzo: Ultimately, I hope people get to see themselves reflected in these opportunities – that if they work hard and build a successful company, then that money goes back into communities where it’s likely to be reinvested into things that they care about: community programs, causes that protect their interests, political activism… When you create a more equitable distribution of wealth, you are creating a more democratic society because you're leveling the playing field through economic empowerment, education, reinvestment, and political discourse.

Ben: How do you think MakerSights aligns with Gaingels' goals toward a more equitable future?

Lorenzo: There is a big focus in our portfolio of companies that are building a more sustainable future, and that’s true from the climate impact and equitable commerce perspectives, as well as actual products that are being created. For example, we are investors in sustainable alternatives like plant- or mycelium-based leather… So in that sense, there are a lot of companies within our portfolio whose missions and vision align [with our goals].

Ben: What would you say to business leaders who see some economic turbulence on the horizon and think 'inclusion is great, but we need to keep our business afloat before we can focus on nice-to-haves?’ 

Lorenzo: We're not asking companies to detour or be any less focused on the core objective of the business – which is ultimately to grow and create a scalable, impactful organization that rewards its employees, customers, and investors. But you can do that while taking advantage of what's known, which is that companies that are more inclusive and representative outperform in the market against their peers. So why wouldn't you do that?

Ben: In 10 years’ time, how will you look back and know Gaingels succeeded?

Lorenzo: I don’t know that diversity and belonging are “goals to reach.” Maybe there will be a future in which it will be easier for everybody to build inclusive organizations, but the reality is that building diverse teams is intrinsically difficult because it goes against our natural inclination to choose from what we know. So I think the idea that there's some goal in the future where organizations like Gaingels are no longer needed is a red herring. 

I see the opportunity for Gaingels to refine its growth model in such a way that we can help any business, whether they’re small or large, public or private, to help them drive suppliers and procurement into minority-owned businesses. We can help minorities get into ventures from both sides of the capital allocation table (that's our Venture Inclusion Program). We can help minorities get jobs within the innovation economies and we can help companies do better at hiring underrepresented groups. No matter how big Gaingels does or doesn’t become, I envision a future in which we are the de facto model for what an investor looks like–  the whole endeavor built on the premise of inclusion.

Ben: Before we wrap up, anything big happening at Gaingels we should know about?

Lorenzo: Yes! Earlier this year we launched a project called The Gaingels 100, which is a collection of accomplished and inspiring venture-backed LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs. They hail from all over the world, and have built, or are building, great companies of the exact kind we founded Gaingels to support and invest in. 

We also have the Gaingels Scholarship, which is funded entirely through individual donations and goes to fund grants for underprivileged LGBTQIA+ students to complete their studies and then seek jobs within the venture economy.

Ben: Finally, how are you celebrating Pride Month this year? 

Lorenzo: We do a lot of events for our community during Pride where we come together and tell people about the mission of Gaingels. I'll also be spending time at home with my husband, and later this month I'll be flying to Italy to visit my family. So I won't necessarily be at the big celebrations but with projects like the Gaingels 100, I think it's a great way for more people to feel proud of who they are and the community they belong to.

Ben Offringa Hall
Senior Manager, Content Marketing

Ben Offringa Hall is a content marketer and strategist with a passion for the intersections of data and modern life.

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