- Only 0.2% of VC funding in the UK went to Black founders over the past decade, Extend Ventures said.
- Robin AI founder Richard Robinson said investor attitudes changed after George Floyd’s death.
- Robinson told Insider that female VCs were more likely to back Black founders.
A Black founder who raised millions of dollars from Google and venture capitalists said the needle moved on diversity after the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
Richard Robinson quit his job at the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner in 2019 to build his legal startup, Robin AI.
“It’s been a tale of two experiences, really,” Robinson said, describing the rise in schemes to support Black founders as a “reaction” to Floyd’s murder.
Just 2% of founders self-identify as Black, African, or Caribbean, found the venture-capital firm Atomico’s State of European Tech 2020 report. Black founders in the UK received 0.2% of venture funding in the ten years prior, despite Black people representing 3.5% of the population, a report by Extend Ventures said.
The shortfall is sometimes attributed to a so-called “pipeline problem,” where there simply aren’t enough minority founders being put in front of investors. But this has been criticized as a “myth.”
The picture may be slowly changing.
“There were certainly schemes I got access to that were created off the back of what had happened, in the sudden interest in Black Lives Matter,” Robinson said. “There was a real shift in, at least, outward attitudes toward supporting Black founders.”
Robin AI simplifies contracts by combining machine learning with legal professionals to make legal advice more accessible. It was one of 30 European startups to secure funds from Google’s $2 million Black Founders Fund, launched in March.
The startup recently closed a $2.5 million seed round, also backed by Shazam and Viagogo investor Episode 1.
Robinson is on a mission to create “Europe’s most diverse unicorn” after experiencing the lack of diversity in both the legal and venture-capital industries.
While VCs “don’t really need to give a reason for saying no,” Robinson said he thinks investors are less likely to believe that he can succeed because he “doesn’t look like a typical founder.”
“I think it’s harder for people to believe in us,” he said, adding that he found that female investment partners and people of color were “far more likely” to take Robin AI to a final-round conversation, compared with white male colleagues.
“It’s an unfortunate pattern, but it definitely was the case,” he said. “I think it’s partly because they know what it’s like to be underestimated. I think they believed in us a little bit more.”
Robinson added that not having a “warm introduction” — where a founder is introduced to a VC by a mutual contact — was the “single hardest thing” about obtaining investor meetings.
He said he’d been prepared for the challenge of fundraising as a rare Black founder, in part because the legal industry also lacks diversity.
“I’ve become very used to having to go the extra mile to prove myself and to reassure people that I can do what’s needed,” he said.
As for his advice to fellow underrepresented founders? “You have to keep trying. Things aren’t going to change overnight. You have to send a hundred emails to try to get one meeting, and that’s okay. You just have to keep going and not give up.”
Underrepresented founders should also consider targeting female investors, he said, with Robin AI counting both Forward Partners investor Louise Rix and Episode 1 investor Carina Namih as investors.
A lot of work goes into finding the right investor partnership, Robinson said, but he found that female investors were “significantly more receptive to pitches from underrepresented founders.”