Today a new UK-based angel syndicate is launching dedicated to backing LGBTQ+ founders, as well as entrepreneurs from other marginalised backgrounds.
The organisation behind it is i³, which describes itself as a platform to foster “community, connection and capital” for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and investors. Its founder Christian Tooley says that the syndicate has partly been set up to address demand from investors to back diverse founders with resilient characters.
“There is a growing demand for intersectionality from investors,” he says. “We want to support hard-working entrepreneurs who may not have access to investment networks.”
Intersectionality is a term that describes how people from marginalised identities can face challenges in different ways, particularly when those identities intersect with each other. In the context of VC investment, that means that while female founders might generally find it more difficult to raise investment than men, this task is even harder for women of colour.
The syndicate includes more than 50 investors who are either queer or intersectional themselves, or “demonstrated intersectional allies” — investors who’ve backed diverse founders in the past, or actively shown support for them. Investors wanting to join the syndicate can sign up on i³’s website.
The syndicate will invest in startups through special purpose vehicles, supporting raises ranging from pre-seed deals below £100k to Series A deals in the low millions. Tooley says that the syndicate is close to signing its first investment, with another not far away.
These investors will be given opportunities to invest in startups that have gone through i³’s initial vetting system, which ranks startups on three factors: investability, innovation and intersectionality.
This, Tooley says, ensures that i³ isn’t just pushing startups that are “gay for the sake of it” and makes sure they have solid business potential. He adds that intersectional founders naturally have the skills and resilience needed to build disruptive startups in challenging times, due to the barriers they often have to overcome in daily life.
“Many of these entrepreneurs have innovative ideas to disrupt industries that come from their background, experiences and resilience — but they don’t have access to capital, and investors don’t have access to their ideas,” he says.
I³ is not the only LGBTQ+ investment group out there — others in the space include Gaingels and Out Investors — but Tooley says that the individuals joining his initiative have voiced their appreciation for its commitment to intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ community.
“We’ve had some very senior angel investors who have said they wanted a community like this,” he says. “They’ve been very welcoming and accommodating to a community that is prioritising queer, non-binary and people of colour.”
Tooley has coined a term for this approach — “intersectional investing” — and says he hopes the syndicate will foster systemic change within the private sector. This, he believes, can happen by giving diverse entrepreneurs greater economic empowerment, coupled with opportunities to advance into senior positions in board rooms and investment committees later in their careers.
“LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to successfully raise capital,” he says. “In order to foster systemic change we need to empower queers to the top, but that can be a long process. We believe entrepreneurs have quicker timelines to drive this change, and that’s what we’re accelerating.”
Tooley says that seeing LGBTQ+ people promoted to senior investment positions is key to building up “queer capital” in the entrepreneurial community, and that there are many lessons to be learnt from how Black entrepreneurs have achieved this.
“When you talk about queer capital, it’s not just about queer people getting investment and making investing themselves. It’s about being on those investment advisory boards and having a broader impact on decisions,” he says. “There are so many great models within the Black community on how this has been done, so that's been a big inspiration.”
One recent example of this in Europe comes from Cornerstone VC, a new £20m fund born out of a Black-led angel group.
Tooley says that i³ is also currently exploring the possibility of launching its own dedicated VC fund, after seeing the enthusiasm from high-net-worth individuals who’ve supported the angel syndicate.
For him, the project is all about social mobility and giving people access to capital who currently aren’t getting it.
“The next generation of unicorns will be inconceivable and undiscoverable with the current investor mindset,” says Tooley. “Hence why we’re reimagining what a founder story looks like so we don’t overlook them going forward. Ultimately, this benefits us all — the future is reliant on innovative, systemic and intersectional thinking.”