Eleanor Kaye is the CEO of Newton Venture Program. Here she shares her unconventional path into the VC industry and how the Newton Venture Program is reshaping the landscape by empowering underrepresented individuals to break barriers and thrive in venture capital.
Eleanor, tell us about your journey into the VC industry.
My route into the VC industry was somewhat non-traditional! I began my career in office manager roles in the media and entertainment sector. I then moved to the software company Palantir, which was my first step into the incredible world of tech. This ignited my interest in the industry and led me to the Newton Venture Program. I joined the team as Head of Operations before becoming CEO.
My unusual journey into VC is particularly relevant and valuable for my role at Newton since the programme is designed to support people in VC who don’t necessarily have ‘typical VC’ backgrounds.
Can you share more about the Newton Venture Program and how it aims to bring diversity and representation to VC investing?
In 2020, we launched with a mission to make careers in venture capital more accessible and to ensure the next generation of investors represents the world that we live in.
We do this through our bespoke training and development programmes, supporting people from overlooked and underestimated backgrounds breaking into VC or progressing in their VC careers.
Our two programmes, Fundamentals and the Fellowship, are designed to help people develop their skills and expertise wherever they are on their VC career journey – from people aiming to secure their first job in VC to current venture investors looking to advance their careers.
What inspired the creation of the Newton Venture Program? What impact has it had so far in helping individuals from underrepresented backgrounds enter venture careers?
We’re a joint venture between LocalGlobe VC and London Business School, with founding partner HSBC Innovation Banking. There was a clear shortage of formal training for a career in VC, and the lack of diversity was apparent. As an industry, VC is homogeneous and revolves around close-knit circles, heavily relying on connections common among the elite.
The lack of more democratic routes into the industry put people from typically or structurally overlooked and underestimated backgrounds at a further disadvantage. By providing robust, formal training, we give more people an equal opportunity to break into venture capital.
Since the first cohort in September 2021, we’ve trained 346 people, with another 33 currently learning. Our alums represent 48 different nationalities, and this rich network is one of the key reasons people learn with Newton. We’ve supported participants without university degrees, people who have worked several jobs and don’t fit into any particular job bracket, and those who have immigrated to a new country and needed support developing their careers.
How do you identify and select participants for the programme, and what criteria do you consider to ensure a diverse cohort?
We use ‘blind hiring’ through the Applied platform, which helps reduce unconscious bias in the selection process. We’re looking at applicants’ ability to thrive and give back in our programmes alongside key values which would make them a good fit. The main traits we’re evaluating include motivation, grit and an interest in innovation, demonstrating that applicants have the foundational qualities to succeed in the VC world.
We’re not evaluating candidates’ educational background or employment record at all, and this – combined with a proactive approach to ensure we reach a diverse candidate pool through diversity-focused partners, alum referrals and others in the VC community – generates a more accurate representation of the population VC serves.
Could you provide examples of success stories from the Newton Venture Program, where participants have significantly impacted the VC industry?
We’re hopeful that Newton alums – as a direct result of their experience on the programme – will reshape VC culture and invest in a more representative group of founders and startups. Some of these outcomes will only be seen in a few years as alums move forward in their careers.
But we’re already seeing many success stories and several alums who are creating the change they want to see in the VC industry. For example, Lyubov Guk. She was forced to relocate from eastern Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion 2014 and enrolled in her first Newton programme after settling in London. She went on to co-found Blue Lake VC to invest in and support immigrant founders.
Another example is Jesse Opoku-Asiedu. In addition to his day job, Jesse was part of Moonshot Ventures Partners (MVP), an angel syndicate of African investors who back emerging African tech companies. He said his experience at Newton gave him the confidence and validation he needed as a new investor.
Our alums have started three syndicates – each with a specific impact focus – helping them immediately put their knowledge and new skills into practice.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in promoting diversity in the VC space, and how do you address them through the program?
We’re fortunate to have so many friends in the VC ecosystem who support us and believe in our mission. This helps amplify our message and reach people we may not have otherwise.
Through blind hiring and the cohorts created from this, our process proves that there isn’t a dearth of diverse talent out there; too many are overlooked, underestimated and prevented from accessing the ecosystem in the first place.
We ensure that our programmes and community are safe spaces where everyone can thrive, learn, and be their true selves. We address diversity in the programmes by exploring investment values and allyship and bringing in practitioners tackling inequality in VC as speakers.
In your experience, what are the key benefits of diversity and representation to VC investing?
Typically, entrepreneurs solve problems familiar to them. Similarly, investors back those who look, speak, and act like them. This affects who gets backed, what solutions get backed, and whom those solutions serve. This is why we need diversity among people who make investment decisions, so we can also level the playing field for those who can access capital for their startup.
That’s why we don’t just work to get people in the door but also to help them move up in their careers so that they can shift VC culture and enact their values through investment decisions. This is imperative to fostering a more inclusive environment in VC.
How do you engage with and support participants after they complete the program to ensure their continued success in the venture industry?
The learning doesn’t end with our programs! On completion of Fundamentals or the Fellowship, the alum journey begins. Learn, network and access are the pillars that underpin everything we do at Newton: through our programs, our alum experience and the wider community.
So, once a learner has become an alum, they are invited to exclusive Newton events to keep growing their network; they have access to monthly learning sessions about the wider VC and entrepreneurial agenda; and access to industry events and discounts to platforms that will help them thrive in their careers. We also keep in touch with the alums daily, asking what they need. And it’s humbling to watch how they support each other. They’re also taking the trust and respect they have for each other in the wider VC industry.
Are there any specific strategies or initiatives Newton employs to foster a diverse and inclusive environment within the programme?
We adopt a human-first or human capital approach. As a team, we’re hands-on, know the alums and enjoy staying in touch with them. Our strategy is to ensure the learner is at the centre of our decisions, which follows through to the alum experience.
We’re deliberate with the questions we ask in applications for the programmes so we can understand how each applicant would be a positive force for change in the industry. Feedback at the end of each program often highlights the rich and diverse network the learner is now a part of.
We work with other initiatives in the industry, such as Included VC and Diversity VC. We are all aiming for the same goal, which helps foster a diverse and inclusive environment beyond the programme.
What advice would you give to individuals from underrepresented backgrounds who aspire to pursue a career in venture capital?
I always encourage people looking to break into VC without prior experience to think creatively about how to show relevant skills to the job. Ultimately, the most important thing is to be confident that your unique experience and background have given you different perspectives and skills that you can bring to the table. Identify these qualities and why they make you a good fit for VC.
On the more practical side, the VC world depends on networking. While this can be exclusionary, it also means there are identifiable opportunities to meet people who can support you or offer advice. Look for opportunities to attend events or engage with programmes like Newton, then use that as a springboard to build a network within the community.
Looking ahead, what are your future goals and aspirations for the Newton Venture Program in terms of promoting diversity and creating a more inclusive VC industry?
Everything we do is centred on bringing more people from typically overlooked and underestimated backgrounds into venture. In the future, that means introducing new programmes reflecting industry gaps and creating opportunities to break into VC.
We’ll continue establishing partnerships with key industry players to ensure our work is representative and intersectional. This month we announced that we’ve partnered with i³ investing, an organisation led by Newton alum Christian Tooley, aiming to drive innovation, intersectionality and investment for the queer community in venture capital.
The lack of diversity in VC is a huge problem, and our work to address this is only just getting started. We’ve got big plans and have only scratched the surface of what we want to achieve.