The Autodesk Foundation supports innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. We invest in solutions across three impact opportunity areas: Energy & Materials, Health & Resilience, and Work & Prosperity. A through-line in our investing and grantmaking practice is a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which we formalized in 2020. In the two years since launching our strategy, we’ve made significant progress in funding a portfolio that is reflective of the diversity and talent in the innovation ecosystem. These results demonstrate that making changes to become more accessible, transparent, and intentional about equity can lead to notable improvements in a relatively short amount of time.
Diversity and innovation
We know that it is through different perspectives and lived experiences, and through diverse teams that the most transformative ideas for solving these global challenges are developed. However, inequitable access to capital in philanthropy and venture capital hinders these solutions from scaling and achieving their potential impact. Each year, an average of just 4% of catalytic philanthropic funding in the US goes to nonprofits led by Black or Latinx leaders. In recent years, 82% of venture capital funding in the US has gone to all-male founding teams, Black founders have received only 1% of funding, and Black and Latinx women have received just 0.27% and 0.37% of venture capital, respectively.
Launching a DEI strategy
In 2020, we surveyed our portfolio—the nonprofits and startups we directly fund—and found that while about half of our portfolio organizations were led* by women, only 14% were led by people of color. The limited racial diversity of our portfolio leadership did not align with our commitment to DEI nor our belief that diversity is an integral part of impact innovation, and we set out to make the necessary changes.
At the beginning of 2021, we established three main goals:
- Double the number of organizations led by people of color, and triple Black and Latinx representation specifically
- Maintain the percentage of women-led organizations above 30% across both grant and investment portfolios
- Gather more data about local leadership in our international portfolio
To deliver on these ambitious goals, we launched a DEI strategy and took concrete actions focused on accessibility and transparency:
- Ending our “invite only” sourcing strategy, which excluded leaders that did not already have the network connections needed to get in touch with us. We now have a Discovery Form on our website, a channel through which any entrepreneur can enter our pipeline.
- Overhauling our website’s Funding page to be a more transparent resource for entrepreneurs who want to know whether they’re eligible for funding.
- Ramping up our outbound sourcing—wherein we reach out to organizations rather than waiting for them to find us—to identify promising organizations that others are overlooking. Twenty percent of the organizations that joined our portfolio in 2021 were identified this way.
- Addressing gaps in our network by intentionally seeking out and strengthening our relationships with entrepreneur support organizations, funders, and conveners that focus on underrepresented founders and/or apply an equity lens to their investment areas, such as the Black Innovation Alliance and Elemental Excelerator.
- Incorporating an equity lens into the due diligence process; for example, by closely evaluating how organizations incorporate community voice in their models and recognizing team diversity as a key component of leadership team strength.
Progress over two years
In 2022, we conducted our second survey of the portfolio to measure progress against our goals. In the intervening period, our portfolio grew by 25%, a reflection of 14 new organizations and the graduation of seven organizations to alumni status. Ninety percent of the portfolio responded. Here’s what we learned:
#1. Forty-six percent of our portfolio organizations are led by people of color.
Forty-six percent of portfolio organizations have at least one person of color in the CEO/founder group, a 230% increase over our baseline. This surpassed our target to double BIPOC representation. Importantly, this growth was driven by an increase in Black and Latinx portfolio leaders, the two most underrepresented racial groups in the US funding ecosystem. The survey showed that 20% of portfolio organizations have at least one person in the CEO/founder group who identifies as Black and/or Latinx, a 570% increase over the baseline.
#2. Over half of our portfolio organizations are led by women.
Women are well represented in our portfolio, with 51% of organizations led or founded by women. This represents 4% growth over the baseline but far exceeds our 30% minimum target. We focused most on backing more women-led startups, and we saw the percentage of women-led investees in the portfolio grow by 21%.
#3. Thirty-one percent of our international portfolio organizations are led by local CEO/founders.
A gap in our baseline survey was that we did not gather information about geographic diversity. In our second survey, we asked organizations operating outside the US whether leaders from those countries were represented in leadership. Understanding this metric was critical, as local leaders are historically underinvested in, in favor of their expatriate counterparts. We are using this baseline to set growth targets for the coming years.
We know that our work is not done. Our portfolio is always growing and evolving, and there continue to be specific areas where we’re still falling short of our aspirations, such as supporting more local leaders in our international portfolio and strengthening our pipeline of BIPOC founders working on breakthrough climate technologies. We’re committed to not only continue tracking these metrics, but also to deepening our engagement with other funders and organizations who are working on equity and capital access for underrepresented innovators. We’re excited to share more about what’s next in our DEI work in upcoming blogs.
* “Led/founded” means the organization’s CEO and/or founders identify with this group