Lorenzo Thione is the Managing Director at Gaingels. A venture investment group focused on investing and supporting LGBT+ founded/led startups. He recently sat down with Nick Woodford, content manager at Anzu, one of the companies they invest in, to talk about the ground-breaking work that Gaingels do, why he believes businesses need to prioritize diversity if they want to succeed, his passion for the gaming industry, and what Pride means to him.
Q: Firstly, who are Gaingels? How did you come up with the idea? And how was it conceived?
I co-founded a non-profit serving LGBT entrepreneurs and businesses called StartOut, launched with the vision of creating a network of support for LGBT leaders. I did this in response to how I and several of my friends and colleagues navigated the opportunities and challenges within our business lives because of how we identified ourselves.
I met the two Co-Founders of Gaingels, Paul Grossinger and David Beatty, through this network, and they believed there was a piece missing from StartOut, which was working to encourage LGBT investors to invest in LGBT founders. So Gaingels was launched to give LGBT people equal standing and the same opportunities in creating great businesses within the venture ecosystem.
Q: When did you join the team?
I joined them full time four years ago, which is when we decided to move on from Gaingels’s initial aim of just supporting LGBT leaders and investors to branching out to help represent all aspects of diversity within venture, amongst which are race, gender, socio-economic background, and more. Four years later, Gaingels is now the largest and most active venture investment syndicate in the world that is dedicated to diversity in leadership at all levels within the venture ecosystem.
Q: How do you ensure that the businesses you’re working with understand the importance of diversity?
When we look at working with a new company, there are several processes we go through. As part of this, one of the things we ask from them is that they publically sign a letter, which can be found on our website, to pledge to the values that we care about. It includes a commitment to respecting diversity regarding several aspects like the hiring process, choosing new board members, and bringing on investors.
Q: We’re halfway through Pride Month. What does this time mean to you?
For me, the notion of Pride is tied to one really important value that I believe is the most powerful force for change in the world: the power and visibility of representation. It’s only when people see the world that is possible for them reflected through the experiences of others that look or identify like them that they believe their dreams are possible and that they can go out into the world and make them happen.
At Gaingels, we try to live out Pride every month by creating opportunities for people to see themselves reflected in today’s leaders and help companies recognize the need for diversity within their institutions. However, it is nice to know there is a moment each year when we can all come together to celebrate how far we’ve come and to look ahead to what else needs to be accomplished.
Q: How can companies play an active part in Pride Month and show their support other than just sharing a rainbow on social media?
I would split this into two categories. The first is to put your money where your mouth is and commit to philanthropy and ensure that if you rely on funding rounds, part of the capital you receive comes from at least one diverse and underrepresented investor/group.
The second is to make room for your LGBT team members, for whom pride is meant to celebrate, to tell their stories. You should celebrate them and make sure your customers, business partners, and employees are exposed to those stories because representation and visibility are both gifts and responsibility for everybody to enable. If we take a moment to tell and amplify those stories during Pride, we will make a real impact. I also believe we all have a personal responsibility to listen to those stories, whether via a conversation or by seeking out books, films, TV shows, and games that are being used to tell those stories.
Q: You mentioned gaming as an outlet for storytelling. Are you a gamer?
I am a huge gamer. I’ve just finished Cyberpunk 2077, which I’d been waiting to play for ages, which is a great game by the way but has nothing on The Witcher 3! It still baffles me how far games have come since I began playing them back in my teens.
I have always believed in the power that games have to help us learn, stimulate creativity, and bring us together. They are a great form of entertainment and escapism that many of us have needed over the past 18 months! I believe the best storytelling and immersive entertainment today exists within video games. Because of this, I’ve always kept a close eye on the industry. Just before this call, I was catching up on what recently went down at E3.
Q: Was your love for gaming one of the things that attracted you to Anzu?
Yes, my interest in the industry combined with Anzu’s unique business model of going against what’s been done before and putting gamers first by naturally inserting relevant non-intrusive ads into games that work as part of the environment. After seeing the incredible reaction that Anzu’s offering had from leading advertisers and games studios, including WPP, Samsung, Ubisoft, and Xbox, coming on board was a no-brainer.
Q: Finally, how important do you think it is for businesses to build diversity and equality into their DNA? What benefits does doing this offer? And do you have any recommendations for how companies can become more inclusive?
Firstly it’s the right thing to do, and secondly, it’s the smart thing to do to build a better business. There is enough public information to know that the more a company has diverse and inclusive representation on their board and their executive teams, the more financially performing they will be.
To me, this is common sense. Having a company that is trying to address a market that’s made up of diverse consumers can only be done when you’re incorporating the perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas that come from those communities. The only way to do that is to make sure your business is well represented by people of different socio-economic backgrounds, genders, races, disabilities, and identities in your ideation as well as in your decision-making. After all, the rainbow is made up of so many contrasting and vibrant colors, and it’s only when they all come together that it forms the unified image that we’ve all come to know and love.