Why we launched Startup Shadowing
On May 27th, we launched Startup Shadowing at Soma Capital. Participating fellows 1) intern with one of our early stage portfolio companies, 2) participate in fellow specific events hosted by Soma Capital and our partners companies, 3) incubate their own startup idea, 4) pitch to Soma Capital, and 5) become ambassadors in their respective communities to support other founders.
So why did we launch this fellowship in this challenging time?
Mentorship is needed now more than ever. Being a founder can be an extremely lonely journey, especially in the early stage as you are still building your team and forming connections in the ecosystem. Unlike employees in large corporations, founders have no built-in mentors. We wanted to create a pay it forward mentality, connecting later stage founders with early stage ones and early stage founders with the aspiring founders of the future in a self sustaining mentorship cycle. Through our program, later stage founders and operators host fireside chats with fellows. Fellows shadow and work closely with early stage companies to understand the big picture as well as the nuances of execution, taking on tasks outside of their initial roles working in areas of engineering, business, and product. Fellows then take these lessons with them to build their own startups (applying lessons learned to their own process of finding product market fit). Subsequently, fellows mentor other founders as ambassadors on their campuses and in their communities.
Communities are crucial. While we are physically isolated, we must not be socially isolated. We are creating a space for entrepreneurship interested people to connect virtually through regular mixers, fireside chats, webcasts, and coffees and meals. Through regular interaction in small group settings encouraging openness and honesty, we aim to help founders share learnings, experiences, challenges, and wins and foster greater connectivity and more collaboration across the startup ecosystem. Participating fellows move outside of their university bubble to interact with others and explore different problems, approaches, and solutions.
Resilient founders arise from the most challenging times. We firmly believe that in spite of the seemingly countless headwinds founders are facing, there are many unexpected opportunities for incredible people to build. These companies will be amazingly resilient with maverick founders at their helm who chose to pursue entrepreneurship in the hardest of times, showing deep passion for their work, rather than for monetary rewards. These founders discovered and created innovative solutions against all odds and will no doubt go on to create the most daring, disruptive, and impactful companies we have ever seen. We are excited to meet and support these founders.
We must diversify top of funnel. Recent events have brought to light the tremendous race based opportunity disparity that exists in the country and in venture capital and startups in particular. Venture capitalists have notoriously been partial to warm introductions (Del Johnson wrote an incredible piece on why we need to end this exclusionary, value destructive practice). We aim to create a distributed, equitable platform to reach founders beyond our own immediate networks. Through the fellows in our program, we will connect with and be able to support many founders we otherwise would not have met in the Silicon Valley bubble. Talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and we are leveraging the fellowship as a way to broaden our impact and the scope of entrepreneurial opportunities
Eliminating bias in evaluation processes is critical. Tech and venture capital have major bias and discrimination problems in hiring and capital distribution. Part of this bias comes from the strong desire to hire solely or primarily in network and the pretext with which recruiters and partners evaluate applications. For the fellowship, we follow a strict anonymized evaluation process (we are writing a separate piece on how we crafted the application process specifically to eliminate bias) and focused on getting to know the candidates’ short and long term goals, ability to work cross-functionality, experiences taking initiative, and their overall innovative mindset and scrappiness, all without the bias of their names, backgrounds, or resumes. Through codifying and iterating on this process, we aim to set an example for ourselves and other tech, startup, and venture firms in enabling equal opportunity.
A huge shoutout to my amazing team members, Amy Deng and Anant Akash. They have done tremendous work in launching the program, reaching great candidates, and designing an innovative and inclusive hiring process.