In 2019, Dominic Lau, a partner at Ripple Ventures, a Toronto-based VC firm, was looking for ways to help startup founders and VCs from underrepresented groups. His answer was the RippleX Fellowship Program, aimed at teaching and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students focused on entrepreneurship or breaking into the VC industry. To that end, there has to be 50% gender diversity and a minimum of 50% BIPOC in each cohort.
Since its founding, the program has evolved while staying true to its mission of serving underrepresented students. For example, it recently finetuned its admissions process to make the system more equitable. And last year, Ripple X started a separate fund for startups launched by students, as well as other founders who aren’t in the program. “DEI is truly in our DNA,” says Nazuk Thakkar, program manager, who is also an associate at Ripple Ventures.
A Two-Track Cohort
Open to undergraduate and graduate students in North America, the RippleX Fellowship program runs three times a year during the school semester with two tracks—one focused on entrepreneurship, the other on becoming a VC. The remote program, open to 25 students in each cohort, includes biweekly discussions, workshops with experts, and hands-on projects. For would-be founders, topics include such subjects as product-market fit and the basics of term sheets. Those who want to be VCs learn about how to evaluate a startup and how to break into the industry, among other matters.
There’s also a free public course open to anyone, including people who aren’t students or are located outside of North America.
A New Fund
In 2022, the fellowship launched the Fellow Fund, a separate fund which invests $25,000 to $50,0000 in some student startups, depending on the stage of the company. It’s also open to first-time and underrepresented founders who aren’t in the program. Fifty percent of investments are allocated to founders who identify with underrepresented groups.
So far, the fund has made two investments in startups launched by entrepreneurs who took the public course: Artemis, which is developing a data modeling tool for business, and Waive the Wait, which has a platform that helps doctors with daily tasks, aimed at reducing burnout.
Finetuning the Application Process
Over the past year, the program also has refined the process for reviewing applicants. For example, a four-person review team, all alums, is comprised of only people of color, with 50% gender diversity. In addition, reviewers don’t look at schools or GPAs. And they make sure every applicant is screened by each team member at a different step in the process.
With a total of over 1,000 students in the 13 cohorts offered so far, there’s an 80% ethnic diversity rate and 50% gender diversity, according to Thakkar. The program also has helped underserved founders raise around $50 million in VC funding and placed 50 students from underserved backgrounds into VC roles, she says.
Thakkar attended a cohort in 2021 while she was a student at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, determined to break into venture capital. Now, in addition to helping to run the fellowship program, she’s also a VC at Ripple Ventures.
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