A top VC stopped a board meeting with a cultured meat startup over a slide she hadn’t seen in her entire career, and it offers a lesson to other companies
- Memphis Meats/Facebok
- Heidi Roizen, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm DFJ, had to stop a board meeting with cultured meat startup Memphis Meats when the founder showed a slide of five recent hires, all of whom were women.
- That kind of commitment to inclusion is rare in Silicon Valley.
- At Memphis Meats, more than half of the company’s team identify as women; 40% of them are in leadership roles.
The moment Heidi Roizen knew she’d backed the right startup happened in the middle of a board room meeting. After 20 years working as a venture capitalist, she had never seen a slide like the one presented to her by Uma Valeti, the founder of cultured meat startup Memphis Meats.
Before her were photos of five of the company’s most recent hires – all of whom were scientists or managers by training, and all of whom also happened to be women.
“I stopped [him] right at that moment to tell him I had never seen a slide like that,” Roizen wrote on her blog this week. “And that in turn surprised him, which probably explains in part why Memphis Meats is such a leader when it comes to diversity.”
Based in Silicon Valley, Memphis Meats kicked off with funding from leading biotech hub IndieBio in 2015. Today, it’s backed by investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Twitch cofounder Kyle Vogt, and Kimbal Musk (Elon Musk’s brother). Two food giants – Tyson Foods and Cargill – are other notable investors.
Like a handful of other enterprising startups in the meat alternative space, Memphis Meats’ mission is to grow real meat from animal cells to minimize the environmental waste and ethical problems linked with factory farming.
But unlike the majority of the startup world, more than half of the company’s team identify as women; 40% of them are in leadership roles.
The reason that is significant isn’t merely because it’s novel. It’s also a key indicator of the company’s core values, Roizen said.
‘Great resumes are the price of admission, not the focus of our hiring process’
Memphis Meats is committed to hiring a diverse team of people who hail from a variety of backgrounds, Megan Pittman, Memphis Meats’ director of people operations, told Roizen in an interview for her post.
To do that, they look beyond traditional hiring practices that focus exclusively on things like resumes, which can be biased toward white men because of institutional racism and sexism. For decades, policies like redlining (the process by which banks refuse loans or insurance to people of color because an area is determined to be too financially risky) and immigration practices favoring European countries have limited the resources available to women and people of color.
- Courtesy of Memphis Meats
Those policies and behaviors also contribute to limiting the amount of money that goes to women and people of color. Last year, all-female startup teams got just 2% of all venture capital investment dollars. Fewer than 1% of American venture capital-backed founders are black.
Instead of sitting down to a traditional interview, hiring managers at Memphis Meats ask all job candidates to begin by giving a 30-minute talk focused on an accomplishment or a topic they’re familiar with.
Hiring managers at Memphis do other things that help to make diversity an entrenched part of the process. They all ask one question, for example, when looking for a new hire: “What do we need our next person to bring that our team doesn’t already have?,” Pittman said.
That question assumes that what they need at the company is not more of the same, but instead a variety of perspectives from a variety of backgrounds. The practice has paid off, Pittman said.
“We’ve seen plenty of data showing that companies that hire based on resumes and checkboxes end up with homogenous workforces,” said Pittman. “Don’t get me wrong – great resumes and hard skills are requirements at Memphis Meats, but they’re the price of admission and not the focus of our hiring process.”