This article has been reposted from Culture Shift Labs.
As partners at Avanta Ventures, the venture arm of CSAA Insurance Group, Sanjiv Parikh and Steve Bernardez are on the front lines of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the venture capital arena.
Recognizing that diversity and innovation go hand in hand, Parikh and Bernardez are committed to identifying and supporting prominent startups in the insurance space.
We had an opportunity to sit down with the duo, where we discussed the challenges facing diversity and inclusion initiatives and the solutions that are making the most significant impact.
What’s the story behind Avanta Ventures, and what are your forward-looking plans?
Avanta Ventures is the venture arm of CSAA Insurance Group. With a rich history of innovation spanning over 100 years, CSAA Insurance Group is continually looking for the best solutions to help aid in the transformation of the insurance industry. Avanta Ventures is the cornerstone of these efforts, investing deep industry expertise, resources, and venture financing to startups creating products and services that will reimagine insurance as we know it.
Avanta Ventures is an early-stage VC in terms of funding and rounds. We’ve built a high-performing organization focused on InsurTech, Mobility, and Insurance-Adjacent markets, with 13 portfolio companies since the fund’s launch in 2018.
In addition to our strategic venture capital investments, we incubate very early-stage startups who may not have a product-market fit or complete team yet through our Studios program. We work with them to help get them to the next level to begin raising institutional funding using a milestone-based approach. Since its inception in March 2020, the Studios program has partnered with 20 startups.
How do diversity and inclusion play out for Avanta in your staffing, investing, and network diversity?
We believe diversity and innovation go hand in hand. The more inclusive a community you can create within your company, the more room for innovative thinking and new ideas to flourish. It is essential to start by being intentional about engaging with BIPOC and other underrepresented communities. You can’t just say you embrace diversity without understanding how you will do that and measure yourself against those goals.
For example, with Avanta Ventures Studios, we measure how many female/BIPOC-led companies we have in the program. We also ask our partner companies to include their analysis of how they are doing from a hiring perspective of BIPOC or gender. You can’t implement what you don’t measure.
Do you have any examples of diverse founders that you’ve invested in?
A good example would be our portfolio company Upsie. Founder Clarence Bethea started Upsie to offer consumers directly affordable and reliable warranties for their electronic devices. The company has customer centrism deeply rooted in its culture, aligning with how Avanta Ventures and our parent company look at the world.
Clarence has years of experience as an entrepreneur, which is attractive to investors, but we were equally investing in his personality, leadership, and the ethos he was developing in his company. Upsie has a motto, “Live life with grace.” It’s the grace they extend to their customers and each other. That’s something that resonated with us and how we approach our customers and team.
Do you have a diversity and inclusion mandate for your portfolio?
When investing, we look at the culture of the companies and if they intend on implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training. This standard has become critical when searching for new companies as we are passionate about creating an inclusive environment.
We are all trying to do our part. We may not have all the answers, but as investors and entrepreneurs, we are on a journey together to learn how to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. At Avanta Ventures, we are proud to work with companies like Upsie, who embody that culture. We will continue to check our unconscious biases to understand who is at the table and who needs to be.
Can you tell us about your experience as part of the Culture Shifting Community?
As members of the Culture Shifting Community, we have had an invaluable opportunity to engage and collaborate with corporations, investors, and entrepreneurs who share our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As sponsors, we have been proud to support the platform that Culture Shifting Labs has created to elevate the stories of extraordinary entrepreneurs. In June, Sanjiv and Steve moderated a fireside chat with the CEO of our portfolio company, Upsie. We are excited about supporting the first Miami-based Culture Shifting Weekend in October.
For several years, the annual Culture Shifting Weekend event has helped diverse GPs to launch and grow their venture capital funds. We are honored to be a part of helping more people from diverse communities to become investors.