Our Director Bryan Bridges-Limon sat down with Lorenzo Thione, managing director at Gaingels and co-founding chairperson of StartOut, to discuss the importance of diversity in finance and how to ensure the LGBTQ+ population is represented and advocated for within the industry. Lorenzo Thione was born and raised in Milan, Italy but moved to the states to pursue his MS in computer engineering at University of Texas at Austin. He co-founded an innovative startup in 2005 to develop a natural language search engine, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2008. Lorenzo is an engineer, an author, an activist, a producer, a director, and an investor. He attributes the many hats he wears to constantly underestimating the risk, over estimating the reward, and jumping into new opportunities as they present themselves.
The one common denominator with these varied jobs is Lorenzo’s talent in being a great communicator, telling a great story to connect with his audience at an emotional level and enable them to see his vision.
Shortly after arriving in the states, Lorenzo experienced the great tragedy of 9-11. Realizing how short life can be, he confronted his fears came out as a gay man. Lorenzo met actor George Takei, who shared his story of growing up in the United States and experiencing racial descrimination after Pearl Harbor. Lorenzo and a few friends decided to write a musical, Allegiance, that told George’s story. A few years later, George Takei starred in said musical on Broadway. This was just one of the many shows that Lorenzo has been involved in as he is a Tony-Award and Drama-Desk winning theatre producer. Lorenzo firmly believes in creating opportunities for representation is the most powerful force towards encouraging progress and social change from the people who that change will affect the most.
He continues to work on shows that give voices to those who are underrepresented in our society today.
This mindset of giving a platform to the underrepresented also had a powerful impact on creating his own non-profit, StartOut. While there were many network groups for women and various ethnicities, there were none for the LGBTQ+ community. After a conversation with a few friends about their concerns of coming out to the public, for fear of not receiving support from their boards, they agreed they had to make a change. What started 12 years ago as a network that would meet up over happy hours, has grown to 18,000+ members and is doing amazing work for the community. It now has become an educational outlet for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and a platform for success stories to be celebrated. The growth allowed them to analyze the data concerning their community of entrepreneurs on a large scale. They found that LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs earn significantly less than their straight counterparts.
Their mission has shifted to include a visibility to these issues and a drive to close the gap.
The founders of Gaingels connected through Start Out, and Lorenzo became one of their first investors. He is now a full time managing partner and says their mission is to use capital as an instrument to affect the transformation of the venture ecosystem towards one that is overall more diverse and inclusive. This not only means including employees from diverse backgrounds, but also reaching out to investors from previously underrepresented backgrounds. Between Gaingels and StartOut, Lorenzo has made a significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community in the world of business. He’s been named by Business Insider as one of most influential LGBTQ+ people in tech.
Lorenzo defines success not by awards or profit, but by creating an impact.
The data points that these may be one in the same as companies that purposefully resource from diverse backgrounds will far outperform the competition. Employees want to know how their hard work contributes to society as a whole. Companies can longer just have a float in a pride parade, they must make sure their company culture supports the community deeper than flying a rainbow flag.
In today’s world, it is right, smart and necessary to be truly inclusive.
With the world going virtual, Gaingels and StartOut have been able to connect with people that they would have previously not been able to reach. Gaingels continues to influence the community and is currently working on a book, Gaingels 100, which dives into 100 profiles of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs around the world. The goal is to show there is value for all of us if we encourage stories to be seen and amplified in order for those communities to thrive. Lorenzo is always looking for new opportunities to make an impact both in the world of business and theater. This is just the beginning and he is excited for the unknown of what the future holds.