“You Are Going to Fuck Things Up”: My Experience with Discrimination, and Passion for DEI

Liran Belenzon
6 min readApr 28, 2021

Most of my blog posts focus on fundraising and storytelling. Today, I would like to focus on an area that I believe is vital to truly achieve success: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). (When I say success, I am talking about “success beyond success” — not only the financial outcome but also how you get there.)

In Q4 2020, we decided to invest in DEI at BenchSci. It has been a journey ever since. I have learned so much about this space and still have so much to learn.

Through this work, I have learned that the foundation of DEI is empathy — a valuable discovery I’ve recently acquired through my learning journey. The number one factor that drives my process of learning, unlearning, and relearning is creating the time to listen to others’ stories and experiences navigating discrimination and other forms of systemic oppression.

Because I was both impressed and inspired by others’ vulnerability, I have decided to be vulnerable as well. Only my wife knows the story I am about to share with you today — a story I am sharing because I believe in the power of stories to create change.

First, though, it’s important that I acknowledge my privilege. While I am Jewish and have a heavy history of persecution on both sides of my family, I recognize my position as a white, cis heterosexual man. Before the story I am about to share, I had yet to experience any discrimination (at least, not that I know of). I can’t even start to imagine how much harder the journey is for women, visible minorities, LGBTQ folks, and those at the intersection of these identities.

Hundreds of “nos” and one prejudiced “yes”

Today, our company, BenchSci, has raised over $60M, but the beginning was hard. Really hard.

I had just moved to Canada from Israel and had no existing network. I had also never raised money before. Over the course of four months, I probably met over 100 potential investors and got 100 “nos.”

You can imagine how happy I was when we got accepted to FounderFuel, a Montreal-based accelerator that invested $100,000 in our company. The investment required that I move to Montreal for 3.5 months. During my time there, I continued our fundraising efforts.

The reality is that at that stage, we were probably too early to raise from VCs and were more suited to raise from angels. I began building a relationship with an angel investor that sold his family business. After a few meetings and dinners, he seemed to be interested in investing. To get the deal done, he needed his father’s support as he would be writing the cheque. I soon set up a meeting with both of them, during which I reviewed our business plan, showed a demo of our platform, and shared my personal story.

A day later, I got a call from the son (great guy, BTW), who communicated that they wanted to invest, but first needed one more meeting. I was ecstatic and agreed to meet at their house. I got there and we all had coffee in their backyard. What comes next are words that I never expected to hear. Reflecting on it now makes my heart pound.

“We really like the company and the team,” the father said. “I think you are onto something big and the team is very talented with brilliant scientists, but there is one problem: you.” He continued to explain that I was the problem because I’m Israeli and “Israelis fuck things up.” He even gave me a few examples. He then proceeded to explain how he would only invest if his son would be involved in the management of the company to compensate for my Israeli identity.

What surprised me most was my reaction

While I probably should have gotten up and left or confronted him for being prejudiced, I did not. At first, I was speechless. Then my defenses kicked in and I started explaining why I was not going to fuck things up.

Wild, I know, but I was trying to convince him to invest. We continued the conversation for 20 more minutes, and then I left. His son gave me a ride and apologized for what his father said, but the terms of the potential investment stayed the same.

I remember calling my wife later that night and telling her what had happened. She could not believe how I was treated. In retrospect, what was shocking is that I was not mad and was still thinking about taking the money. I had heard so many “nos” over the last couple of months that I did not see any other option. After a good night’s sleep, the answer was obvious: we were not taking prejudiced money. We’d rather fail.

Why I reacted like that, and (hopefully) what you can learn

Our DEI journey at BenchSci caused me to really reflect on this experience and helped me understand why I reacted the way I did.

Ten months before that experience, I immigrated to Canada from Israel. Anyone who ever immigrated to a new country and is ESL (English as a second language) can probably relate to how challenging of an experience it was. My confidence was shaken to its core as I tried to adapt to a new culture, language, and life.

Back in Israel, things were easy; I got almost every job I applied for. In Canada, I was rejected from over 50 places and had no idea how I would pay my bills. In a way, I co-founded BenchSci because I couldn’t get a job.

Before BenchSci, I had to work for free just to get something on my CV. That plus 100 rejections to invest in our venture made me believe everything the world was telling me. I did not feel empowered or strong. I felt weak, fragile, and desperate. I think that is why I wasn’t even angry when told that because I am Israeli I am going to fuck things up and cannot run a company.

We sometimes hear stories about how people are treated and don’t understand why they froze, why they didn’t act in a certain way, why they didn’t say anything. Knowing what I know now about internalized prejudice, I understand why at times, they don’t.

What I would have done differently now

Today I am in a different place. This event was five years ago. Today our company is growing to 200 people, is empowering 15 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, and as mentioned earlier, has raised over $60M. We don’t get hundreds of “nos” anymore. In fact, we are the ones saying no to investments.

I am also fortunate enough to mentor other founders and CEOs through my work at the Creative Destruction Lab. I am not in a position of weakness anymore, and I feel confident and empowered. I think that is the main reason why today I would have reacted differently.

What would I do now? I wouldn’t have tried to convince that person to invest, I wouldn’t even think of it. In fact, I would have ended the meeting right there. As hard as it probably would have been, I would have used that experience as a teachable moment to explain to the person how wrong and prejudiced what he just said was, and the hurtful impact it had. Not to mention, by getting up and leaving he would understand that I would never be willing to work with him.

I hope he’s reading this now and reflecting on the opportunity to become a better person.



Liran Belenzon

CEO of BenchSci, husband, father and constant work in progress