Here at Shoobx, we talk a lot about making entrepreneurship easier. Our discussions usually focus on the efficiency and collaboration that the Shoobx platform provides. We also think about the education and empowerment that the platform, and the information embedded in it (these blog posts included!), provide to founders seeking guidance about forming and running a company. We’re proud of the work we’ve done in both of those areas—building a powerful software platform that helps startups run, and giving founders the information they need to make smart decisions about running their companies, because we want to help level the playing field for entrepreneurs!
That said, we’re acutely aware that some founders encounter additional obstacles when they seek guidance, support, and funding for their companies. Even with our software and educational materials, all founders are not treated equally—and as more research is done on these inequities, it becomes clearer that founders without a certain background or pedigree experience challenges that others don’t. For purposes of this article, we’ll define these founders as “diverse” or “underrepresented”, but this can mean a lot of different things—women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people lacking degrees from certain colleges, and so on. Indeed, it’s probably easier to define what the terms “diverse” and “underrepresented” don’t mean, which is to say, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male founders from a middle or upper class background, who attended prestigious school(s).
There are a lot of reasons these inequities exist—it’s not news to say that racism, sexism, and homophobia, both overt and implicit, are still pervasive in America, and our startup communities are not immune to this. But there are more practical issues as well. Much of the way investors pick the companies they fund is based on pattern matching, asking themselves, “How closely does the company in front of me resemble another company that gave me a 10 or 20x return?” In effect, investors are looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, so when a black woman stands in front of them pitching her company, it’s simply harder for them to imagine her business being their next runaway hit.
Thankfully, the chorus of people who are committed to raising awareness about and supporting diverse founders is growing*, and the number of resources available to them is increasing. So we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favorites: programs working to advance the standing of underrepresented founders, people advocating for better visibility for their companies, and investors who are committed to helping these companies achieve their potential. Here’s what we came up with…
Accelerators: the programs providing education and support
- Babson WIN Lab - Now in its 6th year, and with cohorts in Boston and Miami, the WIN Lab stands for Women Innovating Now. Launched out of Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the program earned Babson the No. 1 spot on College Magazine’s list of colleges for women entrepreneurs who want to change the world.
- Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab - This program seeks to build “a community of early stage technology and technology-enabled startups led by women and multicultural entrepreneurs.” Companies go through a “curated” curriculum, are paired with mentors, and get access to experts from Morgan Stanley.
- DigitalUndivided - This program, for black and latinx women founders, boasts 52 companies built and $25M in funds raised by the 200 founders who have gone through it. They’ve been around since 2013, and their program focuses on three pillars of knowledge, research, and community.
Advocates: the people and organizations working to lift up diverse founders
- Dana Kanze - Dana is a doctoral fellow from Columbia Business School who is making waves with her writing on the different experiences faced by female and male startup founders. Her TEDx talk, The Real Reason Female Entrepreneurs Get Less Funding, has been viewed almost 1.5M times.
- The Diana Project at Babson College - The Diana Project is the research engine responsible for some of the most frequently cited statistics about women founders and the funding they receive (or don’t receive). Their 2014 Report is a must read for those looking to understand the numbers behind the venture funding gap for women.
- The Kauffman Foundation - The Kauffman Foundation works “to break down barriers that stand in the way of [entrepreneurs] starting and growing their businesses”. Through their “currents”—communities, learning, market gaps, policy, and research—they endeavor to lift up underrepresented founders and improve their chances of success.
Activators: the investors who back diverse founders
- Backstage Capital - Arlan Hamilton is the force behind this fund that invests in women, people of color, and LGBT founders. Hamilton’s scrappiness and outspoken nature earned her the honor of being the first black woman to appear on the cover of Fast Company. Backstage recently launched an accelerator program in four cities.
- Astia Angels - Astia is “an international network of female and male investors that invests in women-led, high growth ventures”. Together, this network has invested over $20M in 55 companies, 4 of which have had successful exits. With groups in New York, Silicon Valley, and London, their footprint is larger than many similar angel investor groups.
- Halogen Ventures - Halogen is an early stage VC fund that invests in “female founded consumer technologies”. Their founder, Jesse Draper, is the creator of “The Valley Girl Show”, which has been called “must see startup TV”. She’s also the daughter of Tim Draper, founder of DFJ Venture Capital, so one could say investing is in her genes.
We know this list is just the tip of the iceberg—there are so many impressive people and programs working to increase the diversity of our startup communities. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!*Full disclosure: Here in Boston, I am one of them. I helped run SheStarts, an organization supporting women startup founders, and I serve as a coach for the Babson WIN Lab and on the review committee of the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs at Smith College. I share some of my tips for supporting women founders in this TEDx talk.