Silicon Valley has a long history of biases in whose startups get funded… Rich white male tech entrepreneurs who can access the generational wealth of their families have two advantages – one, they can call upon relatives to fund their startups, and two, they can afford to fail without it negatively impacting their lives. That second part is really important. The safety net that gives one the permission to fail lets an entrepreneur try again, improving their shot at success. Minority tech entrepreneurs do not experience that and every aspect of entrepreneurship is fundamentally more difficult.
My experience as a brown woman entrepreneur in tech is that there’s very little I can do to affect that. There are no skills to learn or secrets to unlock that let people like me compete with the guy who can call in an angel round from their family.
I want to tell you that what you just wrote is exactly why I am spending this part of my career creating Demystifying Silicon Valley. Yes, everything is harder. But there are absolutely skills you can learn that will unlock access to funding. These skills are actually contained and can be mastered in a reasonable period by anyone with the desire and focus to improve her lot in life – without having to spend $300,000 on a name-brand business school.
There is overwhelming pressure from limited partner investors for VC funds to invest in more diverse founders. Every ethical VC I know (and most of us are, but every profession has its deplorable people) wants to increase the diversity of investments. The primary problem today is actually one of elite quality deal flow. The lack of access to knowledge of how to create elite companies is the dominant issue to solve. The good news is that the tools can be mastered.
It is not a correct perception that most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are dominantly wealthy to begin with. It does make life a lot easier, of course, and many do come from wealthy backgrounds, but I have worked directly (as an attorney, investor, or entrepreneur) with over 400 startup companies and interacted with thousands more. Most were founded by entrepreneurs from middle class, lower middle class, and poor backgrounds. Does the distribution match the wealth distribution of the United States? No. But it is shocking what someone with a chip on her shoulder and something to prove can do when motivated.
I grew up with a family income of $6,700 a year and I can personally vouch that things are harder without pre-existing networks of capital. The humiliation of exclusion can be palpable and debilitating. Of course, the more social disadvantages based upon historical power structures, the more difficult it is.
Ultimately, there is no help coming. There is no cavalry about to charge in to fix centuries of inequality. Each of us is it, alone and together. Anyone who wishes to transform her lot in life and upend cycles of economic powerlessness must grab the best available tools for the creation of wealth and human progress.
I believe that innovative entrepreneurship is the best set of tools ever developed to promote human progress and, ultimately, the set of tools with the least friction and most merit-based outcomes, as imperfect and sometimes cruel as the world is. The arc of economic justice, to paraphrase Dr. King, may be long, but, like other forms of equality, it does not bend itself. It takes the concerted action of millions of people who want to be the angels of their better selves and see that in others.