When entrepreneur Monique Woodard realized that VCs were not investing in black founders, she decided to become one.
“If we weren’t touching capital, all of that ecosystem building was for nothing,” said the co-founder of Black Founders, an organization that empowers entrepreneurs and provides founders with access to advice, mentorship and funding.
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Woodard recently spoke at a BLCK VC online event titled “We Won’t Wait”–held on the same day as the memorial service for George Floyd.
“Black founders are often over-mentored and under-invested,” Woodard said during the event. “If you have the ability to write a check, but you will only offer mentorship to black founders, that is only helpful to your ego.”
Essentially–if you are not planning on investing, don’t meet a black founder to make yourself feel good.
“More than 80 percent of venture firms don’t have a single black investor and just 1 percent of venture-funded startup founders are black,” according to BLCK VC.
Connecting founders and a look at data
The Black Founder List is an initiative set up by James Norman, Yonas Beshawred and Sefanit Tades to create a network around black-founded, U.S.-based, venture-backed companies. People Of Color In Tech (POCIT) was the first group to support and promote the list.
Through its network, the list aims to be comprehensive. Black founders can add their startup to be assessed for inclusion.
Currently the list tracks around 227 founders, which is a small count given the number of startups funded in the U.S. on a quarterly basis. In the first quarter of this year, 2,000 U.S.-based startups raised funding. In 2019 a total of 9,300 U.S.-based startups raised funding.
We spoke with the co-creator of the list, James Norman, a founder of Pilotly, and a partner at Transparent Collective, which assists minorities in raising funding. Having raised funding, Norman deeply understands the challenges founders face, and how much harder it can be without access to a network or friends and family to help raise that first $100,000 to $200,000 to get started.
To date, Pilotly–a platform for tracking user engagement with media–has raised $1 million. And Transparent Collective has helped founders raise $30 million. The list was created to let interested black founders know what else is out there.
Of the active companies on the list, 35 percent have female founders; a much higher percentage than we find more broadly in Crunchbase. Our most recent stats show 20 percent of newly funded startups globally have at least one female founder.
Two unicorn companies are profiled on this list, including co-founder and CEO Robert Reffkin of real estate giant Compass, and robotic pizza-maker Zume Pizza, which was recently closed, co-founded by Julia Collins.
Of the active companies, 61 percent had their last funding at seed, and 21 percent are at the Series A stage. The vast majority of these companies will require follow-on funding to grow.
Numbers aside, the daily struggle for black VCs and founders remains a reality.
That struggle was clearly illustrated in a profound personal experience retold by Elliott Robinson, a partner for growth equity at Bessemer Venture Partners. While walking down the street in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Robinson was pinned down by police despite having done nothing wrong.
This is my @BLCKVC story:
?? Lived in dt Toronto for 4 years, never talked to police ONCE
?? This happened to me the SECOND night I moved back to the US. In Palo Alto. Across from Stanford. My wife is a GSB alum…
Love❤️ Blessings?? & Strength?? to the Floyd Family pic.twitter.com/RWoAn3m4sw
— Elliott Robinson (@TheValuesVC) June 4, 2020
Said Robinson: “It doesn’t matter where I went to school, what fund I worked for, what boards I’ve been on … because I’m a black man in this country still today in 2020, I wake up every day trying not to become a hashtag.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
Correction: Initially we credited the founding of The Black Founder List to POCIT. This has been corrected to the co-creators of the list James Norman, Yonas Beshawred and Sefanit Tades.
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