Inclusive Innovation: The Business of Helping Others

How we can use our networks to support underrepresented founders and bring more diversity into entrepreneurship.

At Uprise, we’re in the business of helping founders launch and build meaningful businesses. As such, we’ve had the unique opportunity of having very candid conversations with founders about the challenges they have raising funds and getting support. It didn’t take long for us to start connecting the dots and seeing patterns that we wanted to help solve. Chiefly, we wanted to focus efforts and energies to support underrepresented founders, which we defined as being women, minorities, and people in rural areas.

Our Commitment

This year, we focused our energies and efforts on supporting causes that championed underrepresented founders. We found ways to get more engaged and opportunities to be part of the solution. It took some legwork. It involved plenty of travel to meet founders in all pockets of the country, but it was worth it. We are growing a diverse network of founders, VCs, and investors that are committed to bringing more diversity into entrepreneurship.

Women Supporting Women

This month, we participated in WE BOS Week 2019, an annual event that provides the skill-building opportunities, technical help, and networks to help women entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Sponsored by the Boston Mayor’s office, there were more than 30 free events that were open to the public. As part of the week, Uprise hosted a special Compassionate Commerce workshop at The Wing Boston and helped participants think through their customer’s emotional needs to build meaningful relationships and create action. (Side note: we’ll be hosting another event in November that you can sign up for here.)

In addition to hosting a workshop, we took part in events throughout the week as well. A highlight from the week was the session we went to at the Harvard Kennedy School. Siri Chilazi outlined the severe under-funding of women entrepreneurs and biases women face. Did you know that only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding in 2018 went to women? Yes, you read that correctly. Women are underrepresented as founders, but this is a drastically disproportionate amount. Additionally, mixed-gender founding teams receive only 10 percent of VC funding. The chart below shows the percentage of VC dollars and deals that female founders received from 2008-2018.  We can see that at best, women in 2014 received 3 percent of VC dollars before dipping again in 2015. This is hardly good news.


Building a Network

This month, we also went to the Venture Atlanta conference and attended multiple sessions that focused on themes of diversity awareness and inclusive networks. These topics were particularly timely and exciting. Our biggest takeaway was a reminder that most investments happen from within a person’s network. Unfortunately, women, minorities, and founders from rural areas often don’t have those networks.

A network is particularly important because VCs rely on it to vet potential opportunities. Remember, the sheer volume of funding asks are overwhelming, and if a trusted colleague has recommended someone, that’s a great indicator to take a closer look. On a panel that Rudina Seseri from Glasswing Ventures and Tyson Clark from GV sat on, they divulged that the inbound rate is too high and the hit rate is too low to assess every cold lead. Which is why, for investors and VCs, it’s imperative they diversify their network to make sure it includes underrepresented founders. That network includes VC partners at their firms as well, which has been predominately male dominated.

The last few weeks have been eye-opening and encouraging. We loved seeing diverse entrepreneurs and founders connect with VCs and investors, and I can’t count how many times I heard the question, “How can I help?” It’s a great first step to expanding networks and creating opportunities that might not otherwise exist.

Making The Time

The most encouraging thing we saw over the last month was peoples’ willingness to help. We saw time and time again, people in places of institutional power, use their stage time to inspire others to support underrepresented founders and their great ideas. Drawing attention to the disproportionate funding underrepresented founders receive is a great first step. The next step? Thinking about your own network and looking for opportunities to expand it further and ask, “how can I help?” 

These days, I’m happy that so many of my calls are with women and minority founders from all parts of the country. We all have to do our part – in whatever large or small way – to bring new people into our innovation ecosystem. Building our networks, and opening our networks is key to that. At Uprise, we’re making great progress and recognize there is still so much to do. Know an underrepresented founder with a great idea? Send them our way! We would love to learn more about their work and the ways we might be able to help them.

Malinda Gagnon

Malinda has more than 20 years of experience in business strategy and technology at companies including Google and WPP, and has advised clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, VW, BlackRock, and Walmart.

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