Equity Through Community Creating a Diverse Startup Ecosystem


A community united against systems of oppression is a powerful thing. Founders of color in our communities face barriers beyond common startup challenges, like raising capital. Diverse founders often lack access to money or opportunities to expand their professional networks. Creating equitable systems and communities helps minimize these barriers to success for diverse entrepreneurs.

That’s the driving force behind Part II of NexusLA’s RESOLVE series, which brought diverse entrepreneurs, investors and startup resource specialists together to lay the groundwork for equity in entrepreneurship.

Here’s three ways to foster a diverse startup ecosystem that allows founders to move forward as a community and grow.

Secure Capital Through Shared Knowledge

Unequal access to capital is a significant challenge for diverse founders. Entrepreneurs can empower each other by sharing their experiences. Connect with other founders to share information on investor and capital resources, suggested Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures. His organization, for example, is committed to funding diverse startups at the idea stage. Resources for capital are available, and interacting with the local community of founders will help entrepreneurs find them.

Other community resources, like pitch competitions, can also provide exposure — which can lead to opportunities. Resilia Founder and CEO Sevetri Wilson participated in a local pitch competition when trying to get funding for her tech company. She didn’t win the competition, but she did score a meeting with a West Coast investor.

Sharing knowledge and resources can help founders avoid investors who aren’t a good fit, too. Founders should talk to other founders who didn’t receive funding to help evaluate specific investors. This due diligence can give founders more background on each investor’s track record.

Make Authentic Connections

Another challenge diverse founders face is the pressure to conform when networking. Founders should remember that they bring a unique perspective and value to the room. When networking, people feel empowered to be their authentic self — and let the work speak for itself, said Courtney Scott, a key player in the Baton Rouge government and an on-air personality for Cumulus Media, where she’s known as Courtney Hustle. She proudly wears both titles when she’s networking because both Courtney Scott and Courtney Hustle are part of her identity.

When connecting with other professionals, founders should be consistent, persistent and patient. They also should be honest with investors about the value they provide. Founders can grow by leveraging all opportunities to increase their value. For example, if a founder is turned down for a contracting opportunity, they don’t ask why they didn’t get the contract. Instead, they should ask why someone else did, Mintor CEO and cofounder Kasra Khalili said. Founders should seek to close feedback loops and practice continual improvement.

Invest in a Diverse and Inclusive Community

The more capital is grown in oppressed communities, the better chance those communities have at reaching equity. Equity helps diverse founders build value and continually improve what they offer. Small businesses owned by women, people of color or other oppressed groups should be sought out for the unique value they bring, not to fill diversity quotas, said SJB Group LLC business development specialist Kenyatta Sparks.

Moving the needle on equity relies on investing in historically underserved communities. Founders in those communities can lift each other up by investing in each other, which opens the door for intergenerational knowledge transfer. This support network helps diverse founders break down silos to come together for the common good, suggested Jerry Jones, executive director at IMPACT North Baton Rouge.

Founders of color need to move beyond equity to create something genuinely new and unique, said Paulo Gregory, founding CEO of COHADO, Inc. “Black culture is measured by a yardstick that isn’t our yardstick,” Gregory said. “Collectively investing in our diverse communities and creating an equitable ecosystem can help new measures of success emerge and flourish.”

Catch all three recordings from RESOLVE Part II here.

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