Carla Harris offers advice gathered from the first season of Access & Opportunity, the podcast in which she talks to change agents about opening doors for women and multicultural entrepreneurs.
In June, we launched the Access & Opportunity podcast to introduce you to some outstanding individuals who are working to create opportunities in multicultural communities. Since then, we’ve talked to entrepreneurs, investors and developers. Our guests have shared their playbooks for investing, developing, and even transforming communities by providing access to capital to businesses owned by women and multicultural entrepreneurs.
As the first season comes to a close, I want to share a few of the lessons I learned from these conversations–lessons that I believe can be extremely useful to both entrepreneurs and investors alike:
Investors look for entrepreneurs who have lived the problem their company seeks to fix.
As one of my guests on the podcast, Dr. Freada Kapor Klein, put it, “We need to measure distance traveled, not credentials, not pedigrees. We need to see where people have traveled on their own steam, not accidents of birth and advantages they’ve been given.”
Klein, a Founder of Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact, is seeking to help break down the investment barriers for startups run by women and multicultural entrepreneurs. Fifty-six percent of Kapor Capital’s investments have gone to startups with a founder who is a woman or a person of color from an underrepresented background.
We all know biases exist, both unconscious and intentional, and those biases are felt by far too many women and multicultural founders when they pitch investors. Investors should pay attention to these entrepreneurs when they come knocking–or better yet, seek them out–because they are likely solving large problems that the market is ignoring.
Isolation is the enemy of entrepreneurs
Seek out a mentor or an advisor early.
“Isolation is the enemy of entrepreneurs,” Theia Smith, Founding Director of the City of Atlanta Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, told me. (She is pictured with me, above.)
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and daunting, especially when you’re just getting started. The isolation can be a major impediment to finding the right team members and getting access to the right customers or investors. Founders should seek out an advisor or mentor in the early stages of their company, ideally someone who has been where you are and has succeeded, who can introduce you to the right investors and corporate partners and who can serve as a sounding board.
To help women-owned startups combat the isolation, Theia and Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) provide office space, mentorship, educational resources, and access to capital.
No matter your title, be a source of change and progress.
“I view my role, regardless of the title, to be a change agent,” Kevin Warren, Chief Operating Officer of the Minnesota Vikings, told me.
Whether or not your job title or company mission is focused on bettering your community, find a way to incorporate it into some part of your role. It’s a different kind of “investment,” one that’s no less valuable, and that can bring about its own form of dividends.