What happens when you gather hundreds of diverse entrepreneurs, executives and trailblazers in one place? Extraordinary conversations and deeply personal insights, all of it shared with people who can absorb, embrace and use it to make a difference.
This year marked our 4th annual Senior Multicultural Leaders Conference, which brought together over 300 senior-level multicultural Fortune 500 executives, investors and entrepreneurs, the only conference of its kind targeting multicultural leaders in business, finance and policy. And it’s precisely that combination of different reference points, shared values and goals that makes the conference so uniquely rewarding every year. Here are my 4 reflections from this year’s conference:
1. Authentic Leadership in a Digital Era
An effective leadership strategy must incorporate digital transformation and an awareness of changing customer demographics. Through my fireside chat with Sol Trujillo, the former CEO of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, I learned that in the 21st century, everyone should embed two things (the “two D’s”) in their leadership strategy:
- How to transition to digital everything;
- Diversity demographics—understanding your current and prospective customer base: Not only are they not all the same, they’re buying differently, more than ever before.
2. The Importance of Corporate Board Diversity—and How to Keep It Growing
From my perspective, a board must reflect the diversity of its employees, shareholders and, particularly, its customer base. Diversity yields competitive perspectives that are essential to navigating the complex and dynamic issues companies face today. During the panel, “The Business Case and Impact of Corporate Board Diversity,” our expert panelists shared three things that diverse leaders can do to best position themselves for board opportunities:
- Have knowledge of financial literacy, which is fundamental to corporate board training.
- Accrue a blend of skills, perspectives and global experiences to offer unique advice.
- Determine your “superpower”—in other words, define how your board bio will distinguish you from someone (or everyone) else.
3. Closing the Funding Gap by changing the “traditional” investor playbook
I’ve said it time and time again—when it comes to diverse entrepreneurs, it is not a supply issue. I see it as a funnel, rather than a pipeline, issue. An abundance of talented entrepreneurs crowd the top of the funnel, but they may not be able to “bootstrap” their own ventures, or raise a friends-and-family round that is necessary for startups to get competitive enough to find seed funding and other types of capital.
The conversation we had with Ulili Onovakpuri, Partner at Kapor Capital, and Diishan Imira, CEO and Founder of Mayvenn, further illustrated this point. Innovative investors, like Kapor Capital’s Ulili Onovakpuri, have switched their strategy from investing only at the seed stage—traditionally the first round for institutional investment—to earlier development stages. If the seed stage lacks entrepreneurs of color, look at pre-seed-stage startups, so that more diverse entrepreneurs can advance to that next round of funding.
It’s also important to help entrepreneurs find the right type of capital, at the right moment in their development. Partnering with incubator and accelerator programs, such as Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Lab , is a great way to help entrepreneurs get the resources they need to develop. These types of programs go beyond financial capital to provide social capital that can be invaluable when developing a business.
In this exciting conversation, I also heard how important it is for a multicultural founder to be prepared to “educate” the investor community on the particular characteristics of investing in multicultural markets. As these markets have been so underserved by the traditional VC community, the investors may legitimately not understand the enormity of the market opportunity; as we know, most investors won’t invest in things that they don’t understand. How does an entrepreneur explain a business opportunity to an audience that may be unfamiliar with his or her market? Before getting straight to the business model, you first need to educate your audience, or better yet, immerse them in your market and what it’s all about.
Take it from Diishan Imira, who has been dubbed the “Black Hair King” of Silicon Valley. At our conference, he shared his experience of taking investors to a hair salon in Oakland when pitching his company, which sells hair extensions, to show them firsthand that the demand existed. Inviting investors to experience your market themselves can open their eyes to the immense opportunity, while many investors find tremendous value in learning about an opportunity in markets they don’t know.
4. Managing Privacy and Security in a Data-Driven World
Today, our data is widely accessible—so much so that we are no longer the gatekeepers of our own data. The proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) may make our lives much easier, but at the same time, we may be increasingly vulnerable. With IoT, technologists are seeing large-scale service attacks as a major risk. In fact, experts in the field predict that many transnational conflicts of the future will largely manifest as cyber-warfare.
Governments are stepping in and are in the process of passing and implementing new laws to ensure higher standards for software security and data privacy. While these new laws will not be quick in coming—we all know that regulations are notoriously slow to adapt, especially to new technological challenges—they are on their way.
But we shouldn’t wait to take action. The question becomes: What are preventative measures we as individuals can put in place to protect ourselves from data-privacy infringements?