The murder of George Floyd was a lightning rod galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement and highlighting the vast inequalities that remain within our society and economy. Perhaps among the most striking of these is the widening racial wealth gap with Black families holding roughly one-tenth the wealth of white families. One key to ushering in a new age of greater social and racial equity lies in narrowing the vast wealth and earning disparities among the Black population, and Back women specifically. Fortunately, Black women make up the fastest growing entrepreneurial group, meaning that their role can play a leading part in tilting the scales to parity.
During the past few months there has been a chorus of investment firms declaring their solidarity with African Americans and even creating new funds specifically built to invest in minorities, reminiscent of the "Me Too" Movement that ushered in a wave of women-focused angel groups and venture capital firms in 2017. While this growing movement of investors is providing greater access to capital for Black women, most will still need to turn to traditional funds and angel investors who, traditionally, are slower to change and exemplify existing biases. For women founders to navigate and thrive in a rigged system — one that already puts them 20 steps behind — real, systemic change in the entire investment community, as well as skill-building programs, are required. Recognizing that change takes time, here are some steps that entrepreneurs from overlooked groups can take now.
Black women make up the fastest growing entrepreneurial group, meaning that their role can play a leading part in tilting the scales to parity.
Learn To Counter Bias
There is a growing body of academic research showing how investors — both men and women — treat women founders differently and ask them more rigorous and challenging questions. For example, investors more often ask male founders about the upside (growth potential) of their business, whereas they turn their attention to loss prevention with women entrepreneurs. Fortunately, there are established practices that women can employ to counter bias and improve their fundraising success rate. Continuing with the above example, women founders can refocus the conversation from risk mitigation to growth potential and strategy. In addition, women-centric organizations such as Womenpreneurs have excellent resources and programs helping women founders navigate and succeed in a biased investment landscape.
We will continue to push for structural reform, but I also know that women, a force not to be reckoned with, won't sit and wait while it happens.
Start With Inclusive Investors
There has never been a better era for Black women to start a high-growth business in the United States as there are already a growing number of venture funds committed to investing in women and Black founders, including the following:
An Oakland-based fund committed to closing the gaps of access, opportunity, and outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color in the US. Within their current portfolio, nearly 60% of founders identify as women and/or underrepresented persons of color.
An early-stage investment firm that holds themselves to a high standard of investing in founders from a variety of backgrounds in terms of gender, race, academic experience and life circumstances. They are unafraid to back unproven, first-time entrepreneurs and primarily focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Toronto.
One of the leading revenue-based investment firms, Indie.vc has a strong focus on investing in both Black and women founders. Their investment instrument allows founders to maintain more of their equity by paying off the investment amount plus a multiple with a portion of the startup's revenue.
A venture academy whose portfolio companies are 50% made up of African American founders and 80% by additional underrepresented founders (other persons of color and women). This year, Beta Boom is running an academy solely focused on women-led startups with three-quarters of the teams in the 2020 Women's Startup Academy being led by Black women.
For women founders to navigate and thrive in a rigged system — one that already puts them 20 steps behind — real, systemic change in the entire investment community, as well as skill-building programs, are required.
This moment in time has been an awakening for some in the tech and investment community, emphasizing the work that still remains. We will continue to push for structural reform, but I also know that women, a force not to be reckoned with, won't sit and wait while it happens. By arming yourself with skills to counter bias and outmaneuver investors in pitches and negotiations, while also focusing on investors committed to evaluating your business fairly, Black women entrepreneurs (and indeed all women founders) can usher in a new era of economic growth and social equity.
Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.
I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.
I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.
Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.
My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.
I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.
When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.
So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.
Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.
And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.
This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.
I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.
I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.