This past weekend, Silicon Valley-based seed fund 500 Startups hosted a Unity and Inclusion Summit in Atlanta to gather preeminent investors, veteran and first-time entrepreneurs, and technology educators and students for a day of off-the-record, candid conversations about how diversity affects building a business, seeking funding, and building a team. The event, held at TechSquare Labs in Midtown, was the first that 500 Startups, the most active venture seed fund in the world, has held in the Southeast.
In her opening remarks, 500 Startups partner Monique Woodard explained why the fund is committed to championing inclusion in entrepreneurship — by the year 2044, the U.S. will become a majority-minority country. But, over 80 percent of the venture community is still white and male. Male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than their female counterparts and there are huge disparities in the funding totals of other minority founders. 500 Startups isn’t feeling these statistics — reflected by their team, which is about half-female, half people of color individuals from over 20 countries.
“To change the world, we have to change who’s designing it,” said Woodard.
Following Woodard, the keynote address was delivered by Kelly Burton of Founders of Color, an online platform which connects minority entrepreneurs with the information, relationships and resources they need to scale quickly. Burton also founded two companies.
The day continued with a series of fireside chats and panels. Funding was a central theme, focusing not just on the diversity investment gap but also the challenges of raising in the Southeast, lessons on how to identify the right investors, and stories from founders who have gone through the process firsthand. Many raised capital in non-traditional ways, such as Shawn Wilkinson of blockchain storage platform Storj and Chrissa McFarlane of healthcare platform Patientory, both of whom raised over $30 and $7 million, respectively, through cryptocurrency token sales.
— Cherise Denise (@cherisederandle) June 10, 2017
Akmann Van-Mary of logistics industry Fintech company MyLumper, who preached using the value in your investors’ network and knowledge, was candid about the fact that much of his money didn’t come from Atlanta-based investors. “If you write a check, we’ll take the check,” he said.
And Rimidi Diabetes founder Lucie Ide described an experience where a potential investor turned her down because she was pregnant at the time of their meeting. “With three children and another on the way, he told me I had no business running a company,” Ide said.
Another central theme of the day was finding, hiring, and building diverse teams. “The ultimate goal is diversity of thought within my teams,” said Nicole Jones, Global Innovation Leader at Delta.
In addition to panels, select entrepreneurs were able to schedule office hours with Woodard for advice on seed funding, with Alyse Killeen, founding venture partner at Stillmark Co., as well as with representatives from event sponsors Microsoft and law firm WSGR.
500 Startups has invested over $330 million in 1800 tech startups around the world. They are currently accepting applications for their seed program.
— 500 Startups (@500Startups) June 11, 2017