Startup Runway Gives Flight to Minority and Women Founders

Georgia ranks number 1 in the United States for producing women entrepreneurs and number 2 for producing black-owned businesses. These entrepreneurs, however, can have a hard time connecting with the right investors. Only 10 percent of the startups which raised Series A last year were established by female or diverse founders.  

Startup Runway, a new pitch series by Valor Ventures and The Gathering Spot, is looking to close that gap and help founders take off. Through a collective effort, involving entrepreneurial leadership from across Atlanta, they are connecting under-represented entrepreneurs with seed investors to help take their startups to the next level.

“No venture pitch event in our area has focused specifically on founding teams that feature women or minorities,” says Lisa Calhoun, founding partner at Valor Ventures and event co-host. “Startup Runway is a physical space to tune that conversation face-to-face with committed, quality investors. It will open greater opportunities for founders and investors alike.”

The list of seed investors, coming from Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, New York and Raleigh, continues to grow and already includes investors like ffVC from New York, Next Gen Venture Partners from Austin, and Jump Capital from Chicago.  Applications are now open for those startups ready to fly and the deadline to apply to pitch the first cohort is August 10.

We got the scoop from Calhoun on why this program is essential for the local tech community. Be prepared to be impressed by some of its landmark goals. 

Why is Atlanta the ideal place to launch an initiative like Startup Runway?

Atlanta is the number one place in the country to launch an initiative like Startup Runway. The city is leading a national trend: across the country, 41% of entrepreneurs pitching venture capital have racial or gender minority, or both. Yet the truth is, the numbers show, our professional investor community nationally (over 90% white male) and our founder community — 41% diverse and growing — isn’t always finding it easy to connect. They want to. But where? Startup Runway creates that needed space where the strength of diversity can flourish, grounded in shared core values around innovation and business growth. For me, that’s classic Atlanta.

What prompted you to kick Startup Runway into action?

My primary reason for Startup Runway is financially motivated, in tune with the latest trends on what it takes to create financial performance in a portfolio. There’s no doubt that diversified capital performs better. Startup Runway is part of Valor’s strategy to discover top performing, proprietary deal flow for our investors. We also know we have an incredible, working angel community already, and a strong mid to later stage venture community. Seed stage capital for the entrepreneurs we have in the region right now is the natural place to fit in and add value. startup-founder-leadershipWho is involved in this effort, and why were they selected as advisors and/or investors?

See our site for the full leadership committee–an incredible group of young, energetic, diverse founders and startup advocates like Theia Washington, the founding executive director of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at the City of Atlanta; Ryan Wilson, the co-founder at our host location, The Gathering Spot; or Tiffany McKenzie, a talented attorney at Bryan Cave who is also the co-founder of the Vibe Ride in Midtown. This is a new effort and we’re continuing to assemble the right leadership and sponsorship team.

Startup Runway Early InvestorsOn a high level, what are the landmark goals that you hope to achieve during the first year of Startup Runway?

The data-driven trends are clear–Atlanta is a leader in women- and minority- business formation.  We want to become a meaningful feeder of quality, seed stage startups for our innovation ecosystem at a regional level. Our program takes only the top 10% of applicants. We’re looking for visionary partners who want to invest with us into the pipeline of emerging minority innovation and sponsors who are aligned on this mission.

What is the “Simulator” and how can startups get involved?

Our program is loosely designed on a flight school motif. We run pitch simulators before our final showcase event to help founders get the feel of a pitch environment and gain confidence. In other words, we make sure they go to ground school before we put them in front of a panel of active investors looking to place capital–because after that, things can move fast.

Photo by Muriel Vega. Top row leadership (from left to right): Ryan Wilson, Co-Founder, The Gathering Spot; Lisa Calhoun, founding partner, Valor Ventures; and Theia Washington Smith, founding executive director, Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, City of Atlanta. Bottom row volunteer support, including Jasmine Evans and Kunbi Tinuoye