Change the narrative around what it means to work in tech
There’s another common misconception that building a tech company requires you to be a super-technical coder or programmer. This can lead folks to shy away from solving critical problems with tech. Instead, some might think to solve problems via a traditional trade or skill. The reality is that to be a tech founder, you must understand the problem you want to solve really well. Once you do, you can work with tech experts to engineer and test solutions. Many codeless app-building solutions can allow non-technical founders to build products early on.
It’s essential to expose underrepresented groups to the creative process of building a startup. Though having a solid technical solution is vital to winning in Big Tech, it’s usually not the most crucial thing initially. Getting access to resources that help guide the tech founder’s journey is important.
Rethink the traditional funding journey and create a more inclusive evaluation process
Most unicorns and successful tech companies receive some form of funding eventually. On that note alone, the number of Black-owned unicorns and successful startups is drastically impacted. As reported in Harvard Business Review, 2.3 percent of venture capital goes to women. Furthermore, just 0.34 percent goes to African American women, according to Crunchbase. This means that the chances of founders in these groups making it to the unicorn stage are slim, though not impossible.
Though my points above address the need to increase exposure of tech opportunities for people of color, this is not to be mistaken with the notion that there is a pipeline issue. There is not. One of the biggest and probably most frustrating elements of the Big Tech journey for any founder of color is access to capital. The main challenge here is that traditional firms often have homogeneous criteria for evaluating a very heterogeneous pool of ideas and approaches.
Investors and funding institutions must consider where founders are starting when evaluating progress.
All founders are not starting on a leveled playing field. The ask is not to “lower standards”—a form of pushback some investors so boldly and inaccurately voice. The ask is simply to consider the entire journey. For example, someone who reaches $1 million in revenue while bootstrapping, working another job and supporting their extended family at the same time is very different from someone who reaches $1 million in revenue after raising a $700,000 friends-and-family round and quitting their job to build the startup full time. Current processes don’t tend to account for those unique experiences across various founder groups.
It’s also important to increase diversity within venture-capital and investment teams. More-diverse teams are accepting of diverse thoughts and perspectives.
It’s also critical that investment firms reassess how they evaluate deals, as well as the diversity of who is evaluating them. Doing so will only bring us a step closer to lessening the gap.
Christine Izuakor is the founder of Cyber Pop-up, an on-demand cybersecurity firm.