26 WOMEN OF COLOR DIVERSIFYING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN SILICON VALLEY, MEDIA, AND BEYOND
The business world has long been a boys’ club. Women C.E.O.s and founders of color make up a small portion of entrepreneurs who have reached the top. Each one of the women in this group tableau has raised $1 million or more in outside capital, breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings along the way.
As I was growing up, these were the women I wanted to be: triumphant at the highest levels of commerce, assailing stereotypes of what a successful businessperson looked like, with smarts and vision and the will to outwork everyone in sight. Being a “one or only” in the room where it happens, I knew, was part of the bargain, the number of black or female fellow travelers diminishing with each level scaled, like oxygen at the planet’s highest peaks. As a black woman who spent years working in finance and technology, I’m both giddy to know that it’s possible to fill a room with black female entrepreneurs who have raised $1 million or more in outside capital, and acutely aware of the reasons that it’s still only one room.
All successful entrepreneurs imagine a problem, a product, and a market. But because the default founder in Silicon Valley is male, and white or Asian, a black woman must also “envision herself being the person creating the product or service that is in the world,” says Jessica O. Matthews, founder and C.E.O. of the renewable-energy start-up Uncharted Power —and then get funders to buy into that vision. The tech industry is an exercise in controlled failure, with as many as 81 percent of all funded start-ups washing out before exiting; “fail fast” is part of the religion. But black women must guard against even the hint of failure with every arrow in the quiver, lest naysayers see a shortcoming as evidence that blacks or women are categorically unsuited for the business.
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