Does it surprise me that Black female founders took the most meetings in 2021 only to come out with the least money to show for it? Or that white men had fewer meetings but gained more capital? No, not at all. This has not only been my own experience but it’s what I see my Black female peers live day in and day out.
The fundraising blockers we experience today are the same prejudices we’ve dealt with our whole lives. Most VCs assume Black women aren’t as intelligent as they are. Or that we’re an investment risk or won’t measure up to them. While they might be willing to flip through more of our pitch decks or meet with more Black women founders, they’re still not willing to put checks in our pockets. They do, however, make us do even more work for the exact same outcomes (which remain well below all-white and all-male teams).
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Time to talk business—not play arts and crafts
What the latest data tells us is that people who may not have gotten meetings in the past now see more engagement from investors. Case in point: Averaging the fewest meetings in 2020, all-female teams with minorities jumped to the most in 2021. Yet despite averaging 57% more meetings than their peer groups, Black female founders aren’t raising comparatively more money than anyone else. On the contrary, they were the only team to come in under a million dollars a raise.
I can emphatically say that Black women are done with investors. We are over the fundraising process. We’re over VCs who view us as good enough to work in the mailroom but not smart and capable enough to invest their money in. I can’t begin to tell you how many stories I hear from other Black women who meet with VCs or send them their pitch decks. While the VCs might be different, the outcomes are always the same: noncommittal investment promises or suggested changes to make the pitch deck “more palatable.”
In the end, “more palatable” just means changing fonts and shuffling pictures. Investors aren’t asking us to rethink our business models or go deeper into company traction; they want us to play arts and crafts. But for what? Because as the data shows, VCs are still unwilling to give Black women a seat at the fundraising table.
Proof, traction, and grit aren’t enough for VCs to trust us. So, what is?
Not too long ago, a wonderful, intelligent woman I met through Black Girl Ventures broke down crying as she was talking to me. She explained the barriers she’d been facing trying to raise money, telling me she had a number of patents for her medical device, major corporations that already wanted to buy her product, and tons of customers lined up but she’s simply had enough of dealing with investors and venture capitalists.
Patents are expensive and take a long time for approval, so it is nearly impossible for a founder to have huge bankrolls of cash by the time those patents are approved. She needed capital so she could continue building her business but investors would not give her a chance. She said , “I just don’t understand. I have the proof, I have the traction—I have what it takes.” Despite her quantifiable proof and company traction, every VC just told her to “fix her deck” or “go meet with over at Score.” No one would just write the check.
Her story is one of countless more you’ll hear from Black women entrepreneurs rejected by capital partners. While a lot of Black American women are still hustling, others have shifted our focus to be impactful in new ways. Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve watched three Black women close their businesses due to lack of funding in spite of attending a long list of Black office hours. Luckily, they were able to use their startup experience as a value-add, getting hired at world-renowned firms such as Goldman Sachs or expanding their life’s mission by building accelerators or crowdfunding platforms.
They gave up their businesses, but didn’t give up on the missions. They’re doing the work and putting money directly into the hands of Black women—people who need capital to succeed.
We jump higher, run faster, and one day, we’ll win
These women’s stories represent what the Black American community is all about. We rally each other when one of us is down, we share resources, and we keep each other moving forward. We spend our time building social capital and strengthening our networks within our own communities. We also watch for new spaces where gatekeepers like VCs and lenders don’t have the same hold as in traditional fundraising avenues. Black entrepreneurs who’ve been around the block with investors are especially apt to try new pitching platforms since opportunities like Twitch pitches put real money into founders’ pockets.
Above all, we continuously uplift one another. We know the prejudices Black female founders face couldn’t be more wrong. We jump higher, run faster, and we’d be able to win this game if we had a level playing field. But this is the reality for Black female founders. This is what fundraising looks like for us today.
Brooke S. Sinclair is the Chief Executive Officer of Velourit, a sustainable supply chain solution designed to simplify and streamline the import and export process for international purchases. Velourit makes it easy for commercial retailers outside of America to buy and track goods purchased from manufacturers inside America.