I am incredibly grateful to have raised $2.2 million to push forward my music tech startup Fave, a platform dedicated to fandoms. I walked into the fundraising landscape knowing that raising money would be an uphill battle, for any first-time founder, let alone one like me — a black female. A first generation born to Ghanian parents. A mother of two.
However, only when a list confirmed that I raised the most venture funding across music and entertainment as a black woman did I realize how lonely my arrival to this point was. While most would be celebrating, I kept remembering the abysmal number that only 34 black women, ever, had raised over $1M before 2018. While we became hopeful seeing this start to increase in 2020, I was questioning why we are still in a world where we’re forced to celebrate literally only a fraction of a percentage of increase over multiple years. As funding given to founders overall has absolutely ballooned, the median amount raised for black women is literally $0, since most receive no funding support.
Though many are thrilled to see me break this glass ceiling, and I am so grateful, I am more concerned why this is considered such a rare accomplishment.
Why is this so uncommon? Why am I one of the only people who can say that they have done this? It feels a bit like that moment where you think you’re running super late for a meeting. You finally get there in a scurry, only to realize that you’re the first one there. Wait, where is everyone? As fog surrounds black women founders in the landscape, women as a whole are significantly plagued, receiving only 2.4% of VC funding. Only 1.2% of VC funding goes to black people, regardless of gender. However, at the cross-section of both of these, only 2% of the 2% of women who get funded are black women, receiving only .0006% of venture capital. What kinds of numbers are these?
This becomes particularly confusing when we take a step back and examine the music industry as a whole. So much of music culture across nearly every single genre in music—from the well-known dominance of hip hop to the early roots of rock & roll—is driven by black creativity. Yet the founders who come from these groups are grossly underrepresented.
Unfortunately, it’s not by chance, nor that there’s too few diverse founders, nor because the talent isn’t objectively as strong, nor a lack of hustle. Trust me, I am not one to expect people to give opportunities to someone simply out of the goodness of their hearts. That person must have an insane amount of hustle, grind, and persistence to even have a shot as an entrepreneur. Growing up, like many born to immigrant parents, I was taught that drive, but more importantly learned to never let anyone stop my drive based on their own low expectations of what I could achieve. As a mother of a toddler and a baby, I know most people think motherhood would cause me to slow down or lose focus toward work, let alone running a startup as a solo founder. Instead I cannot tell you how much more driven I am to inspire my daughters with my hard work. It’s because of motherhood that I’ve been forced to learn how to make an impact each day extremely efficiently (working moms, you know what’s up). Motherhood outputs such desirable traits in a founder, so why is it commonly mistaken as a disadvantage?
That said, I can be as empowered as I want in myself, but it does not change what I am faced with in each situation professionally and personally when people see me. There’s usually that first initial doubt that pops up: “Oh, you’re here? How did you…” Those underrepresented know that we automatically need to push much harder than others to get the same recognition in most spaces. We not only have to work our way up to the baseline expectation all others begin at, but far surpass that to be taken seriously. Exceptionalism is our entry-level.
I know that I am far from alone in holding this innate drive as a diverse founder. There are plenty of diverse founders out there who have incredible concepts with the might to make it happen. They simply may not be making it to those who are currently holding the funding and resources to help the founders’ ideas get off the ground properly. For those who do make it there, there is often an unconscious whispering to the investors’ ears reminding them that this person is further from what they know or have experienced, and therefore it may make sense to shy away from trusting the founder’s credibility. Conveying trust is one of the most important factors for founders to successfully secure early VC funds, so without that, a deal is highly unlikely.
I know many investors reading this may of course feel that this isn’t about them. It can’t be, right? They aren’t blatantly disregarding certain founders based on their demographic, so, no, this is about others. While there are those who are already tirelessly working for change, and there are those who are happy with, ehm, keeping a small circle, a large majority sit in the middle, where no action is taken. It’s the stillness, the acceptance via inaction, the brushing under the rug because someone else will handle it, that are the most troubling.
This indifference has a major risk – we are severely stunting innovation. We urgently need to realize that our pattern of not seeing, hearing, or trusting underrepresented founders is leaving a ton of money on the table along with untapped disruption—the exact element we all desire within innovation. There are incredible ideas, completely unmet user needs, and major stones left unturned in cracking solutions, simply because the same kinds of people are receiving the checks, over and over again. There has got to be urgent curiosity about what’s being left out.
Getting curious is about establishing a much more diverse network to liven one’s source for the “warm leads” most investors require. It’s about going into existing spaces never stepped to unlock a new powerful breed of talent. It’s about continuing to bring on more diverse VC partners to drive even larger exponential impact, ensuring refreshed nuanced thinking happens on both sides of the table. Finally, it’s time to let go of looking the other way—from biased assumptions about underestimating a woman, excuses about not feeling as connected to a black person, to the rationalizing that some other investor will take them on, so it’s okay. I invite an eager curiosity to bet on diverse founders and to realize that the differences are exactly what will drive unique solutions to problems, by way of founders with an insane amount of drive to execute.
I, too, want to take action to support the immense opportunity here, and I am committing to extending my hand to bring other founders with me on this ride. If you’re a founder or investor who wants to help make this opportunity happen, especially when it’s sometimes tricky to know where to start, contact me here, a new dedicated space at my company for this action plan and more. I want to empower others to rise up alongside me by brokering intros, providing mentorship, sharing encouragement, and cementing a much smoother road for so many more to advance their industries. Let’s do this – together – and change the world with our much-needed (and hopefully soon much-sought-after) unique and powerful contribution to innovation.
Jacquelle Amankonah Horton is the founder & CEO of Fave, a new social platform for superfans, empowering them to share fan content, bond with like-minded fans, earn recognition and rewards, and exchange goods within a fan-to-fan marketplace.