To Close the Racial Wealth Gap, BIPOC Entrepreneurs Need Tailored Support
- Essential Common Future
Leveraging our teams’ collective strength and lived experience to build a program that truly supports—applications close October 11.
My entrepreneurial journey as an immigrant Latina, led me to uncover the many flaws and inequalities that exist in the U.S economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem. In large part, it is why I have dedicated my career to taking action to change the broken system, and support those entrepreneurs so often left behind.
The design of the Common Future Accelerator was inspired by the personal hardships I faced as a Latina co-founder fundraising, growing a team as a first time founder in the tech-sector—all while trying to fit in. We faced—what I call—transparent walls. I could see right through them, but did not know how to get through or over them, and on to the next step in progress or growth.
The Norm: Exclusion and Othering
My story is not unique, many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or Person of Color) founders lack access to the capital afforded to those with access to generational wealth and the connections that come with it. This means being locked out of first-in capital from friends and family rounds, angel investors, and seed stage investment.
Many founders are often declined from traditional debt financing—even though they have collateral, monthly revenue, and measurable traction. Venture capital (VC), often seen as a go-to for start-up support, is just as exclusionary, with white men managing a staggering 93% of VC dollars. It’s no surprise when the numbers show those dollars elude the vast majority of the founders we serve—with less than three percent of dollars going to women founders, and less than one percent to Black entrepreneurs. Similar disparities exist in the philanthropic space and in lending.
As we’ve discussed with our exploration of character-based lending, as soon as we peel back the layers of the financial onion, it’s easy to see that the system leaves a vast swathe of our community—especially those from traditionally underserved groups—in the financial dark.
But despite everything outlined above, these financial systems exclude BIPOC founders in ways that go far beyond staffing and dollars. Through my lived experience, below are just some of the inequities I both saw and experienced, that represent a throughline for countless BIPOC founders:
1. Feeling othered: Throughout the start of my entrepreneurial journey, I was often the only woman in the room, and always the only Latina. What’s more, the implicit—feeling I didn’t belong—was made explicit through the advice I received from investors. Following said advice would have had me suppress my age, my femininity and my cultural identity, all so that I could be taken seriously by men—which in turn stripped me of the attributes that made me unique and well-positioned to address the problems I was solving.
2. No connections: When I first started, I didn’t know anyone in the tech sector which locked me out of opportunities to access capital. My network—and that of my company—only grew after we were admitted to an accelerator program, after years of trying. It was those mentors, advisors and investors that helped get us to the next stage.
3. Knowledge barriers: There was a steep learning curve when it came to the language and nuance and I had to get up to speed—and fast. As a first time entrepreneur, there was a strong pressure to have that knowledge—which I had never had access to learn in the first place—up front, and readily available for validation.
4. A lack of understanding from investors: The typical investors could not relate to the product and mission of our company. We were not building a product for them, we were building a solution for our community—in my case, for young Latinas. Because investors failed to understand the need for my solutions, and therefore failed to see the value for my company, we had to pursue non-traditional capital through crowdfunding and bootstrapping. Only then, were we seen worthy of investment dollars.
Building Solutions to Empower
When Common Future determined the need to launch an accelerator, we knew that in leveraging our organization’s connections, insight, and BIPOC leadership, we wanted to lead with equity, and to move beyond the typical one-size fits all approach. Especially since that all is assumed to be male, and white, meaning that the one size ignores the disparities and inequities that have existed in the U.S for hundreds of years.
Enter: the Common Future Accelerator. Our program is looking to invest in 10 organizations which are actively working to dismantle economic inequality—particularly in ways that give power back to communities left out of prosperity. We are looking for BIPOC-led organizations with big ideas around closing the racial wealth gap in the U.S. Our aim is to support those builders closer to the problems they seek to solve, while simultaneously creating systemic change at the root of economic inequality.
We aim to meet entrepreneurs and builders where they are, and provide equitable access and opportunities regardless of their background, race or class. Here’s how:
Capital readiness curriculum: If selected, you’ll have access to three months of weekly workshops, covering topics to prepare your organization to take on more capital. Our dynamic curriculum—curated to the needs of our cohort— will include sessions such as storytelling, mock pitch meetings and financial planning. The curriculum will be delivered by subject matter experts, both here at Common Future and from our external partners.
Unrestricted capital: BIPOC-led organizations and communities frequently lack access to flexible, non-extractive capital on their terms. If selected, you will each receive an unrestricted grant of $50,000. When we say unrestricted, we mean that Common Future does not put stipulations or requirements on the allocation of these funds. We’re challenging the concept of traditional investability by building a just model of investing—one that shifts power to community leaders.
A funder network: Through this program, you will have access to Common Future’s network of funders interested in funding the selected organizations. We will provide introductions and connections to a highly curated list of prospective funders so that you can focus on creating traction and running your organization.
1-1 Coaching and mentorship: You will not feel alone in this journey, as Common Future provides 1-1 ongoing remote coaching to organizations—ensuring that you hit your strategic goals and receive timely support as you encounter new challenges and opportunities. The coaches and mentors we will surround our participants with also share the lived experiences of being community builders and entrepreneurs—as having those cheerleaders who understand your struggles and challenges are crucial to your success.
Ecosystem of support: You’ll also have access to brilliant minds we’ve pulled together—with 12 years of experience accelerating 200 impact-focused organizations, a network of entrepreneurs, funders, mentors, thought leaders and policy makers. You’ll experience our unique and proven approach to economic justice, which is primed to create exponential impact.
Lead with community: If your organization centers impacted communities at the forefront of your proposed solution—that is community members are in decision-making positions, partnership, or leadership in developing and/or delivering the solution—then we want you to apply. Our aim is to build power for community-led solutions and are giving the resourcing, recognition, and opportunity to thrive.
Reflecting the communities we support: We’re looking for organizations with diversity in leadership and staff. Rest assured that our diverse, majority BIPOC, majority woman, staff, board and experts represent a variety of sectors: including law, finance, social innovation, nonprofit, corporate foundations, and government, from communities that have acutely experienced the consequences of the racial wealth gap—who intimately understand the systems of oppression that impact our lives and those of our friends, families, and colleagues.
Inclusive work environment: If selected, you will benefit from partners, advisors and supporters who actively root out unjust ways of working in order to create an environment where people can thrive. We foster a culture of support, trust, flexibility, and sustainability to prioritize your well-being, along with the well-being of all participants in our cohort.
Building new economic power requires investing in leaders with equitable visions for their own communities. If you believe this program will equip you with what you need to create an outsized impact for the problems you are already working on, please apply. Our deadline is October 11, 2022. And if you want to see what this journey looks like for our selected participants, then stay tuned. We can’t wait to amplify, boost, and support our 2023 cohort of brilliant thinkers taking on the racial wealth gap.