Entrepreneurship is a journey that demands resilience, determination, and unwavering belief in one’s own vision. For founders of color, this path can be even more challenging. Limited access to capital, lack of mentorship opportunities, and a scarcity of diverse representation within the entrepreneurial landscape have contributed to a stark disparity in opportunities.
But there is a secret weapon that every founder should have in their back pocket: A strong support network. Having people who understand your experience as a person of color in business, and who can empathize with all the successes and struggles you might encounter along the way, can make navigating entrepreneurship much easier. Luckily, founders of color today benefit from an unprecedentedly expansive network of both local and global support systems that are actively bridging this gap.
In this article, we’ll explore the unwavering value of community for founders of color, and some practical advice on how you can build your own—featuring first-hand insights from Black and Latino entrepreneurs who’ve harnessed the power of their networks to achieve remarkable success.
Let’s dive in!
- What challenges are founders of color currently facing?
- Why founders of color need a strong network
- Building your own network as a founder of color
1. What challenges are founders of color currently facing?
Before we delve into the power of a supportive network, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that founders of color encounter on their entrepreneurial journey.
Access to capital is crucial for scaling a business. However, studies have shown that founders of color face challenges in securing funding compared to their white counterparts. Last year, only 1% of venture-backed founders were Black—and only 1.5% of all venture dollars went to LatinX founders in 2022.
This disparity can be attributed to various factors, including biased investment criteria, limited connections to potential investors, and a lack of representation in venture capital firms. As a result, many talented founders of color are unable to access the necessary capital to expand their ventures, limiting their growth potential.
These systemic barriers also extend beyond funding and resources. Building a strong network of mentors, advisors, and potential collaborators is essential for entrepreneurial success. However, due to historical and ongoing inequalities, founders of color struggle to access these networks. The lack of diverse perspectives and experiences within their professional circles can hinder their ability to gain valuable insights, form strategic partnerships, and unlock new opportunities. Without these networks, it’s all too easy to feel isolated.
Furthermore, educational opportunities can also be limited for founders of color, particularly in entrepreneurship. Access to quality education and training programs tailored to the unique needs of underrepresented entrepreneurs is crucial for developing the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the business landscape. But systemic barriers often limit the availability and accessibility of such programs for founders of color, further exacerbating the challenges they face.
These are glaring issues that need to be addressed, and supportive networks like Google for Startups can help bridge this gap. By recognizing and dismantling systemic barriers, providing equal access to resources, and fostering inclusive networks, supportive networks are the key to creating a more equitable and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem for founders of color.
2. Why founders of color need a strong network
Now we’ve got a handle on the barriers that founders of color face, let’s explore three of the key ways networks can help founders of color overcome them.
Finances and resources
Access to funding is a critical factor in transforming ideas into viable businesses. Supportive networks and initiatives like the Google for Startups Black and Latino Founders Fund offer a much-needed lifeline, providing capital that can help founders of color scale their ventures and bring their innovations to market.
In addition to providing capital, a strong network can help founders of color gain access to opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach. It can provide introductions to potential investors who are committed to supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs. It can connect you with mentors who have successfully navigated the same challenges you’re facing. And it can provide a platform for visibility, helping you showcase your talents and achievements to a wider audience.
Margo Baines, founder of self-esteem based e-learning platform Enrich.ly talks about how her network led to business opportunities.
Most recently I was able to tap into my Network at Google. I needed to contact a potential stakeholder and it turns out I was able to secure a meeting with the person who makes the buying decision for my product via Google introduction. This warm intro led to the referral and meeting that allowed me to provide a live demo to this potential new client, and start building the relationship necessary to secure the partnership. If it hadn’t been for the support and resources I received from Google, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.
Initiatives like Google for Startups also provide workshops, training programs, and educational resources to help founders sharpen their business acumen, stay updated on industry trends, and develop leadership skills in the company of entrepreneurs on a similar journey. These workshops and training programs provide an opportunity for founders of color to come together and share experiences, exchange advice, and collaborate on solutions. By facilitating meaningful connections with like-minded individuals, founders of color can create an ecosystem of collaboration and mutual growth.
Mentorship and networking
Imagine having a network of seasoned entrepreneurs who have already faced and overcome the same obstacles you’re currently encountering. They can offer guidance on everything from securing funding to building a strong team. They can provide you with industry connections that can help you gain visibility and access to new markets. And perhaps most importantly, they can serve as a sounding board for your ideas and help you refine your strategies.
Supportive networks are a great place to find a business mentor. Having a mentor plays an instrumental role in shaping the trajectory of an entrepreneur’s journey. The Google for Startups Black and Latino Founders Fund connects participants with experienced industry leaders who offer insights, advice, and a roadmap to navigate the challenges ahead.
Not only can supportive networks provide you with valuable advice and mentorship, but they can also expand your business connections and open doors to new opportunities. When you surround yourself with like-minded individuals who understand your unique experiences and challenges, you create a powerful support system that fuels your motivation and drives your success.
A supportive network isn’t just about business connections and professional growth. It’s also about emotional support. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely and stressful journey, and having a network of individuals who understand your struggles and can offer a listening ear can make all the difference. They can celebrate your successes with you, provide encouragement during challenging times, and remind you that you’re not alone in your journey.
When founders of color find themselves within an inclusive community, they gain a sense of belonging and are more likely to bring their authentic selves to the table. This environment nurtures creativity and innovation, leading to the development of groundbreaking ideas.
“The number of spaces founders of color are asked to walk into where there is zero representation is significant. Just having one, let alone 20, faces that represent the diversity of America, really changes how you’re able to show up.”
The impact of supportive networks also goes beyond the individual founders; it resonates throughout the entire community. When successful entrepreneurs of color emerge, they inspire and create role models for aspiring founders, igniting a cycle of positive change. As founders of color achieve remarkable milestones, they challenge societal norms and pave the way for future generations.
Check out the full list of the 2023 Google for Startups Black and Latino Founders Funds recipients.
3. Building your own network as a founder of color
Now that we understand the importance and power of a supportive network, let’s explore how you can build your own network to fuel your entrepreneurial journey.
Tips for Networking as a Founder of Color
Networking is about building genuine connections and nurturing relationships. As a founder of color, here are some quick-fire tips to help you make the most of your networking efforts:
- Attend diverse industry events and conferences where you can meet like-minded individuals who understand and appreciate your experiences.
- Be proactive in reaching out to potential mentors, advisors, and fellow founders. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and support.
- Engage with online communities and platforms dedicated to supporting founders of color. These virtual spaces can provide you with valuable insights, resources, and networking opportunities.
- Share your own expertise and experiences. By actively participating in conversations and offering your unique perspective, you can establish yourself as a valuable member of the network.
The digital age has opened up new doors for networking. Online platforms can connect you with individuals from diverse backgrounds, industries, and geographical locations. Here are some online platforms that can help you expand your network as a founder of color:
- Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to connect with professionals in your field, join relevant groups, and stay updated on industry happenings.
- Specialized online communities such as founders’ forums and industry-specific networks provide opportunities to connect with others who share your entrepreneurial journey.
- Virtual events and webinars offer a chance to engage with industry leaders, gain insights, and expand your network from the comfort of your own home.
Luis Suarez, founder of Sanarai, a mental health platform for Spanish speakers, offers a crucial nugget of wisdom for founders of color in building and nurturing a supportive network on their entrepreneurial journeys:
“Your network will open a lot of doors for you, but building a network takes time. I suggest being very intentional about allocating time and resources to build this network.”
Teryn also echoes the importance of being intentional in her advice for founders of color.
“Make the time to find time to connect with other founders.” She says. “I know we’re all incredibly busy but it never takes as much time as we think it does to reach out. You’ll never regret a connection and every conversation leaves both participants feeling a sense of purpose and camaraderie.”
No one succeeds alone, and this holds particularly true for founders of color. A supportive network can provide you with the guidance, resources, and connections you need to overcome these challenges and reach new heights. Having a network that believes in your vision and supports you along the way can be the difference between surviving and thriving as an entrepreneur.
Ultimately, a supportive network isn’t just a nice-to-have for founders of color; it’s a lifeline that can help you overcome the barriers and biases that exist in the business world—and a source of inspiration, guidance, and empowerment. Initiatives like the Google for Startups Black and Latino Founders Fund are pivotal in dismantling barriers and fostering an inclusive ecosystem that empowers Black and Latino founders on their entrepreneurial journeys.
To founders of color embarking on this path, remember that you are not alone. Embrace the power of community, seek out mentors, and leverage the support available to you. Your unique perspectives and innovations have the potential to transform industries and impact lives. By working together and uplifting one another, we can create a future where every founder, regardless of their background, can thrive and shape the world through entrepreneurship.
You can apply for the Google for Startups Black and Latino Founders Fund here.