Investor Jean Case wants people to talk about, think and act on including more women and minorities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem — one she says is grossly out of balance when it comes to funding, mentoring and networking.
Case co-founded the Case Foundation in 1997 with husband Steve Case, founder of America Online (AOL), and she has invested in people and organizations that disrupt traditional approaches to entrepreneurship. She’s considered a pioneer in the world of interactive technologies who helped establish AOL as a household name.
In a new TEDx talk that debuted online on March 24, Case adds to a growing chorus of voices now calling for more diversity in venture capital investment.
Funding, mentoring and networking that fuels entrepreneurship favors white men, Case said. Just 10 percent of venture capital goes to women, less than 1 percent goes to black-owned companies and most investment — 75 percent — goes to just three states: California, New York and Massachusetts.
“Why are we putting all our eggs in a small basket?” Case said in her TEDx talk:
“Venture capital has profoundly changed the U.S. economy. It has become the dominant force in the funding new innovative companies … Cash infused in a company in an early stage can be transformative but it also brings coaching, mentoring, and strategic advice, and access to an elite network of powerful people and other successful companies that can be game changing. This looks like jet fuel, but who’s getting it?”
Case sits on several boards. She’s chairwoman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees; member of the board of Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), the White House Historical Association and BrainScope Company, Inc.; an advisory board member of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation, the Brain Trust Accelerator Fund, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library Center’s Women’s Initiative Policy Advisory Council.
She and husband Steve joined The Giving Pledge, started by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010, promising to give away the majority of their wealth to fund worthy causes, according to the Case Foundation website.
Inclusive entrepreneurship won’t be an overnight victory, Case acknowledged. She spoke at the South by Southwest festival, which was held March March 10-19 in Austin, Forbes reported.
“This is more like a movement,” Case said. “We are taking the approach to inspire, educate, and activate. It’s really about telling a story. We want to help shine light on those achieving so we can change the current image. This is about encouraging transparent data around this issue, and creating a transparent on-ramp for those who are interested. The tech sector powered our economy, but (with statistics like these) is building the sector with one hand tied behind its back. So we’re reaching out to a number of marquis names to see how we can all work together to create change. We’re asking people, simply, to be more intentional about their decisions.”
Here are some of the statistics Case used in her TEDx talk to back up her argument, quoting sources including Pitchbook, CB Insights, PwC, Quantopian, and First Round Capital:
Ethnically diverse organizations are 35 percent more likely to outperform industry norms, McKinsey reported. Gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform, based on data from 366 public companies in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the U.K.
Case proposes five new rules that she says can be game changing and level the playing field for minority and women-owned companies:
1) Lose the stereotypes that have been holding us back and recognize that there are other great entrepreneurs besides white men.
2) Recognize that unconscious bias is real. (Unconscious bias is beliefs about various social and identity groups stemming from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by category, according to Renee Navarro, vice chancellor of diversity and outreach at University of California, San Francisco. Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values, Navarro says. It can come be more prevalent when you’re multi-tasking or under time pressure.)
3) Be intentional. “Lets put our efforts into extending the same privileges that have been there for a limited few to many new segments of society,” Case said.
4) Diverse entrepreneurs who see things differently are going bring new, diverse kinds of innovations.
5) Be fearless and get in the arena. “No matter who you are there’s a role you can play,” Case said. “Help champion the need for entrepreneurship for all. Look at your network and ask, ‘Do you know some others who can help do more here?’ Start your own next great american company.”