In This Venture Capitalist’s Portfolio, 65% Of Founders Are Black

Written by Judith Ohikuare

In less than two years, Arlan Hamilton has made a name for herself as an outspoken black, gay woman shaking up the tech industry.

The 36-year-old founder of Backstage Capital Hamilton is just what the startup world needs: a fresh perspective, says Judith Ohikuare in a report for Refinery29, a digital-media company focused on women.

Hamilton first started studying tech in 2012 when she was working in the music industry as a production coordinator. It was a dream job, but she noticed that many of the artists and music executives she admired were investing their music money in tech, Inc. reported.

Her interest piqued, Hamilton read and watched anything she could to learn about tech and venture capital — keynote speeches on YouTube, blog posts and books by investors, “even though I didn’t understand most of it,” Hamilton told Inc.:

She’d grown up knocking on strangers’ doors as a Jehovah’s Witness (she no longer practices), and had no qualms about randomly reaching out to founders and investors and offering to help in any way she could. Making connections and helping young companies land investments gave her a high. It became a hobby, something she did at home in Houston in between her artists’ tours.

All her life, Hamilton had been insatiably curious, landing her on the honor roll and in the principal’s office for being disruptive.

Hamilton is determined to dispel every myth about the lack of Black and Brown talent in tech while helping minority entrepreneurs get a leg up.

From Refinery29, a digital-media company focused on women. Story by Judith Ohikuare.

“People write to me all the time,” Hamilton explains. “Founders, investors, a lot of executives at tech companies, and they say, ‘Thank you for saying what you’re saying because I can’t, but I’m thinking it.’”

Hamilton has always been entrepreneurial, but she didn’t get involved with start-ups on a deeper level until four years ago, when she started doing small projects for a few founders she knew, offering to use her branding expertise to help them with advertising, marketing, and recruiting. The more deals she tried to make, the more upset Hamilton became about the struggles many founders were facing because of their race and gender.

It didn’t matter what market these entrepreneurs were trying to break into, she explained in a phone interview with Refinery29: “White male investors across the board said they ‘didn’t understand’ or it ‘wasn’t for them.’ After this happened dozens of times, I had enough data to say, ‘No, this isn’t my imagination; this isn’t a chip on my shoulder. This is truly a bias, whether unconscious or not.’ I spent a few minutes taking it personally, but then I realized that there was an opportunity to capitalize on the fact that a lot of people are missing the boat.”

In the year and a half since Hamilton launched Backstage Capital, she has employed eight part-time employees (who are spread across L.A., Oakland, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Portland, and Durham), reviewed proposals from 1,500 companies, and invested in 40.

She has stuck to her mission of investing in LGBTQ and minority-owned companies: 65 percent of founders are people of color, 65 percent are women, and 35 percent are women of color.

Read more at Refinery29.

 

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About Judith Ohikuare
Judith Ohikuare writes about work and money at Refinery29, a digital media company focused on women.

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