Next 5-10 Years Will Be Amazing For All Types Of Founders, Says Silicon Valley Pioneer

Written by Dana Sanchez

Arlan Hamilton thought she’d found the promised land in Silicon Valley.

Shocked by the disparity she saw in funding, Hamilton had started her firm, Backstage Capital, in Texas.

A music industry manager-turned-blogger-turned-venture capitalist, Hamilton was the antithesis of the white male-dominated venture capital culture of Silicon Valley. A black lesbian woman, she was trying to raise capital for startups founded by underrepresented groups.

“Representation is the most important thing for me,” Hamilton told an audience earlier this month in Dublin, Ireland, at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. “It’s why we started Backstage.”

Hamilton found Silicon Valley “innovative, risk-taking — you could be who you want to be,” she said. But soon she realized that there was “a lot of room for improvement in diversity, access and who was getting funded.”

Hamilton recognized a niche. “It became clear to me that if I wanted to see the change, I would probably have to be (it),” she said. “There needed to be someone who was not enmeshed in the industry and the institution.”

Within two years, Hamilton shook up the tech industry, investing to date about $2 million in 45 startups including women- and black-owned companies. With $5 million in funding, Backstage Capital seeks to take a 1 percent stake in early-stage startups.

Arlan Hamilton, CEO of Backstage Capital. Photo: Inspirefest

 

Backstage Capital has been supported by some of the top investors in Silicon Valley including David Rose, Marc Andreessen, Aaron Levie, Swati Mylavarapu and Crystal English, Silicon Republic reported.

“We invest in the very best founders who identify as women, People of Color, or LGBT, in the U.S. I personally identify as all three,” Hamilton said at the Backstage Capital website.

And she built it all from scratch, she said.

Hamilton takes stuff from nothing and builds it into something, said Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia. Vosmek interviewed Hamilton onstage at Inspirefest 2017, held July 6 to July 8 in Dublin, Ireland. You can watch the video here. Astia is a Silicon Valley nonprofit that aims to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs by providing access to capital.

What inspired Hamilton to break into a club for white men?

“Insatiable curiosity mixed with a longing for freedom and determining my own destiny — or having some say in my destiny,” she said at Inspirefest.

Hamilton represents the new wave of venture capitalism that brings more diversity to Silicon Valley by investing in women, minorities and the LGBTQ community – basically, the people that Silicon Valley’s elite investors tend to ignore, Silicon Republic reported. The new wave represents a welcome counterweight to the beige, white-male-dominated venture capital industry.

Now that Hamilton sees what she has started, it freaks her out a little.

“I’m the new face of venture capital,” she said. “That’s terrifying.”

That new face is looking outside of Silicon Valley for new startups to invest in.

“Why cut off certain people if they’re innovating and doing amazing things?” Hamilton said. “Around the country outside of Silicon Valley there’s a lot of things that don’t necessarily play into ‘cookie cutter.’ We have everything from a mobile app that creates nails (fingernail designs) out of a pattern that you take a picture of to mind-flown drones — that’s search and rescue that the government will be using.”

So what does Hamilton see down the road for startup founders from underrepresented groups seeking funding?

For the past five years, it has been about recognizing the problem, acknowledging the problem, and collecting data, she said:

“I think the next five to 10 years are going to be amazing for all types of founders. You have to break ground for something to be built. I think that’s what we’re a part of. Backstage is part of that. People who are wondering how to get in can see examples of themselves.”

 

 

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