Time to Tap All of America’s Entrepreneurship Potential

Entrepreneurs have been at the center of our American story for centuries. Indeed, entrepreneurs have powered our economy, fueled job growth and introduced innovations that have contributed to the quality of life we enjoy today. In fact, you could say that the American Experience is built on the backs of entrepreneurs who took risks because they believed that in America, anyone from anywhere could bring the next big idea to life.

While as a nation we celebrate our startup and innovation culture, any telling of this American story would not be complete without noting that a fundamental shift has taken place in recent decades in the funding of entrepreneurs and the new companies they build: venture capital. Venture capital is known for its role in funding select firms that have high growth potential. Indeed, many of the most celebrated American brands and businesses were fueled by an infusion of early venture capital into the companies, including Google, Airbnb, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Tesla. And the role of venture capital goes far beyond funding – it often brings with it strategic guidance for young entrepreneurs, access to an elite network of other successful business leaders and often serves as a magnet for follow-on funding by others. The economic impact of venture capital cannot be overstated. A 2015 study by Stanford School of Business on the subject had this to say: “Venture capital has profoundly changed the U.S. economy. It has become a dominant force in the financing of innovative American companies.”

Think of venture capital as the “secret sauce” of investments and resources that often make the difference as to whether a young entrepreneur breaks out with great success, or withers on the vine. But a growing body of data highlights a sobering fact: we aren’t tapping the full potential for innovation and ingenuity in this great nation because venture capital has favored a limited few – most of them men; most of them white. Indeed, research into where the venture capital is going reveals that only 10% of venture-backed companies had a female founder; only 1% had an African American founder. And 78% of all venture capital went to just 3 states: California, New York and Massachusetts, leaving the other 47 states to share just a quarter of the pie. Imagine the potential economic upside if more segments of society could compete for venture capital for their firms.

And the data shows the sectors being overlooked by venture capital are strong, vibrant and perform well.

Consider the data:

When it comes to performance in business, data suggests these groups can outperform the norms. For instance, Fortune reported that women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500. First Round Capital looked at their portfolio of investments and found that companies with a female founder performed 60% better than those with all-male founded teams. A McKinsey study reported that racially diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%. And those other 47 states? They are the home of three-quarters of all Fortune 500 companies. There is a deep and rich history of innovation and business success between the coasts in America.

At the Case Foundation, we believe that this data, while arresting, represents a powerful economic opportunity to seize, simply by taking steps to be intentional in reaching out to find and fund new, high growth and innovative startups from broader segments of society. By building onramps to funding, networking and mentoring for all sectors of society, we can expand economic opportunities more broadly and tap markets that have been underserved. We know that investors and, frankly most of us, connect to people with similar experiences. As 93 percent of investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are men, they will need to consciously step outside their comfort zones. But the data and the opportunity outlined here speaks directly to why many joined the venture capital field in the first place. We think funding entrepreneurs who see things a little differently and who develop innovations that tap new markets is at the center of the venture capital world and those who open doors to a more diverse pool of innovators will be pleased with what they find.

And we are not alone in our excitement for the opportunities that will come from infusing new energy and new perspectives into the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our partners in this work, the Kauffman Foundation, have championed initiatives to expand entrepreneurial growth and just this month launched a campaign to lower barriers to entry for new businesses and to “develop solutions and empower more entrepreneurs to pursue their ambitions.”

As part of this movement, we have launched the Medium publication #FacesofFounders, designed to elevate a discussion of entrepreneurship, race, place and gender. We welcome you to engage with this conversation, share your story and hear from founders of all backgrounds, at all stages in their startup journey, to highlight how entrepreneurs with groundbreaking ideas come from all backgrounds and are poised to play a key role in America’s innovation economy.

To start the conversation about identifying the next generation of innovators, #FaceofFounders on Medium will be focusing on three opportunities for you to take action to support entrepreneurs nationwide.

Opportunity 1: Champion All Entrepreneurs

There are diverse entrepreneurs out there already starting, growing and successfully exiting their ventures, across sectors of society and across the nation. We will showcase the incredible pipeline of entrepreneurs already calling themselves “Founders” and embracing the entrepreneurial spirit. And we urge you to join us in celebrating this universe of inclusive entrepreneurs.

Opportunity 2: Challenge Unconscious Bias

We also must open the door to more people by acknowledging that unconscious bias is real. By acknowledging that unconscious bias is real, we can begin to create systems that source entrepreneurs beyond existing bubbles and influence the standard criteria used by investors as they assess potential investments.

Opportunity 3: Extend Privilege—Get in the Arena

Investors, ecosystem builders, mentors, advocates, connectors, board members. No matter who you are, there’s a role you can play to extend opportunities to all entrepreneurs. #GetInTheArena and help champion the possibility of entrepreneurship for all.

The Path Forward

To educate and inspire you to take action, we will feature stories of diverse entrepreneurs who are dreaming, building and scaling successful businesses. These founders come from all backgrounds—women, men, Latinx, African Americans, B Corps, students, immigrants, moms, engineers, artists—but have a common vision that their idea holds great promise. Each week, we will profile an innovator that you may or may not have heard of, but whose story will hopefully inspire you or someone you know to say “I can do it. I can be an entrepreneur.” If we seize this opportunity to democratize entrepreneurship, we will not only support new innovators, we will strengthen innovation and redouble our commitment that anyone from anywhere has a fair shot at the American Dream.

Join the conversation on entrepreneurship, race, place and gender at FacesofFounders.org.

Nine Sessions to Catch at SOCAP 2016

As we say goodbye to summer and hello to September, for many of us working in the social impact field that means getting ready for one of the sectors’ biggest events—Social Capital Markets, or SOCAP. This year the Case Foundation team is looking forward to engaging with our partners along with a growing network of impact focused investors, entrepreneurs, consumers and professionals at SOCAP.

SOCAP started in 2008 with a small group of investors who were determined to make their money work, not only for financial returns but also for social benefit; it is now one of the largest annual conferences for impact investors and social entrepreneurs globally. When we at the Case Foundation launch something new, we like to give a sneak-peek to great audiences, and the counsel from SOCAP changemakers makes it a perfect conference to work on enhancing the potential impact of our work.

That’s why at this year’s SOCAP, which takes place from September 13 – 16 in San Francisco, CA, we’re thrilled that the two movements we’re driving—impact investing and inclusive entrepreneurship—will be front and center. We can’t wait to share a few of our ideas and take the opportunity to learn from other incredible innovators at SOCAP. Here are just a few of next week’s standout sessions and programs; we hope to see you there!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

9:00 AM – 6:00 PM – Faces of Founders Story Booth
It’s time to level the playing field when it comes to entrepreneurship for women and communities of color. It’s time to change the narrative and bust myths of what an entrepreneur does and doesn’t look like. Stop by the Festival Pavilion at booth 104 on Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and join the Case Foundation and Blackstone Charitable Foundation to take your free headshot and learn more about the upcoming Faces of Founders campaign. Come show the diverse backgrounds and approaches of entrepreneurs today and share your best advice on how to make this campaign a huge success.

10:45 AM – Accelerator Effectiveness in Developing Countries
Around the globe, entrepreneurs are turning to accelerator programs for support to grow their businesses, so how do we know if they’re effective or not? Ross Baird, Executive Director at Village Capital and other ecosystem innovators will lead small group discussions about the programmatic and environmental elements that determine an accelerator’s outcomes. Make your way to BATS! Annex at 10:45 AM to be a part of the conversation.

10:45 AM – Impact Unicorns: Can We Have Our Cake and Eat it Too?
A group of true impact investing powerhouses will take part in a panel at Cowell Theater at 10:45 AM to cover one of the biggest questions in impact investing: Can investors have their cake (financial returns) and eat it, too (impact returns)? The panel will feature the funds and firms—Elevar Equity, MicroVest, DBL Partners, Core Innovation Capital and ImpactAssets—that do just that, the so-called “Impact Unicorns.”

12:00 PM – Mapping the Impact Investing Landscape with Collaborative Data – Demos
Interested in the growing applicability and necessity of open data and collaboration in the impact investing and social good market? Be sure to join the Case Foundation’s SVP of Social Innovation, Sheila Herrling who will be co-hosting a conversation on open data for social good with ImpactSpace and SODA (Social Data Commons) at 12:00 PM in Firehouse. The session will feature rapid-fire presentations from innovative data-powered platform creators and hands-on demos in a collaborative environment. Stop by to try out the tools for yourself and get a preview of our soon-to-launch impact investing ecosystem map.

1:15 PM – Collaborative Data for Social Good – Just Do It!
Make sure you stick around for the collaboration workshop directly following the Mapping the Landscape session, which will be led by the great minds behind SODA in Firehouse at 1:15 PM. This workshop is for all who are serious about working together to build the connective infrastructure needed to create a more connected and efficient infrastructure.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

9:00 AM – 6:00 PM – Faces of Founders Story Booth
If you couldn’t make it out on Wednesday for your photo, be sure to stop by on Thursday!

11:00 AM – Impactful Matchmaking: How Investment Advisors First Talk Impact with Clients
The early interactions between investors and their advisors are critical—particularly given that many more people express interest in impact investing than actually move to action. The Case Foundation’s VP of Social Innovation, Rehana Nathoo will join a panel of impact investment leaders and trendsetters from Tideline, ImpactAssets, The CAPROCK Group, Morgan Stanley and Cambridge Associates to discuss how advisors and their clients can talk about impact investing, and what we need to get to scale, at 11:00 AM in Cowell Theater.

4:00 PM – Am I an Entrepreneur? Challenging the Stereotypes
How can the stories we tell and the words we use to tell them help to level the playing field for all entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses? Hear from Sheila Herrling, SVP of Social Innovation from the Case Foundation, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, 500 Startups and Zuvaa African Fashion at the Festival Mainstage at 4:00 PM, on what challenges and opportunities diverse entrepreneurs face when building their brands and successful companies.

4:00 PM – Measure What Matters: Unveiling the New B Impact Assessment Tool
If you’re curious about a tool that is helping to direct investment into the companies that are creating high quality jobs, strengthening communities and preserving the environment, then you may want to check out this session in C230 at 4:00 PM, hosted by the nonprofit B Lab. Case Foundation Program Officer, Sean Tennerson will join a panel of investors that are using or developing strategies to use the B Impact Assessment, which just got a big overhaul.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16

11:00 AM – Best of Cities: How to Teach All Businesses in Your City about Impact
Is it possible to have every business in a city learn how to solve locally entrenched issues? Yes! Stop by BATS! Theater at 11:00 AM to hear how B Lab and New York City started a citywide program to teach all businesses—not just those that drink their Kool Aid—how to create high quality jobs, strengthen communities and preserve the environment.

 
We are excited to collaborate with innovators working toward new solutions within both of our movements and we look forward to seeing you at #SOCAP16.