Last year, more than 30 technology companies, including high-profile brands like Lyft, Spotify, and Airbnb, committed to President Obama and the White House, to set and meet specific workforce diversity goals. Companies signed the pledge to address the abysmal representation of minorities working in the technology sector – a fact the media, certain politicians, and the business community have addressed over the last few years.
Lack of diversity in many industries is, of course, nothing new, although recent boycotts and broader campaigns (e.g. #Oscarssowhite) are drawing much-needed attention to the issue. My hope is the Tech Inclusion Pledge serves its purpose of building a technology community which is more diverse and representative of society and that companies invest in the necessary partnerships and resources to grow diversity in the talent pipeline. This is especially important for African Americans, given the sector’s increasing impact on overall economic growth and global competitiveness.
However, as part of our collective energies to build a more diverse technology community, we must focus equally, if not more, on making sure the doors to venture capital open as widely for African Americans as they do for white entrepreneurs looking to fund and create the next great technology start-up.
The entrepreneurial bug hit me early and grew after working for a start-up. Fast forward a few years to starting my own company and needing to raise capital – an already difficult feat regardless of race and background. I always tell entrepreneurs they will get 60 ‘nos’ before they get a yes response when it comes to raising money.
No surprise, it’s even harder to secure money from people who don’t look like you or operate in your circles. According to the National Venture Capital Association, 87 percent of all venture capitalists are white. While this statistic is a few years old (2011), the landscape has not changed dramatically in the last five years. This is hardly a representative group, which means African American and women companies are left behind when it comes to raising capital.
I leveraged the hell out of every connection to secure funding – from angel investors to my Series A and B rounds. I also tapped other CEOs who had successfully raised money for advice to determine what strategies worked best and to broaden my network even further. And I researched and built relationships with groups, like Atlanta Technology Angels, that connect investors with entrepreneurs.
When MemberSuite went to raise its Series B round, we did so with strong headwinds in the capital market. I was fortunate to meet Steve Case of Revolution Ventures. One of the great things about Revolution is the firm understands technological inspiration and innovative ideas are not limited to the Valley.
He recognized our progress and mission and invested in our growth. Last September, we secured an $11 million round of financing led by Revolution Ventures.
I applauded the efforts of the Obama administration in asking technology leaders to do more to diversify their workplaces. Now, more than ever, business leaders and companies in and out of the Silicon Valley must assume the mantle to make sure progress in this area isn’t deterred. In my own ways, from acting as a sounding board to opening up my Rolodex.
Photo Credit: Nick Ares via Flickr
Andrew Ryan is the CEO and founder of MemberSuite, an Atlanta-based association management software provider. He has more than 15 years of experience in the association space, starting as a Director of IT at an association with a staff of 25 in Alexandria, VA.
He founded MemberSuite in 2010 to provide a cloud-based solution to help nonprofits and member-based associations manage and modernize their processes, including recruiting, fundraising, communications and data analysis.
In 2014, Andrew raised $4.5 million in a Series A funding round. Last year, Andrew secured $11 million in a Series B funding round, led by Revolution Ventures. (Revolution Ventures was founded by AOL co-founder, Steve Case.)
MemberSuite was named to the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies in 2015 and the company expects to double its workforce (to 100 employees) by the end of 2017.