Doubling down on the role of social capital and visibility in closing opportunity gaps for entrepreneurs

Over the past three years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, and field builders in the Twin Cities. In compiling the stories of these stakeholders, I realized that nearly every conversation was punctuated with some version of, “we have a diversity problem,” or, “I’ve had 100 coffees but can’t get anyone to help me get in front of an investor,” and my least favorite, “women and founders of color just aren’t starting as many high growth companies.”

A recent analysis by Greater MSP, a regional economic development partnership, found that out of 11 peer communities, MSP ranked 10th in total venture capital dollars invested in 2017 at $339M, performing worse than previous years. And while more than 35% of the MSP population are people of color (POC), many local corporations report between 1% and 10% POC in their workforce and even less in senior leadership.

Meanwhile, nationally in 2015, more than three-quarters of U.S. VC funding went to companies in three states: Massachusetts, New York, and California. That same year, only 5% of capital went to female founders and just 1% went to African-Americans and Latinos.

Why is this happening? Systemic oppression aside (because duh), I started looking into some of the common barriers facing entrepreneurs that identify as marginalized and found some interesting similarities around access to opportunity. In his recent book, The Innovation Blindspot, Ross Baird argues that, “in the real world, money flows to the ideas that are the most convenient to find or the most familiar, not necessarily those that are the best.”

Do I think that visibility is the silver bullet to increasing opportunity and diversity in entrepreneurship? Of course not. But I do think social capital is an important vehicle when intentionally integrated with a multi-pronged strategy.

That’s why I joined the team at Lunar Startups. This is not a traditional incubator. Lunar Startups is a new, collaborative approach to increasing access to capital, curated peer support, and activating the stewards of entrepreneurship in our community to better serve Minnesota’s high growth businesses.

And we’re not alone.

Powered by the Knight Foundation as the flagship program of the Glen Nelson Center at American Public Media, we are collectively doubling down on a new approach to moving the needle in entrepreneurship so that more great ideas get access to resources.

Headquartered at Osborn370, we’re leveraging the massive network of our partners, the social capital of a well connected team, and the storytelling expertise of two nationally recognized institutions to redefine the entrepreneurial experience in St. Paul.

Sound interesting? Join us on May 8th for our Lunch and Learn info session, hosted at the Wilder Foundation. We’ll be sharing more about the program, the application (due June 1st), and the opportunity for entrepreneurs and community members who want to learn more.

Register here and we’ll buy you lunch, catered by Afro Deli.