At a moment when the world’s attention is focused on structural racism, all of us in the entrepreneurial ecosystem need to take a long hard look at our own practices. The ugly truth is that our community is actively reinforcing the underlying biases and prejudices that permeate wider society.
Most individuals working in venture capital funds, accelerators, coworking spaces, and other parts of the startup ecosystem view themselves as socially progressive and meritocratic. However, the data tells a starkly different story. In the USA, research by Digital Undivided concluded that in the decade 2009–2019, only 0.06% of total venture capital investment went to black female founders. Meanwhile, in the UK the investment fund Impact X found that less than 1% of investment went to ventures with black founders. It’s time we acknowledged the truth that the entrepreneurial support system is structurally biased against black founders, and also against other ethnic minority and low-income groups.
As it stands, the odds are stacked against an entrepreneur from any low-income or marginalised community, regardless of their talent or dedication. They are less likely to have entrepreneurial role models from whom they can learn. They probably don’t have family or friends ready to invest seed capital or make useful introductions. There is no “bank of mum and dad” safety net to cover living costs during the early years when income is scarce.
This is a double tragedy because entrepreneurship has a far greater impact in a low-income or marginalised community than it does in a privileged one. I believe entrepreneurship is the single most powerful tool to combat poverty and social marginalisation. Every successful business established in a low-income community creates sustainable jobs, new networks, investors, and role models to inspire the next generation.
It is vital we take this opportunity to reform the system on the principle of Inclusive Entrepreneurship. A passive stance is not enough, that will only replicate the status quo. What is needed is an active approach, providing targeted support to groups in society where entrepreneurs face greater hurdles to establishing a business. Only an active approach can rebalance the entrepreneurial system and remove its structural biases. If all venture capital investors, accelerator programmes and workspaces made a commitment to this, our societies would reap great economic and social benefits, and social justice would take a leap forward.
Inclusive Entrepreneurship is integral to The Trampery’s mission as a social enterprise. Throughout our team, our workspaces, and our courses we are committed to combating bias and supporting those who face greater challenges. Since 2015 our Creative Pioneers programme has provided workspace and support completely free to talented entrepreneurs who would not otherwise be able to access it. The success rate of supported businesses currently stands at 88%, a testament to their talent. From 2017 our Pathways and Decelerator courses have offered free coaching to entrepreneurs, with a mix of participants that reflects London’s fantastically diverse society.
In 2018 we opened The Trampery Tottenham, our second-largest workspace. The building supports 60 businesses, approximately 50% of them with black founders, and a total of 300 people on site. Working with the Mayor of London, Borough of Haringey, and Launch It, the project is one of London’s most vigorous champions for Inclusive Entrepreneurship.
Looking to the future, we are eager to support other organisations working to combat systemic discrimination in the entrepreneurial system. If you share this focus, we’d love to hear from you.
The Trampery is a London-based social enterprise that delivers workspaces and accelerator programmes for entrepreneurs. The Trampery is committed to playing a role in the shift towards a more balanced form of capitalism. The company’s mission for the next decade is to support entrepreneurs, startups and scaleups who pursue social and environmental benefits alongside profit. Learn more here.