Pitching Inclusion: Building Diverse Networks & Making Money
The sun was rising above Seattle as we settled into the plush black leather seats around the conference room. We were situated on the 36th floor of one of downtown’s most prominent skyscrapers. Mt.Rainier was visible to the east, the Olympic mountains were out to the west, and the reflection from the pink and purple sky turned the Puget Sound into a marine rainbow. The beauty of the sunrise over the awaking city foreshadowed what was to come the rest of that crisp October day.
Entrepreneurs and investors gathered for Pipeline Angel’s Seattle Pitch Summit. This event gives founders the opportunity to pitch to a few of Seattle’s Pipeline Angel members. It is not your typical shark tank episode. Rather, it is an opportunity to promote inclusion and diversity in the investing space. Some of the entrepreneurs at the summit were seasoned with upwards of 200 pitches under their belt. One founder had never pitched to a group of investors in her life. Regardless, it was a safe space to practice, to learn, and to hopefully secure some cash for their early stage companies. More importantly though, it was a unique opportunity and a special experience. Each founder vocalized the same sentiment. They had never pitched exclusively to a room full of women, let alone a room full of diverse women.
According to The American Angel Campaign, more than 70% of angel investors in the United States are men. Pipeline Angel’s mission is to fight back against this statistic and “change the face of angel investing”. The Seattle Pitch Summit was proof of this change in the making. At the head of the table sat six Pipeline Angel investors with two additional members dialed in via conference call. In total, six of the members were women of color and two were white women. They were there to listen, to offer feedback, and to eventually write checks.
Building Inclusive Networks: A Good Business Decision
“I can’t begin to explain how refreshing it is to pitch to a group of investors without the immediate bias. What a difference it makes to know that the investors are listening to me on the basis of my business and not judging me on the basis of identity.”
-transgender founder at the Seattle Pitch Summit
As a 32 year old female fledgling angel investor, I am continuously astonished and appalled by the statistics and feedback surrounding the investing landscape. As an academically trained cultural anthropologist, I recognize how the current social networks have developed over time. Traditionally, people have built networks with other people that look like them; thus, people have invested in people that look like them. However, I reject this norm moving forward and it is my goal as an investor to help shift this paradigm.
Building inclusive networks is good business. Through my minimal exposure to the Pipeline Angel deal flow, I have already recognized the benefit of bringing a diverse set of founders and funders to the table. There are untapped billion dollar markets out there waiting to be served. There are incredibly passionate, smart, savvy, and creative founders out there waiting for investors to write them checks. When deal flow is trapped within a narrow-visioned, white male lens, opportunity is lost and societal innovation is stifled. We all need to be at the table and we all need to be listening to pitches with an unbiased lens. If you are an investor, you should take a look at your portfolio companies, take a look around the boardroom, and do an internal evaluation of your professional and personal networks. If you see a trend, and that trend is that your networks look just like you, your tunnel vision is probably hurting your balance sheet.
In a hyper competitive capital market, it is more important than ever to distinguish yourself as an investor. I plan to use inclusion as my competitive edge. The internet, social media, and virtual platforms are disrupting traditional networks and making it easier to connect with diverse groups of people. Millennials see the benefits of these networks and use them every day to promote their brands, build their businesses, and connect with people from around the world. As an investor, I will apply the same mindset and capitalize on the diverse opportunities missed by my peers.
Do I personally feel comfortable at a table full of white men? Yes. Do I want to be part of that exclusive table? No. I recognize that I am lucky. I am learning early in my investing journey that the table doesn’t have to look like that. In all actuality, my table doesn’t look like that. Instead, it’s a table full of founders and funders of all gender identities, ages, racial backgrounds, and sexual orientations. It is a table of inclusion driven by both impact and profit.