On Saturday, at the United State of Women summit, Arlan Hamilton announced her groundbreaking new startup fund that will invest in black women founders, $1 million at a time.
Her company, Backstage Capital, is a venture capital firm dedicated to funding people of color, women, and/or LGBTIQ founders. At this point, Backstage has invested $4 million in 88 companies. This new fund—nine times the size of their work to date—launches the company into a new stratosphere.
At present, only 2 percent of venture capital goes to female-led companies. At the Girlboss LA Rally in late April, Hamilton, Backstage Capital’s founder and managing partner, told the audience that the percentage of black women who receive funding “is so low that it doesn’t even register.”
The rumors are true. Today at #USOW2018 I announced that my venture capital firm @Backstage_Cap has launched a $36m fund that will invest in Black women founders $1mill at a time. Thank you to the Backstage Crew, headliners, LPs, mentors & network for making this moment possible. pic.twitter.com/yT1SMQOFAR— Arlan 👊🏾 (@ArlanWasHere) May 5, 2018
Backstage Capital was borne out of Hamilton’s frustration with the status quo. When she lived in Texas, she knew black women who had awesome companies but couldn’t get a response from anyone—that the biases against them as founders were compounded. There are firms like the newly-launched The Helm that are dedicated to funding women and those like New Enterprise Associates that have a reputation for doing so, but there is no firm doing exactly what Backstage Capital has just announced.
Hamilton’s story is a testament to her resourcefulness and determination. As she discussed at the Girlboss Rally, three years ago, Hamilton was homeless and asking for money at a stoplight. She started Backstage Capital with $12 in her bank account and some venture capital jargon that she’d learned online. “It took three years before I got a yes,” she says.
Now, Hamilton leads a team of 17 people. Their mission statement says: “We believe that some of the most successful companies in the future will be founded by people who don’t look like the ones we currently see in the press and on the portfolio pages of other VC firms.
“I try to be as realistic as possible with these founders,” Hamilton says. “I tell them it’s going to be difficult; it’s going to be work; it’s going to be unfair. And when I’m sitting across the table from a woman of color, I tell her there’s hope. Some of that hope is in the work that my firm is doing, and that so many others are doing.”
They're calling it a 'diversity fund.' I'm calling it an IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund.— Arlan 👊🏾 (@ArlanWasHere) May 6, 2018
“As my mom told me when I was four years old, there is no room you don’t deserve to be in,” Hamilton says. “From day, it’s been hard—but I always know that we all belong.”
Want to learn more about Hamilton and Backstage Capital? Follow along with both on the new season of StartUp, the Gimlet Media podcast that’s currently tracing Hamilton’s effort to change Silicon Valley.