3 things Black founders need right now

As a Black tech founder, I’ve experienced trials and tribulations to scale my business. I launched RenderATL during the pandemic when most people thought I was out of my mind to hold an in-person event when everything was shutting down. I didn’t let that stop me, and over the past three years, we’ve been able to scale. I did this because I didn’t rely solely on funding and VCs to help make my dream a reality. 

As Black entrepreneurs, it’s unfortunate that we don’t have access to capital and the same support from VCs as our white counterparts. According to Crunchbase, “Venture funding to Black-founded U.S. startups last year totaled only $705 million—marking the first time since 2016 that the figure failed to even reach $1 billion.”

The industry does need to change and become more inclusive; however, year after year we’ve seen that it hasn’t improved. What the lack of VC funding has taught me as I put together our event is that you can’t rely solely on that to make your business take off, and, more importantly, sustain itself. Too many Black funders don’t end up taking their companies to the next level because they are expecting investors to be the solution to their problems. 

VC funding should be viewed as a means, not an end. Here’s what I learned from speaking to attendees and speakers at leading tech companies over the years about what support is needed to help our businesses thrive.

Strategic partnerships that matter 

Black tech founders need to prioritize strategic partnerships within the tech ecosystem and the government at the national and local levels as part of their overall strategy for achieving impact—especially when seeking systems-level change. Why? Because governments have a variety of unique assets including networks and infrastructure that can reach citizens in great numbers and at economies of scale. They also have decision-making authority over how resources are distributed over the long term and a deep understanding of community needs and context. 

Many BIPOC-founded companies are solving core problems for their communities, and need to recognize that government officials are key stakeholders to help achieve this goal. Sure, governments often have limited ability for experimentation and risk due in large part to having to manage taxpayer dollars, but are open to innovative ideas that move things forward. 

We recently worked with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens to highlight the importance of creating spaces in Atlanta for the tech industry to thrive. Our mission aligned with his hopes to propel Atlanta into one of the top five tech hubs in the country. We secured a strategic multiyear partnership with Zillow that is aligned with our long-term commitment to creating new economic wealth through homeownership and our shared commitment to recruiting and nurturing top technical talent from our attendees.

Spaces to be vulnerable

Black tech founders are often not given the safe space to be vulnerable and admit shortcomings while running their businesses. We can’t make mistakes. We’re expected to be perfect all the time, and that only hinders our growth. What’s success without failure? Listening to speakers at RenderATL has shown that these entrepreneurs and senior executives express vulnerabilities that enhance everything from client relationships to team dynamics. 

Being vulnerable in business doesn’t mean that you have to share the most personal aspects of your life. Black founders often feel they have no support, which can hinder scaling. Allowing yourself to admit that you don’t know something or ask for help will result in more respect and admiration from everyone you work with. I’ve made tons of mistakes over the years scaling my company, but what’s more important is that I learned from those mistakes and have been able to turn weaknesses into strengths. Vulnerability is the foundation of creativity and change, so you might as well embrace it. 

Mentorship to close the gap

Mentorship is critical to closing the gap for entrepreneurs of color. Not many people talk about mentorship and its positive impact on the bottom line. When I tapped my mentor, Shon Myatt, it increased my productivity. It was meaningful to have someone more experienced believe in and understand my vision of what I hoped to accomplish with my company. 

Mentorship is a powerful tool that can help Black tech founders at all stages in their professional journeys navigate challenges and limited resources. Mentorship can play a pivotal role in your career and can allow you to transform those challenges into stepping stones for success. Black entrepreneurs need supportive relationships that can serve as a guide to facing an evolving, competitive, and complex business landscape. 

Black tech founders must be flexible and adapt to a landscape that poses multiple challenges. Barriers come with starting and scaling your company but try to avoid focusing solely on the limited access to capital and VC funding and lean into the above tactics instead. As a Black entrepreneur, you must have the ability to look at the bigger picture and pivot when necessary. 

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