by G. E. Loveless
In the world of entrepreneurship, more diverse founders and innovators are bringing forth ideas that are positively impacting the environment, social fabric of communities, and technology. We’ve asked ourselves the following question as a growing team – “How can we ensure advancement and equity are centered in our efforts for entrepreneur support?” Recently, Erika Haskins, CEO and Chandell Stone, Vice President of Programs of 3 Day Startup shared their thoughts on the gaps and opportunities that currently exist in venture development for young entrepreneurs.
Q: Why is access insufficient and how can we define advancement?
Stone: “Allowing people in the room is easier than figuring out ways to make folk comfortable or give people the equity that they need in order to be successful. It is really hard work and takes a real understanding of the inequities that are happening and I think, especially in the startup world, the folk who dominate in this space are people who are here and do not struggle with those inequities.”
In an 2021 article named Equity in Entrepreneurship: Challenges and Opportunities by Lisa Abraham & Benjamin K. Master, it is noted that, “Differences in accumulated wealth are a significant contributor: More than 64 percent of new businesses use personal savings as a source of start-up capital. This puts White Americans at a significant advantage, given that they are approximately eight times wealthier than Black Americans and five times wealthier than Hispanic Americans. For women, those who never married, have just 6 percent of the wealth of never-married men.”
Advancement requires high impact mentorship. It is essential that young entrepreneurs enter their industry with a strong network to create a successful venture. How does mentorship play a role in one’s entrepreneurial journey and what can industry leaders do better to enhance it? VP of Programs, Chandell Stone, answers this question:
Stone: “For mentorship to be effective you have to have (1) the mentee able to identify [connect] with the mentor and (2) the mentor have experience in that space … it’s not just enough to say, okay, we’re going to try to find as many mentors of color, we’re going to try to find as many LGBTQ mentors, etc. it’s also [including] do they have experience starting, launching successful companies … can [they] support those young founders in that way, those early founders in that way.”
We have insight on foundations of great mentorship, and how important it is to supplement with community trust, shared experience, and representation of those being served whether neurodiverse, BIPOC or LGBTQIA+.
Stone: “If there’s a lack of those people in the space already, then it becomes challenging to find mentors that can really connect … it comes back to representation … [and] we have to get to a certain place where we create those mentors … to have a breakthrough in the space so that it can really open itself up … that can only happen if you are in a position of power and privilege. Recognize that privilege and really start to open some doors and opportunities by providing access to capital, by providing these resources for advancement, as you named.”
Q: What is equity in entrepreneurship (accessibility, achievability and attainability) and how do we define it in different spaces (digital and social)?
Haskins: “I think this question is really deep because there’s so much that shapes our founders’ journey. And of course, every journey is different. And there are so many players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem or startup ecosystem. There’s education, there’s training and support, there’s mentorship circles, there’s capital, there’s different versions and theories of capital and investment, and then just support from business growth and scaling. I think that you have to ask what does equity look like in each one of those? And then all of them tied together is what equity in entrepreneurship is.”
From education to accessing capital, we know that barriers to advancement stem from inequities that marginalized individuals face. What is the key in keeping equity as a priority when planning entrepreneurial programming?
Stone: “I think the very root of entrepreneurship, at the root of this space is this … hyperfocus or like mad dash to … solve the world’s problems. Right? And so when I think about what equity looks like in this space … it starts with equitable concern about everyone’s problems. Problems are not privileged more than others and [we] will see those resources flow to those [underserved] places. The folks who tend to experience those problems should be at the forefront of that innovation. And then I think it’s when it all comes full circle. It starts with do we care about solving all of these problems or are specific problems more important than others? And then once we address that, then I think we begin to really get at equity in the space of that. “
From Chandell’s powerful response, Erika breaks down how community and business leaders can think about equitable programming. First, how do we define programming and its intention?:
Haskins: “In my mind … a program is an intentional and coordinated set of actions or activities. So programming means being very thoughtful in the activities we design, implement, and sustain as a collective to support, in our case, young people with their ideas.”
What other equitable practices should be considered and prioritized?
Gem from Stone: Your Vocabulary Matters
Stone: “The vocabulary that we use when we talk about folks who are ‘being’ entrepreneurs, founders and innovators is extremely important in acknowledging the things that they do [and] the skills that they have, in that folks that are considered underrepresented, underestimated, etc., are not empty vessels. They are a community with a wealth of knowledge. I think what is important is bridging the vocabulary, bridging the language that may be used in certain communities and making sure that it’s captured in … and it sort of extends to making sure that that language is connected, right? That folks understand … Those things are happening in both of those spaces and acknowledging the work that folks are doing in those communities.
Gem from Haskins: Be Intentional In Centering Unsung Voices & Offering Positions of Power
To ensure we are developing programming that is inclusive we have to ensure the seats at the table represent the community we serve. On the other hand, how can one be inspired to have a seat at the table if they are not inspired themselves?
Haskins: “Anybody that is working to create value or solve a problem should own the identity of an entrepreneur. And if you meet a young person that is trying to solve a problem or really trying to create value, you should tell them they’re an entrepreneur and say you should read more about it. You should think about making this a business. You absolutely could do that one day. So tell [youth] they’re entrepreneurs and get them engaged in some type of activity or programming. Connect them to a local entrepreneur.”
Gem from Stone: Ask Questions, Seek A Mentor & Research Your Industry!
Stone: “As an entrepreneur, too, it’s really important to study the domain that you’re operating in. And so I would recommend reading. And I mean, this is, you know, 2022 … listen to a podcast, watch YouTube videos. [For example], you want to open a restaurant… look up who your role models [are] in this space. Read their memoirs, watch their interviews, just learn and study the tactics. Figure out your ‘what’ and why you become an entrepreneur, most of the time it’s because you’re obsessed with the problem. But most times you’re going to garner so many other skills around that in order to operate a successful business. When I started my travel company, I didn’t know that I had to learn how to build websites and like I had to learn to do sales and all these other things that were not as sexy to me as just hopping on flights. That’s what I thought I was going to be doing a lot more of. So I would say try to close the gaps that you have in terms of some of those tactical skills that it takes to run a business.”
We ask that all leaders in their community to their industry shift the paradigm in how we support young aspiring entrepreneurs. To create meaningful shifts:
- Use language that is uplifting and empowering. Express the impact young professionals have and affirm the potential in their ideas and projects. Ultimately, this encourages youth to become more passionate about honing their skills, expanding their social capital, and launching their venture with a community of support.
- Center equity and inclusion in your mentorship outreach and recruitment strategies. Onboard mentors who are reflective of those your program serves and who are able to be a resource for young founders as their venture scales.
- Design spaces for mentorship that builds identity and social capital while growing their venture. Provide access to capital and other resources for capacity building.