Red or Blue, We Can’t Leave Half the Team on the Entrepreneurial Bench

Last night the leading candidates for the GOP shared their vision and ideas for the nation in JumpStart’s home city of Cleveland.

Two days earlier, I was fortunate to be invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, where President Barack Obama held the first ever White House Demo Day, an event focused on promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the U.S. entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, startup employees and investors.

Seeing these two events so close together emphasized an important point to me. Although our major political parties disagree on a great many things, they are both capable of understanding and appreciating the fundamental value of diversity, inclusion and one of our country’s greatest assets – a profoundly unique innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the envy of the civilized world.

That’s why it is so critically important that we not let partisanship, or a transition of executive leadership, derail the process of building a more diverse, inclusive and job-creating entrepreneurial ecosystem in the U.S.

We’re Leaving More Than Half the Team on the Bench
That’s how President Obama described the current state of entrepreneurship in the United States during White House Demo Day.

According to industry data, just three percent of U.S. startups backed by venture capital are led by women, and only one percent are headed by African-Americans. Meanwhile, nearly 90 percent of all venture capital investment professionals are Caucasian men.

These realities represent a tremendous opportunity, and not just from a “social justice” point of view. Dozens of studies inform us that teams of people who have diverse backgrounds from each other while being committed to each other’s success are able to make smarter and more profitable decisions together.

 

We Need More Than Talk
Recognizing we have a diversity opportunity is an important first step. Now, more than 40 venture capital funds are pledging to do more. This pledge was delivered to the President during White House Demo Day by the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) Diversity Task force, of which I am proud to be a member.JumpStart is one of the organizations who signed the NVCA pledge. That’s because we take diversity and inclusion seriously. 34 percent of our investments have gone to firms owned/led by women or minorities, 47 percent of our board of directors are minority or female and our staff is 59 percent female and 22 percent minority.

At the same time, we believe we can still do more to help more women and minorities get on the field. That’s why we are expanding our work – by starting community lending initiatives and core-city accelerator programs that also help minority and low-income business owners create meaningful-wage jobs and stabilize struggling neighborhoods.Inclusion is good for business, period.

 

We Need Strong, Smart Political Leadership
As industry professionals, we are committed to realizing full potential when it comes to diversity and inclusion. At the same time, our future political leaders will also have a major part to play in building a more inclusive innovation and entrepreneurial economy.

Whatever your thoughts on immigration reform, it is critical for those who dictate policy to remember that recent immigrants are more than twice as likely as current U.S. residents to start a new business. In fact, many of our nation’s most successful companies, from Google and eBay to Pfizer and AT&T, were founded by immigrants. If our future political leaders are serious about spurring entrepreneurial growth, they must also find enough common ground to finally come together on a nuanced, nonpartisan tax reform plan that will accelerate private investment instead of stifling it. This kind of common sense reform may not grab controversial headlines, but it is absolutely critical if the venture capital model is to break out of its current regional pockets and spread across the nation to other communities.

 

Republican or Democrat, we must all remember that one of the most fundamental American concepts is that with the right idea, and a willingness to work hard, anyone can make it big.

The next big idea can come from anybody, anywhere. We must take this fundamental truth to heart and start making it easier, not harder for our diverse ideas to grow and thrive.


This post originally appeared on August 7, 2015 in the Huffington Post.

Posted in Economic Development, Entrepreneurship, Inclusion, Thought Leadership