According to Backstage Capital, less than 10% of all venture capital deals go to women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders. A crunchbase study found that since 2015, $15 billion has been raised by Black and Latino founders, representing just 2.4% of the total venture capital raised over time.
The investment company was founded by Arlan Hamilton in 2015 who built a venture capital fund from the ground up, while experiencing homelessness. She is the first Black, queer woman to build a venture capital fund in the United States. Since 2015, Backstage has invested more than $15 million into more than 180 startups led by underestimated founders.
A new business series hopes to make access to wealth for historically marginalized communities in the field more widespread. Unicorn Hunters, which released its first episode on May 10, 2021, combines entertainment with the potential for consumers to back select pre-IPO investment opportunities. It also provides an opportunity to invest in companies that might not have an opportunity to pitch their ideas.
The show has already amassed more than 14.5 million viewers around the world and received more than $50 million in equity requests for featured companies.
The series was launched by Transparent Business and reality TV icon Craig Plestis (The Masked Singer, I Can See Your Voice) and includes some major names in its “Circle of Money” – the name for its panel of entrepreneurs and business titans.
One of the series co-stars and co-executive producers is Moe Vela, the former Director of Administration to President Joe Biden (during his term as Vice President).
Vela made history by being the first Latino American and LGBTQ American to serve twice in a senior executive role in the White House. He is the current CEO and President of Washington, D.C-based global consulting firm, The Vela Group and is the author of “Little Secret. Big Dreams.” He is one of two LGBTQ panelists on the show, along with singer/actor and entrepreneur Lance Bass.
Qnotes spoke with Vela recently about the show.
“For me, this was a continuation of my life and career of advocacy for marginalized communities,” says Vela. When he saw the alarming statistics about minority communities in venture capital, he wasn’t surprised but wanted to help provide a platform for change.
The show’s creators came up with the idea to democratize access to wealth groups. “If you can’t participate in the pre-IPO investment ecosystem, we’re going to have a world where the poor just stay poor,” he says.
Vela shares the example of working-class individuals who may not have much to invest. Historically, investment in a company at the pre-IPO placement has generally been restricted to high-net-worth individuals with a sophisticated knowledge of financial markets, according to Investopedia.
Pre-IPO (or Initial Public Offering) refers to a private sale of large blocks of shares before a stock is listed on a public exchange. The buyers are typically private equity firms, hedge funds and other institutions willing to buy large stakes in a company.
On Unicorn Hunters, members who sign up as investors can then take part in investment opportunities from the series. The minimum amount is set by each company and can be as low as $100.
“If you’re a waitress in Bogota, Columbia or a grad student in Nairobi, Kenya, or a mid-life, working class professional in St. Louis, Missouri, and all you have is $100 to invest right now, you don’t even know where or how to do that,” says Vela. “The system, in many ways, has systemically left out the vast majority of human beings.”
According to Vela, if that $100 is invested into a company that happens to become a “unicorn,” or privately held startup company with a value of more than $1 billion, it might be worth $1,000 or even $10,000 in a year or two. “That is life altering,” he says.
The series is focused on what Vela calls the four “E’s”: education, empowerment, equality and entertainment. “We believe that your ZIP code, your country code, or the balance of your bank account should not make you less worthy of the chance to participate,” he says.
The show also provides a good source of information for the novice investor, even without laying down any money right away. On screen definitions of investment terminology are geared at educating a broader public. Vela hopes that introduction to some of the lingo builds awareness and exposure, breaking down barriers for LGBTQ communities who previously have not had similar access.
“My theory is really simple,” says Vela. “I support all of the people who protest. I support all the marches. I support all of those advocacy efforts, but at the end of the day, I have always held a strong belief that the way we really will gain true equality is to be at the table. This is a testament to that belief. We are at the table just like everyone else.”
This story is part of QnotesCarolinas’ special project “Stories of Black LGBTQ Resilience and Economic Mobility,” which seeks to connect responses to economic security and upward mobility to the lives and futures of Black LGBTQ people. It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. To learn more about solutions journalism, visit solutionsjournalism.org.