In the startup world, Black female founders are well aware of the obstacles they're up against in the path to getting funded. Less than 1% — 0.2% to be exact — of venture capital, or VC, funding goes to women of color.
There are multiple factors contributing to this low number, Shauntel Poulson, a co-founder and general partner at the educational technology fund Reach Capital, told Refinery29. First, there's the challenge of breaking into a community that's primarily made up of white men who "tend to source from their own networks," Poulson says.
Then there's the larger matter of bias. "A lot of our job [as venture capitalists] is assessing teams and their capacity to built great companies," Poulson says,"Because a lot of that is pattern recognition. It's like, 'Okay, I've seen this before.' You've probably seen a lot of white males be successful. So applying that lens, especially when you see an entrepreneur who looks different and comes from a different background, means it’s harder to make the case of 'Oh, I’ve seen this before, and I know that they can be successful."
If we want the numbers to change, that pattern needs to be restructured, and a new, more diverse model set. Ahead, eight Black women at different stages of the VC funding process share their experiences, talking about everything from the mentors who made a difference to the challenges they weren't expecting. Included in the roundup is the woman who, last year, became just the 14th Black female founder to raise $1 million, as well as women who haven't received any funding to date.
Though their situations may vary, each has one thing in common: They're fighting hard, and, in many cases, finding ways to win against tough odds.
The following interviews have been edited for length and style.