That day was a cliche: Of 12 startups to present, one had a female founder and just one other had black founders.
The only 2 startups my room of judges could easily agree to pass to the next round were led by 20-somethings, white men.
For the black led-startup, I was all-in; I loved their business model and product, and they had just signed a huge contract with a local restaurant chain.
Investors started to evaluate them. One said they had seen the company present before, and they have been around for 4 yrs.
To another, this meant something smelled funny. “What’s wrong with them if they haven’t gotten funding in 4 years?”
Startled, I said politely, “You cannot hold them to the same standard as other startups.”
I was gentle as I hinted at her implicit biases.
She was misguided but continued with her suppositions. I repeated myself a few more times but it didn’t work.
My heart was racing. I grew angrier.
“What do you mean,” she asked?
“You cannot hold them to the same standard because they are 5 black men. They don’t have the same opportunities & connections to get funding. Lack of funding does not mean something is amiss. Four years of bootstrapping with their traction is exceptional! They must be pushed forward.”
“Fine, we can squeeze them in.”