“I always knew that I would be an entrepreneur,” said Monique Woodard. “I announced at Thanksgiving dinner when I was about 17 or 18 that I wanted to start a business.”
In her personal bio, Woodard describes herself as a “total geek for consumers, e-commerce, and cities,” a tidy way to summarize a career in marketing, brand strategy, consumer tech and civic innovation.
She’s co-founder and Executive Director of Black Founders, a group that’s working to “increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech,” and in February, she joined 500 Startups as a Venture Partner.
For Woodard, becoming an investor was a natural progression. “The opportunity to mentor and work with founders lets me fulfill what I think of as the last piece in the puzzle, which is really being able to support and fund entrepreneurs,” she said.
“I’m definitely treating Black Founders as a conduit into 500,” said Woodard. “I would like to see as may black founders as possible go through the accelerator, get funding and then scale their businesses.” She’s also tapping talent pools like Latino Startup Alliance and “some of the other diversity-focused initiatives” that are supporting founders of color.
— Monique Woodard (@MoniqueWoodard) February 24, 2016
The lack of diversity in the tech community doesn’t just affect black and Latino entrepreneurs, said Woodard; it also determines which products make it to market.
“People have been solving very Silicon Valley problems, and there’s an entire swath of the country that has very different issues and problems,” she said. “I’d like to see a lot more focus and attention on those issues,” she added, noting that healthcare and fintech presented “huge opportunities” because consumers from minority groups have different experiences and concerns.
“You see very different products coming from a young white male who’s maybe in his twenties and went to Stanford, versus a 30-year-old woman of color who went to Howard University,” said Woodard. “You’re going to naturally see differences in things that they’re interested in, the problems that they’ve identified and are trying to solve using technology.”
“BroTech?” (laughs) That’s a funny term, I like it.
Not that Woodard has anything against brotech apps for effortless laundry service and food delivery. “I love those products too, because I definitely use them, but there are other more pragmatic difficulties and challenges that we could be solving,” she said.
Cultivating entrepreneurs with different experiences and backgrounds is a priority, said Woodard, but until more black and Latino investors are taking meetings, change will come slowly to tech.
“It’s important to network your way into the investor community, so you are in front of the right people: angel investors who can write a check, or VCs who can write bigger checks as you grow your company,” she said. Right now, that group includes few investors of color.
“Those people are a little harder to identify, since there are certainly high net-worth black and Latino individuals who could be investing in venture funds,” said Woodard. “I think they don’t see venture as an option for them, because there are so few examples of black and Latino entrepreneurs on one hand, and and few examples of black and Latino limited partners investing in funds.”
“It perpetuates itself,” said Woodard. “If you’re a white male VC, you probably know a lot of other white male VCs and entrepreneurs, and so, when you’re looking for people to invest, you get referrals from other entrepreneurs who happen to be white and male and they refer other entrepreneurs who happen to be white and male.”
We’re going to look beyond Silicon Valley problems like, ‘I need someone to pick up my laundry.’
Even when black and Latino entrepreneurs get to pitch investors, Woodard said they still need to woe hard to overcome expectations. “Expecting a black or Latino founder to look and feel exactly like a white male founder is the wrong lens to be seeing them through,” she said. Many of the entrepreneurs she works with “have gone to different schools, have different networks and different backgrounds,” she said.
“Trying to to pattern-match that against what you’ve known before is a recipe for failure,” said Woodard.
Bringing black and Latino founders into 500 Startups is personally satisfying, but Woodard stressed that it’s simply good business.
“When you look at the numbers, there’s $2.5T in black and Latino spending power,” she said. “I have a fairly clear investment thesis for why we should be investing in black and Latino founders and markets. It’s going to be the next emerging market in the US.”
“Being able to take things that I was already thinking about and translate them into my profile as an investor has been really amazing,” said Woodard. “I don’t think there are a lot of places where I could have done that.”