Last year, 98 percent of VC money went to men, the vast majority of whom were white.

This is unsurprising, given that the National Venture Capital Association says 89 percent of partners at venture capital firms are men, the vast majority of whom are white.

The truth is, venture capitalists tend to fund the people and ideas that look like them; they have unconscious bias the same as everyone else. The problem is that the lack of diversity in the VC field has striking implications on the rest of the startup ecosystem.

A lot of the traditional startup game has relied on venture capital, and it's an understatement to say that it been a biased industry. According to one study by digitalundivided, for example, since 2009 black women have raised just 0.0006 percent of the total $424.7B in venture capital for tech companies.

That's considerably less than even 1%.

In addition to this being a shameful diversity issue, it's poor business strategy. According to the Harvard Business Review, women alone control over $20 trillion in consumer spending globally. VC firms are missing out on a massive opportunity by not seeking out or funding women-run and -targeted business ideas.

Case in point: Janica Alvarez, CEO of Naya Health, hated the "machine-like" quality of modern breast pumps. She was in the perfect position to engineer a better one, given her 10+ years of experience in biotech operations and research.

Her invention was a huge success. She and her husband raised $6.5M in no time from small institutions and angel investors. And the more the money came in, the more she saw how much of an opportunity there was to scale. But guess what happened once she started going to (primarily white male) venture capitalists?

"When it came to scaling the company and seeking funds to do so, we hit a wall," Alvarez said. "Our product is unique to women."

It's time to tear the wall down.

The phrase "equity-based crowdfunding" might not sound sexy, but it has the potential to prompt a tectonic shift in the startup and fundraising industry.

Equity-based crowdfunding startups like StartEngine are taking advantage of the passage of the JOBS Act to help startups get real money in the door. That real money comes from real people, not just the elite at Sequoia or Kleiner-Perkins.

Title III of the JOBS Act, also known as the CROWDFUND Act, went into effect in 2016. Its purpose was to facilitate investment in early-stage startups. Basically, it allows everyone (regardless of level of wealth) to invest and get equity in startups. It's a large part of what facilitates StartEngine's mission, which is "to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams by providing democratized access to capital."

Here's how it works: StartEngine is a platform similar to Kickstarter, based on blockchain. What does that mean? It means when you invest in startups on the platform, you can do so securely with crypto, and you get equity instead of a t-shirt.

One of the remarkable things about the platform itself is looking at the minimum investments. You might think they'd be in range of the thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wrong. One of the startups, MedX, has raised $3.8M on StartEngine. The funds have come from 1,795 investors, with a minimum investment of ... wait for it ... $420.

It used to be that venture capitalists were the only ones hearing about brilliant startup ideas; they were a bottleneck in the system. Now, if you're a regular person who wants to invest in a high-growth concept like virtual reality, nanotechnology, or artificial intelligence, you can peruse the options on a site like StartEngine, take your pick, and put in whatever you want. And you will get real equity in return.

"The venture capital [model] ... is inherently sort of a white male majority model," says Nell Derick Debevoise, founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital. Having a more diverse set of founders and ideas available to an equally diverse funding population could mean big change, fast.

It could also mean practical solutions to entrenched problems that have never been touched. For example, Darlene Gillard, chief community officer at digitalundivided, says, "If I'm a black woman, I might have an incredible idea about hair weaves, but investors who are typically white and male are not going to understand that, even though it's a multibillion-dollar industry and there's opportunity there," says Gillard.

The under-representation of women and minorities of all kinds represents, among other things, a billion- to trillion-dollar business opportunity. And places like StartEngine can help level the playing field on both sides--startups as well as investors.

It's an exciting time to get out of Silicon Valley.

Published on: Oct 31, 2018