A common misconception about entrepreneurship is that you have to live on the coasts or need external funding to build a business. Too many of us don't have easy access to capital or connections to funders. Some of us don't have generational wealth passed down from our grandparents or parents. And because of oppressive systems like racism, the racial wealth gap is widening.
"I don't know another Black queer entrepreneur who is not working multiple jobs and trying to hustle and be creative about how we're going to get our income," said Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, who started Moon Mother Apothecary, a line of herbal products to facilitate healing. "I think the fact that we start from so far behind is just deeply tied to societal inequities and the disproportion that we experience as people of color in terms of our economic opportunities."
When entrepreneurs flaunt the amount of venture capital they've raised or when we read stories of a small-business owner using family connections to land their biggest vendor, this deters too many of us from starting our own venture.
Yet, traveling across the country last year, I met incredible people who are making their own way and building thriving businesses despite the barriers in their lives. As a queer business owner myself, I've been especially touched by the stories of entrepreneurs who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. They defy traditions, get creative, and thrive--no matter what. I've learned that our embodied experience of being queer, trans, and gender nonconforming in this country has actually made us better entrepreneurs. It's sharpened our creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience.
"Innovation is just a fancy word for survival," said Ava Pipitone, the co-founder of HostHome, which offers short-term housing to people experiencing homelessness, who identifies as trans. "The most innovative people are the people who have to innovate to get their needs met."
For many of us, hearing the stories of other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who have faced struggles similar to ours is a powerful source of encouragement. It also makes us feel less alone. Finding our community, especially in trying times like today, is critical to our success.
This is at the core of my reasoning for starting a podcast called Business Curious, which highlights the stories of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who are succeeding. As part of my role as the entrepreneur-in-residence for GoDaddy, we've been deeply invested in making opportunity more inclusive and bringing awareness to the issues that exist in entrepreneurship.
"Because we're queer, because we're immigrants, we are innately trained to ... overcome," said NiK Kacy, a gender-fluid, queer, and transmasculine entrepreneur who runs their own luxury shoewear company. Through our conversation, NiK reminded us that our adversity makes us stronger and more adept to build thriving businesses that serve us, our families, and communities.
"I am a gay Black man who owns a business, and everything that my parents fought for, I'm fighting for that," said Nick Yeast, who owns the Nick Ricardo Collection, a line of gender-neutral fragrances. "When I think of my parents and what I'm doing now, I truly am fighting the battles that my parents didn't get to win."
With every episode, I go deep into the stories of diverse queer, trans, and gender nonconforming entrepreneurs. We talk about the challenges they've faced, the successes they've enjoyed, and the businesses they've built. These initial episodes include the stories of NiK Kacy, Ava Pipitone, Nick Yeast and Suhaly Bautista-Carolina--all of whom I quoted above.
We must all work toward leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs, no matter their identities, and shine a light on the small-business owners who represent the true diversity of our country. This includes elevating the voices of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, in every part of the year, not just as an activation for the month of Pride. The work of more inclusive and equitable entrepreneurship systems requires year-round effort, whether we're in the communities we serve or allies.