When the Shark Tank producers first asked me to be a guest judge on Season 7, I turned them down. While I am a fan of the show, and an active investor, I find more comfort behind the camera rather than out front. But when I thought about who would be watching the episode, the young black boys and girls who are desperately seeking role models that look like them, or the computer science major who is the only black student in his program, I realized the responsibility I had. It is the same responsibility Daymond John took on when he decided to step in front of that camera as well.
So many black kids aspire to be entertainers or professional athletes because those are the only role models they see that look like them. There are only 300 jobs in the NBA, but an endless amount of opportunities as an entrepreneur. With enough hustle, entrepreneurship opens doors to a world of opportunities.
But, you can’t be what you can’t see. And you can’t invest in talent that you aren’t looking for.
The lack of black entrepreneurs is nothing new. The networks we are part of and the ones we choose to tap into, or not, are fundamental to this reality. I have seen this proven time and again in my own endeavors.
At my new venture capital firm, Cross Culture Ventures, 80 percent of the companies we have invested in are led by black founders. When we took applications for SMASHD Labs, my new startup accelerator, 60 percent of them were from minority founders. This is a stark contrast to the overall landscape of startups, where only 1 percent of VC-backed founders are black. Which is not surprising when you consider the fact that 1.5 percent of positions on investment teams are filled by African Americans. With the U.S. on track to become majority-minority by 2040, the low rate of investment in minority entrepreneurs is not a reflection on the number of great minority lead ventures, but rather, a reflection of the networks we access.
I invest in black-led startups not because of a sense of charity. I make those investments because of the basic principle of supply and demand, and the reality that black entrepreneurs typically lack the network to have their deals become bid up and overvalued. But their ideas are as brilliant, their work ethic as strong, and their courage as impressive as entrepreneurs who receive the majority of Silicon Valley’s attention.
I see this robust pool of black talent because of my network and my team’s network. These entrepreneurs see me and my investments in other successful entrepreneurs and feel that they are welcomed as creators, innovators and leaders, that they have a place in entrepreneurship, and that they have a real shot at being invested in. The diverse talent is out there. I see it all the time. And in order to reveal it, we must transform the face of success.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a Shark. I am inspired by the diversity of the entrepreneurs that come into Shark Tank and the ability of the show to reach all Americans. I hope that my appearance on the show will inspire my peers, fellow investment professionals, to see that there is an entire talent pool they are not tapping into and begin to proactively seek out black talent to create more inclusive and equal networks for our future generations.