Why Black female CEOs lead 50% of the companies in our portfolio

One thing is for certain as 2022 kicks off – there are billions of dollars worth of opportunities ripe for investment that include women leaders.

Astia alone considered $3.024 billion in 2021 representing 1,103 companies, a 119% increase from the previous year, putting to rest any murmurings of pipeline problems. However, the dismal data regarding venture capital directed toward underrepresented founders, especially Black female founders, remains the same.

While only 2.3% of women-led startups received venture funding in 2020, that figure drops to just 0.64% for Black and Latinx women. Such disparities in venture capital fundamentally exclude women of color from the wealth, job creation and innovation impact that entrepreneurship provides – and continue to perpetuate systemic biases.

Three years ago, we decided to change that. We came to the realization that companies led by Black women were abundant in our pipeline and that the failure to invest was the only failure to be found.

Opportunities in venture are about finding hidden gems. Best-in-class venture seeks out the underinvested, outperforming companies that have the potential to change the world. In our efforts to find those hidden gems – and on the assumption that we had done this years ago – we found an entire class of them right in our midst.

While we were profoundly disappointed to learn that but for race, we probably would have invested in a number of companies that we did not, we were excited by the opportunity to correct something we had complete control and agency over – our own investment decision.

This led to our efforts to dive deep into our own data and identify specific actions that could be corrected as it relates to the intersection of gender and race in our investment activities. Three years on, we have implemented solutions for the critical findings uncovered through the Astia Edge investment pilot, and the results speak for themselves.

As a direct result of this self-examination and course-correction, the Astia Fund portfolio today is 50% Black female CEOs, and 17% of the Astia Angels’ capital deployed after the correction has been invested into companies with Black female CEOs.

The journey to get here did not come without many sobering moments of reflection.

The findings detailed in our new report provide an eye-opening insight into some of the core pieces missing from today’s venture capital model as it relates to racial equity. In a nutshell, pilot company deals took 245 days to close, compared to just 161 days in Astia’s broader women-led portfolio, and deals required more than 60 outside introductions by Astia to attract syndicate investment (compared to fewer than five for others in Astia’s portfolio), as well as over 100 hours of hands-on work on behalf of the Astia team serving as advocates to directly counter investor bias.

The softer data was equally disheartening. Throughout the pilot, Astia found that companies led by Black founders disproportionately came to Astia with less capital invested at the seed and “friends and family” rounds, although they had often accomplished far more with their limited funding. One can safely attribute much of this funding discrepancy to systemic pressures caused by the U.S. wealth gap. Adding insult to injury, investors often evaluated these entrepreneurs on “who else had invested” – a question rooted in bias against those without the access and networks to wealth – versus an appreciation of their progress, grit and potential.

The fact of the matter is that we as the investment community have to take responsibility for the racial disparity in funding and take proactive steps to rethink the model and the status quo. Data shows that 17% of Black women are in the process of starting or running a new business, compared to just 10% of white women and 15% of white men. This is not a pipeline issue. Black female founders exist in huge numbers – we just need to find them, fairly assess them and invest in them.

We have witnessed firsthand the discomfort of this realization, but we now recognize the power of breaking the cycle. We are calling on every venture firm to do the same. It’s a new year and it’s time for a new VC – one that works to everyone’s benefit, not just the few.