For the past five years, Lauren Maillian was tasked with asking hard questions. Questions like: How much venture funding goes to Black women and Latina founders?
She was first chair of the board and then later CEO of the nonprofit Digitalundivided, where she oversaw the organization’s biennial reports known as ProjectDiane, which tracked the progress of underrepresented women founders in the startup ecosystem.
She led teams that examined biases in decision-making, studied economic inequality and the manifold ways in which sociology interacts with venture capital. Having such data has been monumental, as it provided hard facts to show the discrimination that such founders face.
In her role, she struck partnerships with JPMorgan, AMEX, AWS and the Nasdaq Foundation while quadrupling the nonprofit’s revenue, finding ways to make more money to conduct more research.
“We were able to leverage the power of data and drive change and advocacy in a unique way,” she told TechCrunch+, adding that she believes Black women and Latina founders are the future of innovation and technology.
“I’ve been the Black woman founder; I’ve been underestimated. I’ve been second-guessed. I’ve been to all those places. I know what it’s like to be doubted, and I know what it’s like to feel as though you really need a third-party data point to point to that’s not just yourself.”
Before Digitalundivided, Maillian was a founder and one of the first Black women to start an early-stage venture firm. As an angel investor today, she has backed Partake Foods, the online community Diem and the rug company Ruggable. For nearly two decades, her career has been intertwined with culture and innovation.
She says she was into investing before it was a “buzzword.”
“I’ve always loved to study and invest in brands,” she says. “I’ve looked up and amassed a $5 billion market cap with my personal investment portfolio.”
This January, Maillian stepped down from her work at Digitalundivided and decided to invest in herself. She says she has never taken a break in her long career, not even as she dealt with being a single mother. But even in the midst of this breather, Maillian is mapping out what’s next.
I caught up with Maillian recently to talk about power in the industry, the changing landscape for Black women and Latinas, and what her next act will be.
(This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.)
TC: After five total years at Digitalundivided and 20 years in the industry, when did you know it was time to finally move on and start your own thing?
Lauren Maillian: I was working 70-plus hours a week and I knew that I needed to take a step back. I accomplished more than I ever thought I would in this role. I didn’t know exactly what I was coming into and I wanted to see if my approach to social impact, social change, investing, economic development and narrative change was possible.
Looking back, I think I exceeded my expectations and I’m proud of what I see in the ecosystem happening for all the founders I served while I was there. But I also know that there are so many other ways for me to continue serving and collaborating with the ecosystem.