Last week, SXSW announced the 45 finalists for its upcoming pitch competition in March. The list in many ways looked as expected: There were quite a few AI startups and many companies based in California. But it wasn’t 100% business as usual. The list encompassed a much more diverse group of founders pitching compared to an average VC’s portfolio.
Sure, it wasn’t a perfectly diverse pool by any means but the number of women and founders of color is noticeable enough to be notable. This isn’t a one-off, either. Many pitch competitions both big and small tend to showcase a more diverse slice of the venture market disproportionate to how these groups are represented in funding data.
Pitch competitions are ingrained in the fabric of the startup ecosystem, and in many ways they can help level the playing field for underrepresented founders. It offers an avenue for funding in lieu of a friends and family round. It can also be a catalyst for underrepresented founders to get in front of potential investors and VCs who maybe wouldn’t have seen their pitch otherwise due to bias or a lack of a shared network. But of course, it doesn’t come without downsides.