Challenges of Black Inventors in Startups and New Businesses
Many Black innovators report feeling isolated, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) classes. They also face unconscious bias and occasional hostility in high-tech workplaces. Two inventors who are Black describe frustration with being defined by their success instead of their character. But they also note the importance of diversity and inclusion. Here are some ways they overcome these challenges. Read on! Listed below are some strategies to get started.
There is a growing number of new businesses, and new technologies, backed by venture capital firms that target underrepresented groups. The total funding for startups founded by people of color reached $1.8 billion through the first half of 2021, a four-fold increase over the same period last year. The number of Black venture capital investors is increasing, too. In fact, more than $1.4 billion was invested in startups led by Black founders in the first half of last year. Several factors have spurred this increase in funding, and entrepreneurs and investors are citing a number of positive developments as reasons for the trend.
One of the causes of underrepresentation is racial bias. Minority inventors face many obstacles, including unconscious bias and even occasional hostility. In spite of this, there is a correspondingly greater chance that a child of underrepresented minority will grow up to become a great inventor. Inequity is not just morally objectionable; it also has practical implications. For example, teams that are more diverse in terms of gender and race often produce higher-quality results. Among these results are higher patent commercialization rates, greater market shares, and more satisfied customers.
The symposium’s recommendations also include acknowledging the historical role of Jim Crow segregation in the underrepresentation of Black inventors. Museums, for example, must intentionally collect and interpret the stories of Black inventors in order to provide a more inclusive picture of America’s technological history. And, for the Smithsonian Institution to truly recognize the contribution of Black inventors to the nation’s technological history, museums must be intentional about their collection and interpretation of Black inventors.
The lack of patents for Black inventors is a legacy of slavery. The Confederate states had no legal protections for inventions made by enslaved people. Jefferson Davis tried unsuccessfully to patent a propeller invented by an enslaved man, Benjamin Montgomery. Today, the legacy of this legal discrimination still haunts Black inventors. Despite these challenges, a number of Black inventors are inspiring to people with their ideas and innovation.
Lack of risk tolerance
In a recent report, the US Patent and Trademark Office acknowledged that there are disparities between the number of Black inventors and their white counterparts. The report also found that the number of women inventors was lower than that of men. There have been efforts to address this disparity, but progress has been slow. In 2019, lawmakers introduced the IDEA Act, which would require the patent office to collect demographic information about applicants and make it public. But the bill has not yet seen any further action.
The US remains far behind other countries when it comes to connecting with Black and minority entrepreneurs. The major VCs are notoriously risk averse, and look for existing patterns of success before investing. As a result, minority and Black would-be entrepreneurs have a difficult time attracting funding. But there are some solutions that can help increase access to capital for these would-be innovators.
Lack of diversity
Despite the recent events highlighting the lack of diversity among black inventors in startup and new businesses, the problem is not new. Many innovators are trying to diversify their workforce, but their efforts have been met with limited success. Facebook’s recent hiring ban and a lagging black employee count at Apple have prompted a review of their diversity initiatives. Even though the company has increased its black employee count, only three percent of its leadership positions are held by blacks.
The VC industry has long been under fire for ignoring the problems of race in its workforce. While there are increasing numbers of minority-owned firms, the number of Black investors in startups remains relatively low. In fact, there are only a few black investors at top US firms. Despite this, Black entrepreneurs are fighting back against homogeneity by demanding more diversity in their investment teams. Andreesen Horowitz and Softbank have pledged to increase the number of black venture capitalists.
Creating a diverse workplace doesn’t have to be an uphill task. Diversity is about changing attitudes and behaviors. In a research study conducted by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, the authors found that women on corporate management boards were more likely to work in companies with a diverse population. The study found that female executives at these companies produced higher average returns on equity and lower gearing. In other words, women in tech companies were more likely to work with a diverse staff than those at a predominantly white firm.
Investing in diversity-led startups and new businesses is a smart business decision. In the United States alone, there are about $4 trillion dollars in consumer purchasing power from minority groups. While this is huge, it’s only a fraction of what could be spent on research and development. By investing in the future of underrepresented groups, the business world will benefit. Just like investing in diversity in other aspects of society, this is the right way to go.
Increasing diversity among black inventors in startup and new businesses is essential for America’s innovation economy. The current system is broken. Increasing diversity among scientists and engineers is the only way to increase the innovation level. It’s also important to expand university technology transfer infrastructure, including technology transfer. These institutions should encourage women and minorities to become innovators. By combining academic training and technical training, women and minorities can play a more significant role in the innovation economy.
There is a growing need to address the isolation of Black inventors in startup and new business environments. In recent years, the societal trend has been toward a disproportionate number of white inventors. In the United States, more than half of all startup companies are led by white founders. However, the current environment is more hospitable to White founders, largely due to institutional racism.
A recent report from the patent office highlighted the persistent underrepresentation of Black inventors, as well as women and Hispanic inventors. Although some progress has been made, the trend has remained stubborn. Legislators have introduced the IDEA Act, which would require the patent office to collect demographic information from new patent applicants and publish the results. The bill, however, has not yet received much attention, despite the many benefits it brings.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, the Silicon Valley startup community is responding to the call for racial justice by expanding access to venture capital. The murder of Floyd prompted calls for better economic opportunity for Black inventors, as well as greater racial equality. Today, the median household wealth of white Americans is 7.8x higher than that of black households. In contrast, black household wealth comprises only four percent of the nation’s wealth. This is a stark contrast in a world where racial and ethnic diversity are increasingly correlated.
As a result of this history, Black inventors have been marginalized. Despite being a minority group, their contributions to innovation have been overlooked due to the lack of a formal patent system. They were often denied the opportunity to share their ideas with the public, and their innovations are not acknowledged in the media. Even today, some Black inventors are unable to receive funding because of this discrimination.
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