By: Kristen Plymale, Global Expansion Lead of the Venture Café Global Institute

Ask most people to envision an innovator – more often than not, they will picture the classic image of a lone genius furiously coding away in a dark and messy dorm room.

Whether it be Zuckerberg or Gates this stereotype has permeated pop culture. It makes a great story and is definitely meme-able (as shown), there’s just one problem: It’s all wrong. The reality is, the typical profile of a successful innovator is completely different. This view of Zuckerberg is the exception, not the rule. So, if you think you can’t be an innovator because you’re not like one of these guys, I’m here to convince you otherwise.

Meme of four "people who left school" (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates) and "me if I left school" image of person working in a fast food restaurant

At Venture Café, a global community for innovators of all backgrounds, we believe “innovation is for everyone,” and here’s the data that proves it.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of entrepreneurs at the time they start their company is 42 years old, which is twice as old as your typical undergrad. But what about the most successful startups? Surely, they are started by young founders and that’s why the stereotype exists! In short, no. When considering the top 0.1% of startups based on growth, the founders had an average age of 45 when they started their companies. This age remains the same for startups that successfully exit through IPO or acquisition.

When venture capitalist Jennifer Neundorfer was describing her firm, Jane VC, to Crunchbase last year about their decision to focus
on funding female founders, she said: “We’re going to invest in an underlooked asset class that is overperforming.”

A solid investment strategy considering that women only receive about 2% of venture capital, yet the number of unicorns with one or more female founders has been on the rise. In 2019 alone, out of the 78 companies in the United States that reached unicorn status, 27% of them were founded by women. Neundorfer has a point.

People of color lag drastically behind in receiving funding with just 1% of venture capital going to black founders. Similarly, Latino founders receive 1.8% of funding while Middle Easterners barely faired better with 2.8%. Asians were the second-largest backed group with 17.7% of venture capital, while the rest, a whopping 77.1% went to white founders.

But just because these entrepreneurs aren’t getting funded, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Over the last two decades, black women have become the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs, owning nearly 60 percent of all black businesses.

If you find this inequity extremely frustrating, you’re not alone. In 2019, Serena Williams publicly launched her new venture fund, Serena Ventures, which focuses on early-stage investments in companies led by women and people of color.

Serena Ventures is joined by a new class of investors committed to funding entrepreneurs of color such as Harlem Capital, Backstage Capital and Kapor Capital.

Ok, I believe you. I’m an innovator. Now what?

● Go to PHX Startup Week! Check out sessions from experts in your area, but also check out a few that seem like they have nothing to do with you, because you never know, maybe they do… (also- don’t miss our Kickoff Event on 2/17!)
Follow #yesphx for all things innovation & Phoenix- The hashtag is most active on Twitter, but use the # wherever you get your social media fix.
Surround yourself with diversity. Diverse people, diverse industries, diverse functions, diverse hobbies, diverse challenges.
Stay engaged with the community. Check out Venture Café Phoenix when it opens this fall with the weekly Thursday Gathering.
Start. Your. Business. So now that I’ve convinced you that you are an innovator, tell us in the comments below: How do you want to change the world?

Venture Café is a worldwide movement.

Venture Café connects innovators to make things happen. What initially sprouted from a single location now has drawn together scientists, creatives, developers and civic-minded leaders in 11 cities around the world.

Through inclusive programming, spaces, storytelling and engagement, Venture Café Global Institute is focused on building a global community of communities. Venture Café Phoenix will launch in Fall 2020.