Inspirefest snapshot: This woman is the new face of venture capital

6 Jun 2018

Arlan Hamilton on stage at Inspirefest last year. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

A black lesbian woman and therefore a Silicon Valley outsider, Arlan Hamilton is raising $36m to invest in black women founders.

Hamilton is very much the kind of person that white male venture capitalist investors from Silicon Valley would overlook. This is mostly because she does not look like them and didn’t go to the same schools as them.

But Hamilton, who heads up her own venture capital firm, Backstage Capital, is on a mission to address an anomaly whereby only 0.2pc of venture capital funding in America goes to black women.

‘You just have to break ground for things to be made’

Future Human

Hamilton, who appeared onstage at Inspirefest 2017, is returning to Inspirefest in a few weeks.

Her new fund will invest in black women founders for $1m at a time. Her previous $5m fund took 1pc stakes in early-stage start-ups.

Rewriting the rules

In raising the new $36m fund, Hamilton’s Backstage Capital has collected support from some of the giants of investment in Silicon Valley, including David Rose, Marc Andreessen, Aaron Levie, Swati Mylavarapu and Crystal English, to name a few.

She recently quipped in a tweet: “They’re calling it a ‘diversity fund’. I’m calling it an IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund.”

Hamilton is currently the subject of the Gimlet podcast series StartUp, co-hosted by Alex Blumberg and Lisa Chow, which is chronicling her efforts to change the power structure in Silicon Valley.

In many ways Hamilton is out to rewrite the rulebook of venture capital and is very different to the typical white male tech investor following a pattern of investing in founders who are also white and likely to be Stanford-educated.

Instead, Hamilton is hellbent on changing an industry where not only are less than 10pc of investors actually women, but for women of colour just 0.2pc of funding goes in their direction.

Nothing about Hamilton reflects the ivory towers of Silicon Valley’s elite.

She cut her teeth in her early 20s managing the US tour for a band from Norway she discovered on the internet.

She became a publisher at 24 with her title Interlude, which became a global business with thousands of worldwide subscribers, as well as a blog – Your Daily Lesbian Moment – which attracted 50,000 readers a month.

Hamilton is under no illusion that her crusade to change the ratio when it comes to investing in women, especially black women, will be an uphill struggle.

She told last year’s Inspirefest: “You just have to break ground for things to be made.”

For inspiration from extraordinary thinkers, catch Arlan Hamilton and more at Inspirefest in Dublin on 21 and 22 June. Get your tickets now.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years