Meet the VC team changing the start-up landscape

25 Jul 2018

From left: Brittany Davis, Lolita Taub, Christie Pitts and Arlan Hamilton, all from Backstage Capital, at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The start-up scene, unquestionably, has a diversity problem. This is something that VC founder Arlan Hamilton and her team at Backstage Capital intend to correct.

“When I first met Arlan, [I knew] that she was out to change it all.”

Christie Pitts, general partner at venture capital (VC) company Backstage Capital, and co-founder of Backstage Studio, stated this with a gleeful grin as she recounted with enthusiasm the potential that Arlan Hamilton’s ambitious venture has to tackle the issue of diversity in tech at its root.

Backstage is bringing about substantial changes to the entire ecosystem as opposed to isolated incidents of lifting up individual founders.

It is this founding vision that attracted Pitts, Lolita Taub and Brittany Davis to join Backstage, and none have looked back since, as they explained in a panel discussion at Inspirefest 2018.

Pitts met Hamilton through Twitter while she was working in corporate investment at US telecom company Verizon.

Davis is the director of deal flow at the company, “a channel where we can evaluate and identify new great opportunities [for] investment”. She began her career in investment banking, a sector she admits she spent too much time in, before going on to business school in Harvard. This inspired her to found her own company, eventually leading her to progress into VC funding.

This series of transitions proved a protracted eye-opener to a reality Backstage hopes to address: the fact that for black female founders, it’s very difficult to drum up capital.

For Taub, who worked at Cisco and IBM before transitioning into start-ups after one of her own projects failed to take off, the difficulties minorities face are not abstract. As a woman of colour from a disadvantaged background, it was a stark reality that bias frequently manifested in people who attempted to remind her of her own ‘limitations’. She transcended these doubts, allowing her to now be in a position to lift up others.

All the women spoke of the mission of Backstage – best encapsulated in the firm’s ambitious (and successful) pledge to fund 100 start-ups with underrepresented founders – with an almost evangelical excitement about the potential to effect real and lasting change.

“It’s really just the beginning,” Davis gushed. “We are just scratching the surface … we have access to thousands of companies that are very high-potential, founders of colour, women, LGBT founders. Now, they have access to funding that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

It is seeing this, Davis assured, that thoroughly puts the myth of a pipeline problem within tech to rest. The talent is out there, she reminded the audience, and now Backstage is hoping to give them the opportunities they need to progress.

To hear more about how Backstage Capital works, check out the panel talk with the team above.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Updated, 9.15am, 27 July 2018: This article was updated to correct the job title of Christie Pitts.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic