From 1 of the 12 black women ever to raise $1M+ in VC
Colin Keeley: I saw the stat that you are about to become the 12th black woman ever to raise a million dollars in venture capital, which is insane.
Star Cunningham: Yeah it is insane. It’s a list that I will be on, but it’s a list that I have mixed emotions about being a part of.
Colin Keeley: How do we change that?
Star Cunningham: Well we have to address it in a number of ways.
First and foremost the individuals who are in positions of power in venture capital and tech tend to be those who are caucasian males and until they see it as an issue that they can help with and until they align themselves with individuals who want the help, it’s not going to change. The majority of us who are founders of minority-led and female-led startups, we’re out there begging, we definitely would love to have you come and help us and support us.
The statistics are there because individuals invest in people that they’re comfortable with. How likely is it that individuals have had an interaction with someone who looks like me when all of your peers and associates in your entire work atmosphere are individuals that look like you. So until caucasian men stand up and address the issue and say “I’m here and I want to help” and believe you me they are there. I would not be sitting here, but for, you just saw one stick his head in, the caucasian males who are standing up on my behalf. They are there. We need more. That’s how we address the issue.
The second way we address it is individuals like me. It’s not new. When I was on my college campus, I was one of the only. When I grew up, I was one of the only and now as I’m going through my career at IBM, traveling the world, I was one of the only so this isn’t new for me. As I go out tomorrow, I have an opportunity to speak to Black Girls Code. I go out and I encourage young girls to take up STEM type careers so that the more numbers that we have that will help us turn the tide to make certain that the list of 12 becomes similar to that list of individuals that can no longer be counted because there are so many.
Colin Keeley: Is that how you think we solve the diversity in tech problem today then? We go way early on and start getting girls interested in STEM at a young age?
Star Cunningham: Absolutely, if you think about my experience for example. It was Malcolm Gladwell that came out with the 10,000 hours. Because of my early exposure to science and because I had parents where it was okay not to want to play with Barbie dolls and it was okay to want to do things that were science related and it was okay to like computers. That was instilled in me so early on that now as I’m in this field that is not very diverse, I am still very comfortable. Very comfortable with who I am and what I know and what my experiences have been. Comfortable, but not to the point of being overly confident and overbearing.
I believe that the relationship I had with my dad early on was very significant. I was not some type of little princess that he wanted to protect all the time. He let me feel those hard knocks and I think that that really makes a difference in the person I am today and why I chose STEM and why I chose entrepreneurship.
This is an excerpt from a Tech In Chicago podcast episode. To listen to the whole episode and catch up with all Tech In Chicago episodes, click here.
This transcript has been lightly condensed and edited.
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