How LGBT+ entrepreneurs can build and benefit from networks
We talked to four LGBT+ business community stakeholders about their approaches to networking and how diverse startups can make connections that grow their businesses.
The U.S. has celebrated LGBT History Month each October since 1994. It’s a time to honor achievements and recognize the importance of representation.
LGBT+ representation has increasingly come into focus within the business community in particular—from awareness of diverse business certification to accelerators that focus on supporting LGBT+ startups. One example: the StartOut Growth Lab, which is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.
But even as the LGBT+ business community grows, entrepreneurs within it face challenges. Finding mentors or peer organizations to learn from is crucial, say four business leaders we spoke with for this Q&A. Here, they reflect on how their professional networks have helped them and offer pointers to LGBT+ business owners eager to build their own.
- AJ DeLeón, CEO, Innovare
- Chris Davidson, Head of Growth Lab, StartOut
- Brad Baumoel, Global Head of LGBT+ Affairs, JPMorgan Chase
- David Barbee, Head of LGBT+ Business Initiatives, JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking
What common challenges do LGBT+ startups experience when scaling?
DeLeón: Among the top challenges is having mentors or role models to talk to. There are so many questions around setting up the right team, knowing what your business model is, how you’re going to make money, what your go-to-market strategy is and how you're planning for the long term.
Davidson: Resources, education and access to capital (including human capital) are all challenges.
Baumoel: LGBT+ entrepreneurs face many of the same obstacles as any startup that’s scaling. But an added difficulty is they may feel like they must hide their identity to access opportunity. One StartOut study found, for example, that 37% of LGBT+ entrepreneurs chose not to self-identify when fundraising.
Why is a professional network important?
DeLeón: You need to have a community of champions around you who can help you understand and assess the risks that you’re going to face and help you problem-solve. As an entrepreneur, you must invest in your company and your personal brand. People need to know what you’re doing, that you can be an ambassador for your mission, that you can catalyze interest.
Davidson: There are reasons why people from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, etc. are successful beyond their raw skills. It’s because they’re surrounded by other people with resources. LGBT+ entrepreneurs should recognize those resources don’t have to be financial; they can also be intellectual, like a robust network.
Barbee: Being intentional about how you build your network is critical. Your ability to leverage the right people when you need them, based on their experiences and expertise, will prove immensely valuable in growing your business.
Have you had a career or business mentor? Or ever been a mentor yourself?
DeLeón: I’m very lucky to have mentors like Megan Kashner, a professor of social impact at Northwestern (who also just launched Colorful Capital). I’ve even cold-called people who I think could help me. Look for people to mentor you; don’t underestimate the power of connections.
Davidson: I met my mentor walking around Soho in London. We had a similar intellectual understanding, as he left a large banking organization to be more entrepreneurial. He’s given me heart, strength and confidence. And as a mentor, I encourage entrepreneurs to really bring their full authenticity and humanity to the conversation.
Baumoel: One of the biggest challenges I had that a mentor helped me understand is that opportunities are rarely just presented to you. You have to seek them out and work on them. I impart this lesson as a mentor, teaching mentees to accept failure as an opportunity, not as something to shut down or run away from—and they’ve wound up excelling, advancing and doing all the things I hoped they would be able to do.
AJ DeLeón, CEO of Innovare
How can LGBT+ business owners find a business mentor or access coaching resources?
Davidson: StartOut is a great resource for finding a mentor and for networking. StartOut is an organization of over 25,000 members in 52 countries designated to help elevate entrepreneur businesses. Additionally, every major city has an LGBT+ chamber of commerce. Local resources are always useful places to start.
DeLeón: StartOut is a terrific place to begin, as well as Gaingels.
Barbee: The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) is incredibly helpful. Plus, the NGLCC has tons of local and state-level chambers that entrepreneurs can get involved with.
Baumoel: There are so many ways to connect with others. It doesn’t need to just be LGBT+-focused; others who are similarly minded can help in immeasurable ways. Trade and other nonprofit organizations are a good start. Find venues where you can meet like-minded people and invest in them.
What advice would you give to young LGBT+ business owners trying to make an impact?
DeLeón: As an LGBT+ founder, I’d remind my peers that we are uniquely qualified to be successful entrepreneurs precisely because of our intersectionalities. We understand what it’s like to be underestimated or perceived as less-than. LGBT+ people have had to deal with that in a very real way throughout our lives. We’ve had to navigate unsafe spaces to not only survive but thrive.
Davidson: Keep doing the hard work that you’ve been doing most of your lives. Whether it was difficult or not growing up queer, you’re fighting the good fight. There are resources and opportunities out there for you.
Baumoel: Let that passion that fueled you to start the business in the first place fuel you to continue growing. Don’t let small setbacks slow you down; let them fuel you so you succeed the next time.
Barbee: The reality is, as an LGBT+ entrepreneur or business owner, we know there are more unique challenges and obstacles you’re going to face. So be relentless in pursuing growth opportunities for your business, nurture supportive relationships in building your network and tackle adversity with perseverance.
How JPMorgan Chase is helping
JPMorgan Chase strives to be intentional in the way it helps LGBT+ businesses and entrepreneurs. This includes working with StartOut, the NGLCC and the Techstars Founder Catalyst Program, as well as building platforms like Capital Connect and the Office of LGBT+ Affairs, among other efforts.
One such initiative we're proud to announce is JPMorgan Chase partnering with the NGLCC to certify 100 LGBT+ business enterprises. Chamber membership and certification fees will be sponsored by the Office of LGBT+ Affairs and distributed through the NGLCC. Certification instructions can be found here, and visit this page to access more helpful resources.
We're committed to serving and uplifting these organizations not only because it's good business sense, but because it's the right thing to do.
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