The day is finally here. Your two minutes of fame begin as you strut on stage in your startup’s freshly printed T-shirt and pitch your vision for disruption to a room full of investors eager for a fund-returning home run. For the last few months, everything you lived-breathed-slept was about working toward this day.
But this day won’t work the same for everyone. Particularly if you are a Black woman. Or over 50. Or you didn’t attend an Ivy League school. Or if you have a non-European accent. Or if you reveal you like to play “hoops.”
If we truly want to address the disparity in investment of young white male entrepreneurs compared to literally everybody else — especially Black and brown founders — we need to reexamine, and possibly discard, one of the most common and glorified rites of passage for founders seeking funding: demo day.
Whether unconscious or not, the process is rife with discrimination and bias.
Right now there are arguably more seed funds than ever claiming they want to be more inclusive, and not just invest in mostly young, white, straight, cisgender male founders.
If that’s true, then let’s be intellectually honest about how demo day’s premise — that it’s creating an equal playing field for attracting investment — is flawed. In an ideal world, a founder would use their time on stage to sell investors on a vision: one where their startup nearly monopolizes a market and moves humanity forward, all while making a ton of money for everyone involved, and that’s all investors would focus on. But the sheer pageantry of it all encourages snap judgments of everything from ethnicity and gender expression to educational pedigree. Whether unconscious or not, the process is rife with discrimination and bias.
To understand where we are now, we first need to understand how demo days came to be. Once upon a time, founders relied almost entirely on warm introductions to investors. If you didn’t know somebody who knew somebody — you were outside…