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Bringing our own chairs to the table

My experience at LTX Fest inspired me to reflect on my personal journey starting DiveIn as a Latino founder, on the incredible talent in the Latinx community, and on the barriers to more success. The Trump era has been hurtful for our people. From a rise in hate-crimes to cages at the border and all the way to unequal access to opportunity, we're facing huge challenges. But I was reminded by the love, intelligence, and determination our community has for each other over the last few days. Sí se puede!

“I declare that I will stand, I will vote, I will be counted, and my people will be heard.” 

These words from Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation, were some of the first that greeted me when I arrived at LTX Fest this week. LTX Fest is a celebration of the Latinx community in tech and philanthropy and took place over 4 days last week in San Francisco and Oakland. There were great talks, performances, and presentations on the incredible work Latinx folks are doing every day. LTX fest also provided a space to be vulnerable, to be heard, and, above all, to be inspired. The experience of attending and having the privilege of speaking on the final day really made me think about my personal path and the opportunities and potential the Latinx community has. 

As a Latino founder, the road can be lonely and, at times, isolating. It doesn’t always have to be, but sometimes it just is. Especially in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, in the daily flow of doing business, I operate in a tech startup world that is generally a white space. I’m lucky and thankful to get a lot of value out of most of the experiences I have, and I truly love my job, but navigating in an environment where you see so few people like that look like you definitely takes its toll. 

One of the things that I find really rewarding, but don’t do enough of, is connecting with other founders and just talking openly about our work and challenges. But one challenge I find that’s particular to my experience is being taken seriously in the first place. This doesn’t seem to come up as frequently for white founders, but when you’re the only person of color in the room during a pitch or a conference, the first question that comes to mind is ‘do I even belong here?’ Self-doubt creeps in and you begin to wonder if you’ve already been written off before you’ve even spoken. That doubt and feeling that you’ll have to work twice as hard for a fraction of the recognition is the last thing you want to think about before meeting potential investors. You learn to adapt but it’s still never easy. 

Sadly, so many POC just don’t make it into the room to share their ideas that are just as valuable as everyone else’s. Business opportunities are left on the table and the status quo continues to persist. The numbers speak for themselves: less than 1% of investments in the US go to companies started by Black and Latinx founders. The figures for female and non-binary founders of color are even more grim.

Events like LTX Fest remind me that we as a community truly do have the talent and the drive to demand a seat at the table. It should go without saying, but when you’re frequently the only person of color in so many work situations, being surrounded by talented, driven, and incredibly intelligent POC is just plain inspiring and invigorating.

I’ve come to view the 1% figure as not just depressing, but an insult. It’s an insult because it demonstrates the intentionality behind the unequal access to opportunity that exists in our society. Especially in a state like California where Latinx folks make up around 40% of the population, that 1% figure shows that the business world at large is de facto refusing to mobilize enough resources to minority-run businesses. The doors aren’t being opened because we aren’t knocking. They’re not being opened because institutional racism and bias are locking us out. 

Startups are obviously incredibly tough and it’s often hard to take pride in the small wins and progress when there’s always so much left to do. But if there’s one accomplishment I was reminded of at LTX Fest, it’s that Shannon and I, as founders of color, should be proud that we’re even in the arena. With DiveIn, we’re making a product that streamlines local civic engagement and, even though the road ahead of us is long, we’ve beaten odds that never should have existed in the first place. So I’m going to commit to taking more pride in the fact that we’re not knocking on the door and waiting for somebody to open it. We’re kicking in the door in and making ourselves heard. 

Special shoutout to all the amazing organizers who put on LTX Fest 2019 and for inviting me to speak. To learn more and support valuable work to uplift entrepreneurship in the Latinx community, be sure to check out the Kapor Center, Latinas in Tech, and the Latino Community Foundation.


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