Bellwether-funded project tackles lack of funding for minority women founders – The Source


According to recent reports, in 2021, only 2% of venture capital funds went to female business founders. Similarly, founders identifying as Black/African American or Hispanic/Latin each received only 2% or less of total venture capital last year.

“This funding shortfall not only hurts underrepresented founders, but also hurts the vitality of the entire innovation community,” said Doug Villhard, director of the entrepreneurship program at Olin Business School at the University of Washington to St. Louis.


Developing policy-based solutions for the historically imbalanced financial support available to underrepresented minorities and women will be the focus of a new initiative led by Villhard and scholars from the University of Washington and the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based nonprofit public policy think tank.

The team also recruited a nine-member commission – made up of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public policy experts – to oversee and guide the project while providing feedback and ideas from the perspective of practitioners. innovation. Together, they hope to address important questions such as: What are the root causes of this inequity? What impact does this have on the economy? What solutions can fix it?

“Rather than just talk about the past, this commission intends to identify meaningful public policy solutions to generate fairer funding, unlock more potential and further stimulate our economy,” Villhard said.

Continuation of key partnership

The project is the second supported by a $750,000 grant to the Bellwether Foundation’s Olin Business School. The grant provided for three separate annual commissions – formed jointly with Brookings – tackling “megatrend” issues affecting the quality of life in the region and across the country.

The Olin Brookings Commission’s first project was completed in April. Participants developed an artificial intelligence-based tool for reporting suspicious shipments of prescription opioids and developed policy recommendations designed to enable use of the tool by federal agencies, law enforcement and industry.

In November, the commission will host a national conference of scholars showcasing work focused on uncovering the root causes of disproportionate funding and developing potential public and private policy solutions to close the yawning gap. The conference will take place at the Brookings Institution. Daniel Elfenbein, professor of organization and strategy at Olin, will chair the conference.

Informed by experienced innovators

In addition to Villhard and Elfenbein, the project will be led by WashU faculty members Dedric Carter, Olin Professor of Entrepreneurship Practice and WashU Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Chief Commercialization Officer; and Gisele Marcus, practice teacher.

A key part of Bellwether’s funding requires student participation. Ming Zhu Wang, a fifth-year doctoral student in strategy at Olin, will organize related research, as well as five entrepreneurship fellows pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, who will help with planning, research and feedback.

Committee members include:

  • Christine Aylward, Founder and Managing Partner at Magnetic Ventures
  • Charli Cooksey, Founder and CEO of WEPOWER
  • Lori Coulter, co-founder and CEO of Summersalt
  • Morgan DeBaun, Founder and CEO of Blavity and Advisory Board Member of the Black Economic Alliance
  • Gaurav Garg, founding partner of Wing Venture Capital
  • Lisa Morales-Hellebo, co-founder and general partner of REFASHIOND Ventures
  • Martin Hunt, CEO of Swanlaab USA Ventures
  • Andre Perry, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
  • Akeem Shannon, CEO and Founder of Flipstik

Over the next 10 months, members of the commission will collect and distill industry data and feedback during several meetings – including the November conference – with the intention of releasing a full report of its findings and recommendations by April 2023.


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