Covers of business and finance magazines tend to be the realm of high-profile men and the occasional celebrity, but Stephanie Mehta wants to do her part to change that.
The relatively new Fast Company editor in chief nabbed for the cover of the title’s October issue Arlan Hamilton, the black and queer woman who founded venture capital firm Backstage Capital and earlier this year started the “It’s About Damn Time Fund” with $36 million, which will go exclusively to backing start-ups by black women. Hamilton is not even a borderline household name like most of Fast Company’s covers this year, which have included the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Kate Hudson, Spotify chief executive officer Daniel Ek and Twitter ceo Jack Dorsey — but that’s what Mehta wanted.
“Our mandate is to cover the future of business and when we reached out to Arlan and got a better idea of what she was trying to invest in [with her funds], we were very aligned,” Mehta said.
She admitted, too, that in thinking about the cover she specifically wanted someone who looked different from most magazine covers. Hamilton fit the bill and had the added allure of an “outpouring of support” for her fund from the venture capital and Silicon Valley community she’s managed to break into. Mehta also sees Hamilton as the real future of Silicon Valley, noting “the innovators of the next 20 years aren’t going to be the same as those from the last 20.”
Still, there’s no arguing that the realms of finance, venture capital and Silicon Valley are still overwhelmingly male, and research has found only about 2 percent of the $85 billion in VC funding last year went to women-led start-ups. But Mehta said she’s “an optimist” when it comes to women in Silicon Valley. She pointed to the rise over the last few years of female investors like Melinda Gates, Jennifer Fonstad and Theresia Gouw and said many of those involved in Hamilton’s fund are from “central casting” in Silicon Valley culture.
“I honestly think that even five years ago, someone like Arlan would not have been able to attract the type of investors she has,” Mehta said. “One could argue that those investors should go out and invest directly in [the type of] founders that are being underfunded, but I’m hugely optimistic that these Valley stalwarts are putting money in her fund.”
As for the Silicon Valley model as a whole — which seems to have early funding flowing more freely than ever for certain types of techie, scalable ideas, not to mention mindshare among young innovators and business owners — Mehta said “it could be argued that the pendulum has swung too far” in its favor. “The bubble is very seductive,” she said, recalling her first quarterly trips out to Silicon Valley as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in the mid-Nineties. “Even on Sand Hill Road, the weather is beautiful, the trees smell great, everyone there is so smart and driven and ambitious and positive.”
But the bubble, at least the one that surrounds the image of Silicon Valley, is ready for a poke. Mehta said she has no doubt that the next culture-changing innovation will come from a woman.
“She’s probably already out there and she may not be at the point where she’s ready to talk about what her platform is,” Mehta said, “but I’m convinced the next billion-dollar business will be founded by someone who doesn’t look like or have the same background as the founders we have already.”
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