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Monday, June 17, 2024

Latino Founders Have a Hard Time Raising Money From VCs

A few years ago, Rocío van Nierop visited the tech accelerator Y Combinator. Nierop is the cofounder and executive director of the advocacy group Latinas in Tech. As she walked through the building, she passed by photo after photo of the teams that Y Combinator had funded. Nierop noticed they were all white men. “Where are the females?” she asked herself. “Where are the brown people?”

The experience led Nierop to publish a database of Latina entrepreneurs who had raised at least $1 million, to show aspiring founders that they existed. But in the years since, the money going to Latino founders has hardly increased. Data from Crunchbase shows that US startups with a Latino founder received just 2.1 percent of venture capital funding in 2021. That’s slightly up from 1.8 percent in 2018. Latinos’ share of early-stage funding, which can be the most critical for underrepresented startups, has slightly decreased since 2018.

Another recent report, from Bain, looked at the top 500 venture capital and private equity deals in 2020. Fewer than 1 percent involved a Latino founder. The report also found that investors cut smaller checks to Latino founders on average, such that Latino founders needed roughly twice as many investors to get the same level of funding as startups with white founders.

“I didn't think fundraising would be as challenging as it was,” says Carlos Hernandez, the founder of Crediverso, a financial education platform aimed at Latinos and Spanish speakers in the US. When Hernandez started raising his seed round last year, he figured investors would like his background in finance and jump at the opportunity to address a need for millions of Latino consumers. Instead, he says, “we came across a lot of investors who just could not recognize the pain points we were addressing.” Other investors told Hernandez they were more interested in funding fintechs in Latin America.

Indeed, funding to Latin American startups has exploded. Startups in the region pulled in more than $15 billion in capital last year, driving more than a dozen Latin American startups to unicorn status. Founders like Hernandez say that’s great but similar investment opportunities exist in the US—and venture capitalists don’t seem as interested in them.

Some VCs have earmarked “diversity funds” to increase their investments to underrepresented founders. But those programs haven’t fundamentally changed anything about the access or capital flowing to Latino founders, says Alejandro Guerrero, a partner at Act One Ventures, who belongs to the advocacy groups VCFamilia and LatinxVC. “The proof is in the data,” he says. “There just aren’t enough people investing in these communities.”

Guerrero believes that because VC deal flow relies on personal networks, many Latino entrepreneurs have a hard time even getting a first meeting. The Latin American founders who have raised huge rounds in the last year often “come from very privileged backgrounds, and are very well-educated,” he says. The founder of digital bank Nubank, the most valuable private startup in Latin America, went to Stanford. So did the cofounders of the Brazilian real estate startup QuintoAndar, which has raised nearly $800 million. The founder of Kavak, which became Mexico’s first unicorn last year, has a degree from Oxford. Hernandez, who eventually raised a $3 million seed round for Crediverso, went to Harvard.

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While it's important to see greater representation of Latino founders, Guerrero says many of these investments reinforce the idea that VC funding is only for people who are already rich, educated, and well-connected. “There’s this sense that someone may be a different color than you, but they went to the same school,” he says.

While Black founders and female founders face similar challenges in raising venture capital, the lack of Latino representation is particularly jarring. Beyond tech startups, Latinos start more business per capita than any other racial group in the United States. They are also less likely than their white counterparts to receive any type of business-related funding, according to a 2021 report from McKinsey.

Closing large funding gaps takes time, and some diversity advocates believe that it will take several more years to see movement. But Guerrero finds it worrying that the numbers on early-stage funding have dropped. “That’s the only place where it truly matters to change this,” he says. The fact that it hasn’t, after years of hand-waving, feels “unacceptable.”

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