Why We Need to Dispel the Myth of the White, Male Tech Founder

A Conversation with Seth Levine, Co-Author of “The New Builders”

Congratulations on the well-deserved praise that The New Builders has garnered! Why did you want to write this book?

Thank you! We are thrilled with how well the book has been received. And grateful especially to the many New Builders we’ve heard from who found the book inspiring and hopeful. My co-author, Elizabeth MacBride, and I share a view that our notion of entrepreneurship has been narrowed in ways that don’t reflect the diverse group of people starting businesses today and is counterproductive to our understanding of entrepreneurship more generally.

Many more women and people of colour are starting businesses than ever before and they are the fastest growing groups of new entrepreneurs.

I see this very clearly in my day job as a venture capitalist. Technology and high growth companies have taken over the narrative of entrepreneurship. While there are many amazing companies being created in the tech world (and being backed by venture and other similar forms of capital), far more businesses are being started that are not “tech”. The mainstream business press doesn’t seem to like to tell their stories and we both felt that was unacceptable. So we thought we’d use our platform and voices to highlight some of the amazing people starting businesses today, how that group has transformed over the past 40 years (many more women and people of colour are starting businesses than ever before and they are the fastest growing groups of new entrepreneurs), and how we as a society need to pay attention to them if we are to retain the entrepreneurial vibrancy that has been the hallmark of our economy for decades.

Who are the New Builders of the economy, and why is it essential that we understand their stories?

New Builders are the next generation of entrepreneurs in America and, in fact, the world. They are women, they are people of colour, and they are immigrants. Many are older than most people picture when they think of an “entrepreneur.”

Jessica Vilas Novas and Gururaj (“Desh”) Deshpande

Our systems of finance and support aren’t keeping pace and we’re doing a poor job of funneling money and resources to New Builders.

The truth is that white males are the minority of business owners today. But our systems of finance and support aren’t keeping pace and we’re doing a poor job of funneling money and resources to New Builders. The result is that fewer companies are being started and many are struggling to gain momentum because they lack the resources that would enable them to do so. Small business remains a critical engine in our economy (in the US small businesses comprise 40% of GDP and nearly 50% of employment; small businesses are even more important to economies around the world).

What are the biggest misconceptions around entrepreneurship that you’re hoping to dispel through this book?

Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship isn’t limited to the tech enclaves of the coasts. It’s not solely the purview of white men. It’s not just businesses that are trying to scale and become so-called “unicorns”.

As a seasoned venture capitalist and entrepreneur, were you surprised by what your research uncovered?

We started this work thinking that we’d write a relatively light-hearted book about interesting entrepreneurs who were working outside of the mainstream eye. What we found was a changing entrepreneurial landscape and an army of New Builders working to better themselves, their families, and their communities. At the same time we uncovered some troubling facts about entrepreneurship today which is that, despite what you may have read, we’re losing our entrepreneurial edge. Fewer and fewer businesses are being started and most lack the resources to become sustainable. These facts should alarm everyone.

Your book paints quite a bleak picture of the systemic barriers facing Black and female founders — particularly when it comes to accessing finance. What will it take to change the status quo?

This is a critical question and in many respects is what the book is all about. It’s hard to give an answer in this space other than to say that Elizabeth and I are optimistic about the future of New Builders (in part because the New Builders themselves are so optimistic). I’d encourage people reading this to grab a copy of the book and dig in!

Despite the deeply entrenched barriers that exist, Black women represent a rapidly growing group of entrepreneurs in the US. Does this make you hopeful for a better future?

One of the Black women we interviewed told us that from her perspective, Black women have always been forced to make do with less. It is a sad commentary on the systemic racism that has shaped our country, but it is also a hopeful commentary on the resilience of the people starting businesses at rates higher than anyone else in the country. We’re hopeful because they’re hopeful. But that doesn’t mean we don’t urgently need to change our systems of finance to better support these and other New Builders.

Tyra Banks writes a profound foreword in your book, thanking you for giving voice to the changemakers and innovators who make up the new entrepreneurial landscape. Why did you feel it was important to ask her to write the foreword?

I’m so glad that you asked about the forward by Tyra because it’s one of my favourite parts of the book. Tyra is FIERCE (to co-opt the word she uses as a rallying cry in the foreword). We knew Tyra had a powerful story and we thought that having someone with her stature write the forward would encourage people to stand up and take notice. I think it worked!

Can you share one or two stories of the New Builders that you’ve profiled in the book?

It’s hard to pick out just two — we introduce many New Builders in the book. Of course, there’s Danaris Mazara, whose story we tell throughout the book. She started a successful bakery business in Lawrence, MA with only $37 in food stamps. She now employs over a dozen women in Lawrence and has a thriving business. Hers is a story of grit and determination that is almost unparalleled in our experience.

Danaris Mazara

Why do you believe that entrepreneurship is so vital, particularly in our post-Covid landscape? Can it really change the world?

I’ve always believed in the power of entrepreneurship to lift up individuals and communities. It is a common bond among people across the world — people who desire to make a better life for themselves, and to do so based on a belief in their own abilities. I’ve seen this not just in communities around the US but in my work globally with entrepreneurs — especially in the Middle East and in markets in Africa, two places I’ve personally invested significant time, energy, and resources.

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