Arlan Hamilton could tell you the story of how she started up Backstage Capital four years ago and gave up a promising career in the music business to pursue her dream of founding a venture capital fund for people who, like her — a black, queer woman without a college degree — were outsiders in Silicon Valley. She could tell you how she went through her savings trying to get Backstage off the ground, and how she was homeless for several months while she tried to land that first investor. But she has told that story many times by now. Instead, she wants to talk about what happened next.
“My ideal world is where we’re all working together and equal, not a world where one group has more power.”
When Backstage started in 2015, Hamilton’s plan was to invest in 100 high-quality startups — all run by women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color — by 2020. She reached that goal in May 2018. By then, Backstage had more than 20 employees and had invested more than $4 million in those 100 companies — whose products range from food and clothing to apps and software — with the majority of those investments being between $25,000 and $100,000. Backstage had also established a second $36 million fund, set up a mentoring program, and built a network to offer a support to entrepreneurs who had interesting projects but didn’t receive funding.
“We invest in less than three percent of what we see,” Hamilton explains. “All of it matters, not just the people we’re backing. When I see that Delane Parnell of PlayVS (a league for high school Esports) raised $30 million, I remember we missed him. That haunts me. But I don’t say that’s a loss. That’s a win for Backstage. All boats rise.”