Community Spotlight: StartOut

Sarah Burgaud (@Sarah_Burgaud) is Chief Operations Officer at StartOut. Before joining the organization two years ago, Sarah was the COO at CALSO, a non-profit organization supporting high-potential social entrepreneurs in San Francisco and Austin and designing training programs for disadvantaged populations. Prior to moving to the Bay Area, Sarah was based in Paris and managed incubation programs supporting social entrepreneurs in 8+ countries. Before her international work, Sarah worked in impact investing, microfinance and investment banking for various firms. She holds a B.S. in Politics, Economics and Social Sciences and a M.S. in Finance and Strategic Management from Sciences Po Paris.

Can you share more about how StartOut was formed and the organization’s mission?

StartOut was founded in 2009 as a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to provide a supportive group of peers, experts and supporters for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. Originally in New York and San Francisco only, the group has physically expanded to eight additional cities and virtually has grown nationwide via its online portal. StartOut has become the largest international organization to support LGBTQ entrepreneurs with 17,000 members across 59 countries.

Our mission is to increase the number, diversity and impact of LGBTQ entrepreneurs and amplify their stories to drive the economic empowerment of the community. We help aspiring LGBTQ entrepreneurs start new companies, support current entrepreneurs as they grow and expand their existing businesses and engage successful entrepreneurs as role models and mentors through online programs and targeted events nationwide.

What are some ways that entrepreneurs can take advantage of StartOut and its various offerings and programs?

We provide inspiration through the role models in our extensive member base and fully support our entrepreneurs when they go about starting and growing their businesses. Think of us as a nationwide accelerator. StartOut provides both a community and direct support for LGBTQ founders to grow their business and be successful in their entrepreneurial endeavor.

Put in more practical terms, we provide direct business support to founders via our mentorship program, experts’ office hours and investor portal. We facilitate connections within our community through our online platform (NetworQ & Forum) and via the 80+ free local and national events we host each year.

Finally, we run a six-month accelerator program, the StartOut Growth Lab sponsored by DLA Piper, which has since the start of COVID-19 turned fully virtual. The StartOut Growth Lab model, free to entrepreneurs, has proven tremendously successful, particularly as our 29 graduated companies collectively raised $59M and created over 250 jobs and counting.

In the immediate sense, in what ways can allies take action and be supportive?

We can’t stress this point enough: We want our entrepreneurs to have a seat at the table — the main one, not the kids’ table. We don’t want to create a parallel economy. Thus, we want and need to integrate allies as much as we possibly can for our entrepreneurs to get equal access to the most critical people — be that for funding, professional services, business development opportunities or hiring.

Allies may take action and be supportive in a variety of ways, depending on their expertise. We are always looking for experienced entrepreneurs and professionals to volunteer their time and experience as mentors, and we ask our mentors to commit two hours per month for six months. We are also always looking for financial support, from corporations to foundations to individuals. As a non-profit, we depend on their generosity to run our programs and ensure that our resources remain accessible and affordable to all deserving members of our community, especially in the current environment.

StartOut recently launched a really interesting report called the “StartOut Pride Economic Impact Index,” which focuses on the impact of high-growth entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented populations (e.g. LGBTQ+, black and female). In your opinion, what are the most surprising findings from the data?

The goal of the SPEII report is to quantify the contributions and the unrealized potential of “out” high-growth LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, for the benefit of the U.S. economy at large. Think of it as a gigantic treasure trove of data on entrepreneurial and investment opportunities.

The integration of underserved entrepreneurs, including the LGBTQ+ community, may have progressed over the last few decades, but their access to critical resources is still far from equal. Some of the most surprising findings include the fact that over two of every three U.S. metro areas with at least 50 high-growth entrepreneurs do not show a single one who identifies as LGBTQ+, which presents major growth opportunities for these metro areas. Or, only about one in ten high-growth LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who would have been expected to close $1M+ in funding actually raised it, illustrating a major opportunity for investors. These findings are very powerful, but also quite sobering and mean that our work seems to be more important than ever.

What advice would you give to investors who want to get involved?

Fundraising is one of the most critical areas where our members are seeking support. We have built a community of investors who are interested in both access to targeted premier deal flow and diversification of their pipeline. We currently work with over 220 institutional and angel investors to whom we present the latest investment opportunities and who have access to our investor portal, an online tool available to accredited investors only that introduces LGBTQ+ startup founders actively fundraising. We strongly encourage all investors interested in supporting a more diverse entrepreneurship ecosystem to get in touch with us and/or register on our online platform. We don’t charge either side of the deal — this is an entirely free tool to fulfill StartOut’s mission.



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