I have enough privilege to be an entrepreneur
Founding a company takes grit, but it is a lot easier when the founder is born with privilege. As an entrepreneur, I have seen how my background — of which I had no choosing — has given me a better chance than others.
There are several ways that my privilege has allowed me to become an entrepreneur.
I was able to build relevant software and business skills through formal education and internships. I had the luxury of not worrying about money during my late teens and early twenties. Engineering degrees in Australia are relatively affordable and I had parents that were able pay for my housing. I was able to focus on my studies because I didn’t need to work too many hours to pay the bills. And the reason I was even able to attend a good university was because I went to a private high school and studied the International Baccalaureate. This wasn’t easy, but my privilege made it easier.
I own a house. Housing is a massive cost in Australia, with typical Sydney rent costing >A$30,000 per year. My income in the first 12 months of starting a business would not cover my rent, and no banks are willing to provide an affordable mortgage to early stage entrepreneurs. I can afford to take bigger risks because most of my basic needs have already been met. It wasn’t easy, but my privilege made it easier.
I can relate to rich, male investors. Access to capital has allowed our business to invest in talent that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. Raising money has been made easier because our investors relate to the problem we are solving (soul-draining meetings), whereas a female entrepreneur with a pitch in the fashion sharing economy needs to spend much more energy convincing investors the problem exists. It wasn’t easy to raise money, but my privilege made it easier.
Reducing inequities in entrepreneurship is the right thing to do, and there are many institutions making strides towards a more inclusive world of entrepreneurship. I am proud to associate with a few of these:
Australia’s education sector is far from perfect, but it is admirably fair compared to North American institutions. The HECS/HELP system allows students to pay for their subsidised education once they start earning enough income — without outrageous fees and interest.
Antler, our first investors, have strong diversity in their own team and in their portfolio. Alongside our company, they have also invested in female-led startups in fashion (Mys Tyler) and sustainability (Trace).
“41% [of Antler’s portfolio companies] have a female co-founder and of those women, 78% hold the position of CEO
Antler, March 2020
The City of Newcastle, my local government, is making efforts for innovation to be more inclusive, including A$10k grants for people to relocate here. The tech scene here mirrors the cultural identity of the city that blends engineering heritage and beach life: anyone can build the future and everyone deserves a fair go.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Global Student Challenge was the first time I was financially supported to explore and build innovative concepts. Students from all over the world shared ideas in Hong Kong, with a fully-paid trip that opened our eyes to a career path beyond corporations or governments.
Tilting the playing field
“I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”
As ever, there is always more work to be done. There are still barriers to many people that want to become entrepreneurs, particularly people from lower-income backgrounds. We need:
- Affordable access to credit, especially for housing. New business owners may not be as credit-worthy as salaried employees, but government loans similar to the educational HELP system could assist those starting businesses.
- Fewer unpaid internships. People that can afford to take unpaid internships are either privileged or desperate. It is an unfair practice. [Disclosure: we are hypocritically offering unpaid internships as of March 2021 but hope to end this when we can afford to]
- Venture capital funds with practices that improve diversity and inclusion. Quotas are a controversial option that would make it harder for people like me. It might make life harder for me, but my privilege has already made life easy enough.