Sexism, homophobia, and unconscious bias continue to plague the startup ecosystem. Not only is it harder for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs to raise money from early-stage angel and venture capital investors, according to research from Chicago Booth, but almost every LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur has encountered unequal access to key resources needed to advance their business.
According to a 2005 study from Syracuse University (note there is also a fundamental lack of research into LGBTQIA+ discrimination), being LGBTQIA+ adversely affects a founder’s ability to engage suppliers, obtain licenses, market their businesses, hire employees, and approve loans from commercial banks.
With the month of June reminding us that Pride is and always has been a fight for equal rights and opportunity, we are highlighting some of the achievements of LGBTQIA+ founders, technologists, and innovators—all trailblazers who created space for themselves and others in an industry that largely lacks diverse voices.
Gabrielle Levac and Ivonna Dumanya, co-founders Fathom
After experiencing major athletic injuries while playing sports at university, Gabrielle Levac and Ivonna Dumanya had a vision for how AI and wearable technology could bring a level of precision, personalization, and accessibility to athletics that would make preventable injury a thing of the past. They founded Fathom (a Helm portfolio company) with a passion to foster change for athletes and the world.
Stephanie Lamkin, co-founder, Blendoor
A Stanford engineer and an MIT MBA graduate, Stephanie Lampkin co-founded Blendoor, an inclusive recruiting and people analytics software designed to mitigate unconscious bias in hiring. Blendoor enables companies to hire based on merit and not molds by using performance data in their algorithms, enabling some clients to increase the yield of women hires by 2x and underrepresented minorities by 6x.
Greer Wilk and Shaina Denny, co-founders, Dogdrop
Greer Wilk and Shaina Denny had a simple but lofty idea: make pet parenthood more convenient and accessible. Together, they launched Dogdrop, a dog daycare for urban millennials (and Helm portfolio company) that offers convenient, flexible, and tech-enabled decentralized memberships. With an anticipated 25+ locations, pet parents should never be too far from a Dogdrop no matter what city they are in.
Andrea Minkow, Consultant
After working in politics for leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, Andrea Minkow is now the secret weapon and advisor for second-career women entrepreneurs and CEOs. A business strategist for companies like Nike, the New York City Marathon, Unilever, Intel, Stanford University, and Under Armor, Minkow understands what makes both businesses and people thrive—whether it’s politics or business, brand impact or human connection.
Angelica Ross, founder, TransTech
Self-taught computer programmer Angelica Ross is the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a co-working, co-learning community dedicated to empowering trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer people and allies with practical, career-ready skills. In 2016, Ross produced her own drama web series called Her Story that tells the tale of two transgender women living in Los Angeles. The series gained critical acclaim at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, winning Best Breakthrough Series.
Brandy Hoffman, co-founder, Volition Beauty
Brandy Hoffman and Patricia Santos,co-founded Volition Beauty in 2016, an online collaboration platform of beauty lovers, designed to share ideas about innovative skin and body care products. The platform enables fans to submit ideas for products to vote on, bringing the best ideas to life.
Hayley Sudbury, founder, WERKIN
Founded on the belief that inclusive leaders unlock peak performance, Hayley Sudbury started WERKIN, a people analytics platform using behavioral science to promote diversity in the workplace to help people to master inclusive leadership behaviors. Hayley was named one of the top 100 global LGBT+ executives on the OUTstanding list for 2020.
Isabella Giancarlo, co-founder, Fluide
Co-founded by Isabella Giancarlo to fight against the norms of marketing makeup to women only, Fluide is a mission-driven beauty brand designing vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics for all skin shades and gender expressions. Isabella also founded Tart NYC, a branding and creative studio based in New York City.
Leanne Pittsford, founder, Lesbians Who Tech
Founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech, Leanne Pittsford’s start-up offers programming summits and opportunities to give visibility and opportunity to LGBTQIA+ women, non-binary and trans individuals in the tech sector. With more than 40 city chapters worldwide, Lesbians Who Tech is the largest LGBTQIA+ community of technologists in the world.
Corianna and Brianna Dotson, co-founders, Coco and Breezy
Founded in 2009 by twins Corianna and Brianna Dotson, Coco and Breezy Eyewear offers optical glasses and sunglasses that don’t sacrifice form or function, with customers like Rihanna, Prince, and Lady Gaga. In July 2019, The Helm launched its first capsule collection with the founders, releasing two limited-edition aviators inspired by Gloria Steinem. Read about the collection and Coco and Breezy’s founder story here.
Rachael Rapinoe, co-founder, Mendi
Co-founded by former American soccer player Rachael Rapinoe and Kendra Freeman, Mendi is pioneering a sports cannabis brand (featuring a variety of products ranging from CBD Gummies to THC-infused night tinctures), enabling athletes to recover more efficiently through innovative products that disrupt the status quo for pain relief.
Alicia Garza, co-founder, Black Lives Matter
Alicia Garza holds many titles: activist and co-creator of Black Lives Matter, author of The Purpose of Power, principal at the Black Futures Lab, strategy and partnerships director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, host of the podcast Lady Don’t Take No, and a co-founder of Supermajority. A strategist and organizer for over two decades, Garza has spent her career combating anti-Black state-sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people.
Laura Moffat and Kelly Sanders Moffat, co-founders, Kirrin Finch
Founded by Brooklyn-based couple Laura Moffat and Kelly Sanders Moffat, Kirrin Finch crafts menswear-inspired clothing designed to fit women, transgender men, and non-binary people—meeting the growing demand for gender-defying fashion.
Rachel Berks, founder, Otherwild
Founded by Rachel Berks, Otherwild is a design studio, store, workshop, and event space located in Los Angeles. As a retail storefront, Otherwild features a vast multidisciplinary community of artists and designers, including an ethically-made name-brand line of apparel and home goods, and an array of refillable bulk home cleaning and personal care products, and no-waste reusables.
Haily Marzullo, founder, Humankind
Haily Marzullo is on a mission to change the way humans shop for swimwear. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are often forced to choose a gender-specific style that is neither comfortable nor functional, so Humankind crafted a new approach: gender-neutral, mix-and-match pieces designed to make everyone feel confident in their swimwear. Now offering a limited-edition Pride Collection.
Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzales, co-founders, Tomboyx
In a country where almost everything is ascribed to a binary gender, co-founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez started Tomboyx to provide quality underwear that transcends the confines of size and gender. Addressing the confines of gendered intimates, Tomboyx creates masculine women’s underwear and loungewear that defies the status quo (and “makes underwear shopping a hell of a lot more fun”).
Rooshy Roy, co-founder, AAVRANI
Rooshy Roy is the co-founder and CEO of AAVRANI, an Indian-inspired skincare brand. As a first-generation Indian-American, Roy’s upbringing was enriched by gatherings within her community, where she often re-created the ancient skincare rituals of India, using ingredients like turmeric and neem. In search of an easier way to access all-natural treatments, Roy was inspired to create AAVRANI, which modernizes India’s time-honored rituals for all to enjoy.
Maggie Connors, founder, Besito
Stanford MBA graduate Maggie Connors founded her Los Angeles-based cannabis company Besito with the focus of creating an inclusive space for women, BIPOC, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2019, Besito launched a partnership with Equity First Alliance, a non-profit that works toward repairing the harms caused by the War on Drugs, committing 1 percent of Besito profits towards supporting the EFA’s mission to expunge prior cannabis charges.
Sarah Berks, founder, MINNA
Based in Hudson, New York, MINNA is a tight-knit team of artists, creators, and thinkers who believe in creating beautiful and ethically made home products. In collaboration with master artisans in Central and South America, MINNA’s patterns, colors, and textures are meant to be mixed, matched, and layered for today’s modern home. Designs are informed and inspired by Feminist art, the Bauhaus, traditional craft, and vintage textiles.
Anna Xiques, founder, ROAR
Curated by women for women, ROAR is a femme-focused pleasure shop that empowers women through sex positivity and education. Anna Xiques founded her company with the belief that there is a direct link between sexual health and overall wellbeing, and that understanding our sexual desires and needs (and how to communicate them) can lead to more fulfilling sexual experiences.
Linsey Myriam Bain, founder, BAIN
Design Director and founder Linsey Myriam Bain doesn’t like shopping, so she created a bag that you only need to buy once. Sleek and sustainable, BAIN bags are produced in limited quantities. Where possible, organic wovens and Oeko-Tex certified cotton are used to reduce the need for pesticides, with raw materials like Nappa leather made from overstock sourced from a local tannery.
Brianna Lipovsky, founder, Maison d’Etto
A former agency executive and brand builder, Brianna Lipovsky founded Maison d’Etto in response to one of her greatest passions: scent. Her gender-neutral creations were developed with the intention of offering a new modern take on luxury fragrance.
Dr. Janelle Briggs, co-founder, Stackhouse
Dr. Janelle Briggs is revolutionizing the real estate business with Stackhouse, a Tucson, Arizona-based container living company specializing in eco-friendly, elevated living alternatives to the rising cost of urban housing. Briggs aims to change how people own and finance a home, building urban residential towers engineered to lift mobile, container homes in and out enabling homeowners the freedom to go where life takes them.