A New Start with StartOut
For Brian Richardson, the Path to Equality Begins with Economic Justice
By Meaghan Branham
Teach for America high school teacher. Press secretary on Capitol Hill. Communications manager at Google. Deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Health. Midwest director at Lambda Legal. The list reads like a Justice-League-level lineup of some of the most influential roles in the country. But this isn’t a list of people — it’s a list of positions held by just one person: Brian Richardson.
The latest on that list? Chief executive officer of StartOut, a national nonprofit organization serving LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, where Richardson began in March.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I just wanted to make the world a better place. I’ve always been searching for the best way to make that happen,” Richardson recalls, connecting the dots of his wide range of experience. At the heart of every choice, there was that drive. “It’s what led me to business school, where I thought there were likely skills and opportunities and lessons to learn from the private sector that could be directly applied to public service and nonprofit management.”
He was right. Today, Richardson is using those skills in his new role. He is the latest addition to a team at StartOut that has been working for over a decade to empower LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs through capital, community, tools and programs.
Empowerment and Equality
“In our society, if you don’t have financial security and economic opportunity, you can’t have equity or equality,” Richardson says. “And as a community, we need to find the best ways to leverage our resources to support one another so we all have the same economic opportunity and the freedom that comes with that.”
The work Richardson does with the help of his team at StartOut is guided by those principles. Whether it’s the organization’s mentorship program, its capital program connecting founders to investors, or its online directory designed to help founders connect with other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, every tool is another step toward empowerment and equality.
“When we talk about LGBTQ+ justice, we are talking about economic justice,” Richardson says. “And when we’re talking about economic justice, we’re talking about LGBTQ+ justice. Because they are one and the same.”
By the Numbers
One of those tools is the StartOut Index, a first-of-its-kind resource compiling and sharing data about LGBTQ+ business owners. While the tool is still new, the data collected so far is revealing discrepancies and inequalities that have existed for centuries.
Here are some of the figures: $2.1 trillion has been invested in entrepreneurs over the past 20 years in the U.S.
Of that $2.1 trillion, only 0.5% has gone to companies founded and led by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. Nationwide, about 7.1% of the population identifies as LGBTQ+.
When LGBTQ+ founders do receive funding, they receive only 84 cents for every dollar received by their straight and cisgender counterparts.
Even with these barriers, LGBTQ+ founders outperform when compared to straight, cisgender founders. LGBTQ+ founders create 36% more jobs, 114% more patents and 44% more exits than their straight counterparts.
“Even though we do more with less,” Richardson says, “we are still underfunded, simply because of long-term institutional discrimination. And this is the LGBTQ+ community at large. The numbers are even more stark when we talk about BIPOC queer founders, or transgender founders, or female-identifying founders. We have to continue to do our work so we can help our entrepreneurs overcome those barriers.”
Another barrier for LGBTQ+ founders? Representation. Richardson believes that is not only one of the biggest challenges the community faces, but also the area where StartOut shines the brightest.
“One of the things that’s so important to us is helping to tell the story of our founders who have beat the odds, who have succeeded, so other founders can see that they’re not alone, so others can see that there are pathways to success,” Richardson says. “That’s what really sets us apart: the fact that here is a safe space, where you can be your authentic self and you’re celebrated for it, and you can meet and discuss with other people and get to know other cultures in the community, who are facing many of the same challenges and barriers.”
With all of the impressive titles he has held and successes he has helped nurture through his work, there’s one role that stands out in particular for Richardson — one that has put that lifelong goal of making the world a better place into a new perspective: father.
“My 9-year-old, Nico, is my greatest inspiration,” he says. “The privilege of being a parent and trying to create a better, more equitable world for him than the one I grew up in — that’s really what drives me.”
To learn more about Startout, visit startout.org.