Visible Figures members Julia Collins and Cheryl Contee, with founder Stephanie Lampkin. Photography: Kelsey McClellan

Into the Valley

An Exclusive Club of Black Women Is Disrupting Silicon Valley

Started as a listserv, Visible Figures is a support network for Black women in tech

OneZero
Published in
5 min readFeb 26, 2020

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This article is part of Into the Valley, a feature series from OneZero about Silicon Valley, the people who live there, and the technology they create.

AAfter 14 years of working in tech, in 2016, Stephanie Lampkin decided to create her own version of a good ol’ (white) boys club. Lampkin, whose startup Blendoor makes a tool for rooting out unconscious bias in hiring, envisioned the organization as a way for Black women startup founders to share tips and resources for thriving in Silicon Valley. As she puts it, it would be “a very sort of exclusive girls club.”

Black women are severely underrepresented in tech. And it’s particularly rare to come across a Black woman tech founder. In 2016, digitalundivided, a nonprofit that supports Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs, estimated that startups with a Black woman founder had, on average, only raised $36,000. Only 12 of those startups had raised at least $1 million.

By contrast, the market research firm CB Insights has found that the average failed startup has raised around $1.3 million.

It wasn’t as if funding were tight back in 2016: Juicero — a fresh juice machine startup that would flop spectacularly — had just announced more than $100 million in new funding. Lampkin, meanwhile, knew several Black women who’d founded health care and education technology companies aimed at solving serious real-world issues who were struggling to find capital.

It felt, she says, like they were always pleading for the resources they needed. “I felt like we were begging — begging for money, begging for mentorship, begging for resources,” she says. “Given the caliber of women, it seemed like people should be coming and begging us.”

Started as a listserv, Lampkin created Visible Figures in 2016.

The answers, she knew, weren’t more credentials or know-how. Many of the deals signed in Silicon Valley weren’t based on resumes, but on professional…

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Drew Costley
OneZero

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.