2022-23 Olin Brookings Commission

2022–23 Olin Brookings Commission

Well-documented evidence reveals stunning inequity in the distribution of startup capital to innovators who are women or underrepresented minorities. Indeed, these populations attract single-digit percentages of the total available capital to innovators. What are the root causes of this inequity? How does it hurt the innovation community as a whole—in addition to individual founders? What effect does this have on the economy? And what solutions can address it?

The Olin Brookings Commission—Driving Quality of Life

The Olin Brookings Commission is a multiyear initiative, underwritten by The Bellwether Foundation Inc., that convenes world-class WashU Olin Business School faculty, Brookings Institution scholars and industry leaders to explore issues of global significance. Each year, a new commission will direct research and gather data to examine megatrend topics that affect the quality of life in our community. Each commission’s work culminates with a report to national, regional and local decision-makers, summarizing its conclusions and recommending business strategies and policy measures designed to drive tangible impact on the world.

The 2022–23 Olin Brookings Commission

How should policymakers address the woeful gap in startup funding for female, underrepresented minority founders?

A stunning imbalance of startup funding available to founders who are women or underrepresented minorities has inspired the next project by the Olin Brookings Commission. A new eight-member commission—composed of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public policy experts—is now set to develop policy-based solutions for the historically lopsided funding. Consider:

  • Women represent 50.5% of the US population, yet recent reports suggest only 2% of venture capital money went to female founders in 2021.
  • Individuals identifying as Black or African American represent 13.6% of the US population, but Black founders received only about 1% of venture financing in 2020 and 1.4% in 2021.
  • Individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latinx represent 18.9% of the US population, yet data from Crunchbase, a database of startup funding, suggests Hispanic or Latinx founders receive only about 2% of venture funding.

Project organizers will distill research that shows how this inequity in the distribution of startup capital not only shortchanges underrepresented founders but the vitality of the entire innovation community.

The work of the 2022-23 commission will include a national conference of researchers presenting work focused on unearthing the root causes for disproportionate funding and informing any potential public and private policy solutions to address the yawning gap.

In the next 10 months, commission members will collect and distill data and industry input over several meetings—including the November conference—with plans to release a comprehensive report of its findings and recommendations by April 2023.

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Retrieving Data


Lori Coulter Morgan DeBaun Akeem Shannon
  • Lori Coulter, co-founder and CEO of Summersalt
  • Morgan DeBaun, founder and CEO of Blavity and advisory board member for the Black Economic Alliance
  • Akeem Shannon, CEO and founder of Flipstik

Policy influencers

Charli Cooksey Andre Perry


Christine Aylward Gaurav Garg Martin Hunt

Research team and faculty conveners

Doug Villhard Daniel Elfenbein Dedric Carter Gisele Marcus Ming Zhu Wang
  • Doug Villhard, professor of practice in entrepreneurship, academic director for entrepreneurship
  • Daniel Elfenbein, professor of organization and strategy
  • Dedric Carter, Olin’s professor of practice in entrepreneurship and WashU’s vice chancellor for innovation and chief commercialization officer
  • Gisele Marcus, professor of practice
  • Ming Zhu Wang, a fifth-year Olin PhD student in strategy

Academic conference committee

  • Daniel Elfenbein, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Sekou Bermiss, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Melissa Graebner, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Jorge Guzman, Columbia University
  • Amanda Sharkey, Arizona State University

Project timeline

  • September 2022: Kickoff in St. Louis to level set, build community knowledge base and shared understanding
  • November 2022: Academic conference, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC. Review data, interact with academics and policy experts
  • February 2023: San Francisco working paper session to finalize recommendations, test recommendations on regional entrepreneurs
  • April 2023: Launch event at Brookings


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