Startups

Backstage Capital got $1M from Comcast to invest in underrepresented founders

The investment comes from the corporate giant's Startup Engagement team, which runs its early-stage accelerator programs.

Arlan Hamilton speaks at a Venture Café in 2019.

(Technical.ly photo)

Backstage Capital, the California-based venture capital firm investing in underrepresented founders, already had a few Philly connections.

The firm had set up a Philly arm of its three-month, multi-city accelerator program in 2019, and we learned Philly venture capitalist Josh Kopelman was one of the program’s funders. Backstage founder Arlan Hamilton has also spoken at a handful of Philly Tech Week events.

But we now add another connection to the list: The city’s broadcast giant, Comcast Corporate, announced a $1 million investment in the firm Wednesday.

The investment was driven by Comcast NBCUniversal’s Startup Engagement team, which is behind LIFT Labs, its SportsTech Accelerator and Comcast Ventures. The $1 million will go toward Backstage Capital’s Opportunity Fund, which exclusively funds early-stage startups led by women, people of color and LGBTQ+ founders. The investment is one of the fund’s largest, it said in a statement, and is part of Comcast’s $100 million diversity, equity and inclusion initiative which launched in 2020.

Danielle Cohn, VP of startup engagement and head of LIFT Labs, told Technical.ly her team got connected with the firm at a 2020 PTW event, where Hamilton talked about the approach the venture capital firms use to get resources into the hands of people from overlooked (or “underestimated,” as Hamilton puts it) groups. But this investment is the first time the two entities are formally working together.

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“With more than 60% of the entrepreneurs across our accelerators coming from underrepresented backgrounds, this partnership with Backstage Capital will both help fuel strategic investments among a diverse startup ecosystem and our future innovation pipeline,” Cohn said in a statement.

Backstage’s portfolio includes nearly 200 companies, and is one of the largest venture portfolios of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ founders, per the firm. In addition to capital, the fund provides support through mentorship, fundraising and access to Backstage Capital’s community and investors.

“We are excited to partner with Comcast as an investor in our newest fund,” said Brittany Davis, general partner at Backstage Capital, in a statement. “We hope their investment causes other organizations to take note and take their lead. Comcast’s capital will have a huge and direct impact on the founders we support and ultimately goes toward increasing equity within the innovation ecosystem.”

Six companies made the initial round of Backstage’s local accelerator, but the program has been inactive since. When asked about the status of the program, Backstage Capital General Manager Christie Pitts said via email: “We ran an accelerator cohort in Philly in 2019 with plans for expansion in 2020. COVID changed our plans dramatically, as startup programs and fundraising resources moved online. We’re excited about the portfolio companies we are continuing to support in Philly, like WashLB and others.

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