Why Identity is Important

27-club-nyc-mural.jpgSource: Michael A. MacKenzie

What makes you who you are? What factors have shaped your world view? In the spirit of this thought exercise, here are a couple facts about me:

  • Raised by my Mom and Grandma, who both came to the country as immigrants and worked multiple jobs to make ends meet
  • My first language was Spanglish
  • Grew up in a low-income household in Northern VA, which has the highest concentration of Bolivian immigrants in the country
  • Spent more summers than I can count in Bolivia (I consider Cochabamba my second home)
  • Part of a rapidly growing demographic of Americans that are mixed race (in my case, Latino & White)
  • Fun fact –> my first nickname was “Choco” (hence, Choco VC), which is a moniker I earned at the Enrique Happ Soccer Academy in Cochabamba due to my brown hair color

These factors have had an indelible mark on my view of the world and I feel very fortunate to have been raised in a bi-cultural context. However, as a child I went through an identity crisis. Every time someone would ask me “where are you from?” I assumed anything more than a one-word response would paint me as a weirdo. As I grew up and learned to embrace my background, I began to see it as a source of strength and pride. I represent one of approximately 9 million (as of 2010 Census) who identify as multiracial, a figure that will surely grow significantly moving forward.

Now, why do I feel it’s important to talk about identity from the perspective of innovation? Identity plays a massive, underappreciated role in shaping the future. Founders typically go after problems that affect them and that they know well. Historically, VCs have funded founders that fit a specific mold in order to gain comfort with their investment decisions. Given that founders and VCs have, by and large, been white males, it is no surprise that innovation has skewed toward a specific set of problem areas. This leaves a world of potential for innovation in untapped market opportunities that white males may not have the experience and perspective required to identify and tackle successfully. We need more founders and investors who come from all walks of life that can apply their unique insights to complement innovation that has already taken place in the startup ecosystem. In my case, my life experience has given me great insight into the immigrant experience in the USA, the importance of diversity, and Latin America.

Identity is our very own superpower. No one else has lived the experiences you have – therefore no one else has the unique insights you have gleaned from those experiences.

Next time you think to yourself and ask “what do I have to contribute?” just dig into your life experiences and know that your journey is a big part of what gives you an edge. While I only covered cultural background as an example in this post, identity spans many factors including geography, gender, and sexual orientation, among other factors. Bring your full identity to the forefront when trying to build a new service that meets an underserved need.

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