How Startout Co-Founder, Darren Spedale, Is Helping LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs Succeed
June might be over, but celebrating and supporting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and creators is important year-round.
A short ten years ago, spotlighting the achievements and advancements of the LGBTQ+ community wasn’t easily done. Despite a growing number of networking opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs, there hadn’t been many organizations dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why Darren Spedale co-founded Startout.
Startout is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs build their business and grow their network. They work to increase the number, diversity, and impact of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs while sharing their stories and making an economic impact.
In 2009, Spedale (along with Lorenzo Thione, Joe DiPasquale and Bryan Janeczko) began Startout as a number of events in San Francisco and New York, and now it’s grown into a membership-based organization with members around the world.
For Spedale, it’s about creating an environment where LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs can flourish and be unapologetically themselves.
“It’s also a safe place where you can not only talk about your business growth, but you can talk about your new boyfriend and nobody is going to judge or make you feel uncomfortable about being who you are as you’re building your business,” he said.
A member of the LGBTQ+ community and an entrepreneur himself, Spedale has had an extensive career in business and development: working for an internet start-up, media company, and founding the company FamilyByDesign. Through co-founding Startout he’s had the opportunity to be a part of the journey for other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs on their way to success.
Named as one of Business Insider’s ‘Most Powerful LGBTQ+ People in Tech,’ last June, Spedale continues to inspire the LGBTQ+ community to chase their dreams while standing with pride in their identity.
For this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Spedale about creating an organization that champions LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
What sparked the idea to create an organization to bring the LGBTQ+ entrepreneurial community together?
I was starting a business in 2008, and it was a great time for entrepreneurship. There were a lot of generalized entrepreneurial organizations like New York Tech Meetup, or perhaps your alumni had an entrepreneur group. However, I noticed there wasn’t any type of organization specifically for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, and I thought, ‘Well there should be.’
Not only do entrepreneurs like meeting other people and talking about their business and what they’re creating, but if you add another layer of community—in this case, the LGBTQ connection—you add an additional layer of support, and an additional level of desire to help each other grow and succeed.
Startout was founded in 2009 and has since continuously grown. You now have some major partners such as Google, Goldman Sachs and ADP. What has it been like to watch the organization grow over the last decade or so?
It’s been really amazing. I mean, there’s been such a great response and such a great use of resources by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and our allies as well. Seeing it grow from a small organization and holding events into an organization with significant programs in place to support the community is really fulfilling.
How has the organization itself evolved over that time?
For the past several years, we’ve had staff in place. Andres Wydler has been an amazing leader for this organization. As we’ve grown, so have the resources we’ve been able to offer. We’ve been able to develop programs in ways that we wouldn’t have been able to in the early stages when we were just a bunch of entrepreneurs doing this out of the goodness of our hearts. Now as a proper membership organization in place, it’s become much more resourceful.
Do you have any personal favourite memories throughout your time with Startout?
One of my favourite memories was when we went to the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York. There’s a school that Hetrick-Martin partners with called the Harvey Milk School, which has a number of underprivileged LGBTQ+ students that go there every day for schooling. A lot of the kids come from backgrounds where they’ve never seen a successful LGBTQ+ business person and thought what they could accomplish was perhaps limited. Startout went in and did a couple of after school programs with the kids. We broke them into small groups and had a Startout entrepreneur mentor working with them and would say, “We’re going to create a business. What business should we create?”
These kids would spend the afternoon putting together a business plan for an idea: how they would market it, who they would sell it to, what would it cost, why it’s a needed product etc. And then at the end of the session, we would come back together as a larger group and each of the smaller groups would present their idea to the others. Whichever group’s business was voted as the best idea would win a small prize, like a gift certificate.
I think we really helped open their eyes to what they can do and could accomplish or be capable of. That was very fulfilling for me, and it’s one of my favourite Startout memories.
How would you define success?
I think success is stretching to achieve your own potential, whatever that may be. Everybody has different potential but success is pushing yourself to achieve whatever is possible for you.
As someone who is an entrepreneur and part of the LGBTQ+ community, and a co-founder of an organization that aims to uplift other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to budding business minds?
The advice I would give to a budding business mind is to find your passion because you only get one life to live. You don’t want to spend it doing something that you aren’t passionate about. Life is too short for that. It may take some time, you may have some setbacks, but if you follow your personal passions, you will ultimately be successful from a business perspective, financial perspective, and from a personal fulfillment perspective.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given throughout your career?
Cherish every day. You don’t know how long you are here, so make sure it counts. Follow your dreams, follow your passions, and do something that makes you happy when you wake up.
Startout has been around for about a decade now. Where do you hope to see the organization in another 10 years?
A decade from now I’d love to see a lot of the great success stories that we’ve helped nurture and foster in the media. To be able to go online and read articles about successful entrepreneurs that Startout helped along the way, and then obviously to help more entrepreneurs grow and achieve their potential.