Discrimination Towards Minority Founders: Is Crowdfunding The Solution?

A Brief Talk about Crowdfunding

Recently, crowdfunding has become one of the most well-known methods for a business owner to get his or her project funded through public contribution. Although, like any other fundraising methods, there are positive and negative sides to crowdfunding. The advantages and disadvantages of using crowdfunding platforms can be divided in two perspectives: firm-level and contributor-level (Tsekouras, 2019).

From a firm’s perspective, utilising crowdfunding platforms can be attractive for several reasons. Crowdfunding enables companies to collect funding in a short period of time. The companies can also tap into a larger pool of potential contributors. The community features offered by crowdfunding platforms (either through social media or its own social networks) help founders with constructive feedbacks for projects and online word of mouth. The tradeoff, though, would be the element of transparency that can disclose not only information about the company, but also personal information about the project creators (through social media). There is also the risk of damaged reputation should the project not meet the public’s expectations.

From a contributor’s perspective, crowdfunding platforms allow people access to exclusive products that better match their tastes more. The community aspect of the system also gives potential contributors a “place to belong”; enabling them to provide feedbacks and improve the projects. However, there are risks for an individual to support projects through crowdfunding. There have been cases of fraud in the past (Rio, 2017). There is also the risk of underperformance by the companies that do not deliver within the expected time frame.

The Minority Problem

Taking a closer look into the matter, with the intention to dig deeper regarding the potential of crowdfunding platforms, Younkin and Kuppuswamy (2016) conducted a research given the fact that there are problems of underrepresentation of minority founders in venture investment markets. This situation is relevant, knowing there is indeed discrimination in entrepreneurship against minorities. There are many examples of this. A research by Freeland and Keister (2014) mentioned that it is more difficult for minority founders to receive credit and another research conducted in 2011 saw that minorities must pay higher interest rates (Pope & Sydnor, 2011). Younkin and Kuppuswamy, relating the problem to several prior studies, explain the possible involvement of several types of discrimination as to why discrimination is prevalent even in the business sector:

1.       Statistical Discrimination: People devalue minorities because they expect that they are less likely to complete projects.

2.       Taste-based Discrimination: Preference to support or reject people of certain races/ethnicities, even if it is not economically efficient to do so.

3.       Implicit Bias Theory: Discrimination is described as subconscious acts reflecting cultural beliefs.

The research then recognises crowdfunding as a possible solution for this minority-founder problem. Crowdfunding, in this case, has several roles: (1) an alternate solution when traditional financial institutions show bias, (2) shifts the focus of funding decision away to the broader population, and (3) facilitates projects that are overlooked by “traditional” experts but valued by the wider population. However, to directly see the impact of crowdfunding on minority founders, Younkin and Kuppuswamy tested whether reward-based crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter really improve the performance of projects run by black founders. They also attempt to identify which forms of discrimination are involved and ways to mitigate these biases.

Methodology & Results

In their study, the Younkin and Kuppuswamy (2016) combined an analysis of crowdfunding projects with an experimental design. In the former, they had collected a sample 7,617 Kickstarter projects launched between January 2012 and March 2014. Results of their statistical analysis showed that black founders were less likely to succeed as they received both fewer and smaller contributions. Moreover, black founders were not less capable in delivering their project than nonblack counterparts, thus suggesting that discrimination was present.

Subsequently, three experimental tests were conducted to identify the types of discrimination at play for which participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk Service. In the first one, the researchers tested for both types of conscious discrimination by asking participants questions about an example project and its founder. Moreover, subjects were randomly placed into one of four possible conditions with differing salience of founder race. Image 1 illustrates what participants saw during the test. After analysing their data, the researchers found that taste-based bias was driving discrimination.

Image 1. Project Page Example

The goal of the second experimental test was to distinguish between unconscious and conscious bias. This was done by testing whether funders altered their perception of project quality between white and black founder using project quality signals such as “Staff Pick”. Similarly to last time, participants were randomly placed into various conditions with differing degrees of quality signals. Results showed that discrimination was unconscious (i.e. implicit bias), thus invalidating taste-based bias as a driver of discrimination.

In the final experiment, the researchers wanted to test the efficacy of 3 intervention methods in mitigating bias. In particular, they looked at (Younkin and Kuppuswamy, 2016):

  • Debiasing Intervention; involves counteracting stereotypes about how a group acts
  • Group Success Intervention; involves counteracting stereotypes about how a group performs
  • Whitewashing Intervention; involves eliminating any indication of race

The usefulness of each method was once again tested by placing subjects into 9 different conditions. Ultimately, the results of this test reveal that both group success and whitewashing are effective at mitigating discrimination towards black founders.


The main strength of this study is its pioneering efforts of studying which forms of discrimination are responsible for the underrepresentation of minorities in entrepreneurship. In particular, the subjective evaluation of investment risk and the capabilities of a founder make it rather difficult to study entrepreneurial settings. As a result, researchers turned towards audit or correspondence studies to assess biases. However, the authors tackled this issue by developing a novel research approach that involves the combination of observational and experimental data.

Managerial Implications

While crowdfunding does not by itself mitigate biases towards black founders, the study lists three methods to mitigate discrimination on the platform (Younkin and Kuppuswamy, 2016). The first two are examples of group success intervention, while the final one is an example of whitewashing intervention. First of all, the authors recommend displaying overt support, such as “Staff Pick”, towards African-American founders. They also advocate showing a list of successful founders on the platform, which includes black founder. Last but not least, they recommend reducing visibility of race on the crowdfunding platform’s project pages.


Freeland, R. E., & Keister, L. A. (2014). How Does Race and Ethnicity Affect Persistence in Immature Ventures? Journal of Small Business Management, 54(1), 210-228. doi:10.1111/jsbm.12138

Pope, D. G., & Sydnor, J. R. (2011). Implementing Anti-Discrimination Policies in Statistical Profiling Models. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 3(3), 206-231. doi:10.1257/pol.3.3.206

Rio, C. (2017, April 10). 6 Stupid Crowdfunding Scams That Should Have Been Obvious. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-incredibly-obvious-crowdfunding-scams-people-fell-for/

Tsekouras, D. (2019). CCDC.

Younkin, P., & Kuppuswamy, V. (2016). Is the Crowd Colorblind? Founder race and performance in crowdfunding. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2016(1), 11665. doi:10.5465/ambpp.2016.11665abstract

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