Raise your next round on StartEngine. Apply Now
Raise your next round on StartEngine. Apply
Get iOS App Sign Up
April 24, 2019 | 6 Min Read

How Dawn Dickson Overcame the Bias of Venture Funding

Bias of Venture Funding

How Dawn Dickson Overcame the Bias of Venture Funding

When you break down social barriers, everybody wins, or perhaps this is better said as everybody has the same chance to win. The process has earned the name “leveling the playing field” for a reason.

In the US, the process of raising capital remains one of the last bastions where you can see extreme bias. It’s hidden and tucked away in term sheets that are not available to the public, but recent studies have shed light on the issue. It’s no secret now that startup funding is heavily biased and that problem is particularly acute in venture capital funding.

Traditionally, venture capitalists predominantly invest in well-educated white men, and this is a bias that needs to be broken down because not only is it unfair, it’s also bad for business. Opportunities abound in the US economy, and the classic white male from Stanford cannot possibly build every company for our country.

At StartEngine (an equity crowdfunding platform of which I am the CEO), we are breaking down the barriers to raising capital and enabling entrepreneurs of all types to raise capital from the crowd and achieve their dreams (a second disclosure: Hacker Noon successfully raised over $1M on our platform this year).

The story I’m telling today is about Dawn Dickson, who is the founder and CEO of PopCom, an innovative vending machine and kiosk technology company. Her plan is to disrupt retail and how adults purchase items only available in pharmacies, liquor stores and dispensaries (i.e. what if you sold alcohol or prescription medication through a vending machine?). Dickson plans for PopCom to use blockchain technology to allow the company’s solution to be trustworthy and secure and make sure that the controlled goods are only sold for their intended recipient.

I met Dickson in person at a business conference StartEngine threw in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, where I had invited her to give a keynote presentation, and she is a real leader, one who with the right capital in hand, can achieve great things.

However, how is she supposed to get the capital she needs to grow her business as a black woman? That question is ingrained in the venture capital bias that we first began discussing above.

Digitalundivided’s demographic study ProjectDiane reveals just how little capital black female founders raise, and the results paint a stark picture.

As of 2017, there were 6,791 funded startups with a female founder, and less than 4% of those companies were led by a black woman. For context, there are roughly 157 million women in the US, and black women make up 14% of the female population in the US.

Furthermore, since 2009, black women have received $289 million in angel/venture funding, which represents just 0.0006% of venture funding raised for all tech companies in the same period ($424.7 billion).

The numbers reveal a powerful bias. It’s worth noting that part of the disparity in funding is due to the fact that there are fewer black women starting companies than is proportional to their demographic, but the disparity worsens when looking at the number of dollars committed, which suggests that there is VC bias at play as well here.

So, if you are a black woman, where do you go for funding? PopCom’s Dawn Dickson knew the numbers, so she opted out of knocking on the doors of venture capital firms. Her existing investors also did not want to invest any more money in the new round.

Being a hard-charging entrepreneur, she decided to raise the money directly from her community and from the people who care the most about her mission. And that’s where her connection to me, and to StartEngine, begins.

On December 19, 2018, Dickson launched a $1M campaign on StartEngine. Within the first month, she had raised $310,000 and by the beginning of March, her campaign had reached $682K in funding. With a growing press interest around the offering, Dickson appeared on the Breakfast Club on March 11, a nationally syndicated radio show, and within a week of the interview, Dickson raised the final $300K+ to reach $1M.

In 122 days, PopCom’s campaign passed $1M in funding, and the offering was oversubscribed with eager investors, waiting to get off the waitlist (the legal maximum raise amount for Regulation Crowdfunding is $1.07M).

The element of this story that I find remarkable is the ease with which she was able to raise that money. There was no one slamming the door in her face or giving the classic rejections of Silicon Valley, such as “your business is at too early a stage” or “you don’t have a lead VC investor.”

Dickson speaking at the StartEngine Founder’s Summit

Dickson broke a barrier that seemed as big as The Wall at Westeros’ northern border. Raising capital is critical for entrepreneurs: how can you grow a business if you don’t have the money to fund its development? This was true for Steve Jobs, for Mark Zuckerberg, for Dawn Dickson, and for any other founder building a business from scratch.

With the decision to bypass venture capital, Dickson has shown the way for everyone, her friends, community, and all women of color in the US, that there is another way to fund your startup and that 0.0006% of VC capital just isn’t good enough.

This is a true revolution, and Dickson is at the forefront of it. She is one of the first 40 black women to raise $1M or more in the US when she raised her first $1M for PopCom in November 2017, and with this raise, she becomes the first black female founder to raise over $1M in a security token offering.

Her raise is a big win for PopCom, for funding equality and for proving that equity crowdfunding is a viable funding model for entrepreneurs everywhere.

Get Started:

Want to stay up to date with the latest posts from StartEngine? Sign up here:

You May Also Like

Important Message


www.StartEngine.com is a website owned and operated by StartEngine Crowdfunding, Inc. (“StartEngine”), which is neither a registered broker-dealer, investment advisor nor funding portal.

Unless indicated otherwise with respect to a particular issuer, all securities-related activity is conducted by regulated affiliates of StartEngine: StartEngine Capital LLC, a funding portal registered here with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and here as a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), or StartEngine Primary LLC (“SE Primary”), a broker-dealer registered with the SEC and FINRA / SPIC. You can review the background of our broker-dealer and our investment professionals on FINRA’s BrokerCheck here. StartEngine Secondary is an alternative trading system (ATS) regulated by the SEC and operated by SE Primary. SE Primary is a member of SIPC and explanatory brochures are available upon request by contacting SIPC at (202) 371-8300.

StartEngine facilitates three types of primary offerings:

1) Regulation A offerings (JOBS Act Title IV; known as Regulation A+), which are offered to non-accredited and accredited investors alike. These offerings are made through StartEngine Primary, LLC (unless otherwise indicated). 2) Regulation D offerings (Rule 506(c)), which are offered only to accredited investors. These offerings are made through StartEngine Primary, LLC. 3) Regulation Crowdfunding offerings (JOBS Act Title III), which are offered to non-accredited and accredited investors alike. These offerings are made through StartEngine Capital, LLC. Some of these offerings are open to the general public, however there are important differences and risks.

Any securities offered on this website have not been recommended or approved by any federal or state securities commission or regulatory authority. StartEngine and its affiliates do not provide any investment advice or recommendation and do not provide any legal or tax advice concerning any securities. All securities listed on this site are being offered by, and all information included on this site is the responsibility of, the applicable issuer of such securities. StartEngine does not verify the adequacy, accuracy, or completeness of any information. Neither StartEngine nor any of its officers, directors, agents, and employees makes any warranty, express or implied, of any kind whatsoever related to the adequacy, accuracy, or completeness of any information on this site or the use of information on this site.

Investing in private company securities is not suitable for all investors. An investment in private company securities is highly speculative and involves a high degree of risk. It should only be considered a long-term investment. You must be prepared to withstand a total loss of your investment. Private company securities are also highly illiquid, and there is no guarantee that a market will develop for such securities. Each investment also carries its own specific risks, and you should complete your own independent due diligence regarding the investment. This includes obtaining additional information about the company, opinions, financial projections, and legal or other investment advice. Accordingly, investing in private company securities is appropriate only for those investors who can tolerate a high degree of risk and do not require a liquid investment. See additional general disclosures here.

By accessing this site and any pages on this site, you agree to be bound by our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, as may be amended from time to time without notice or liability.

Canadian Investors

Investment opportunities posted and accessible through the site will not be offered to Canadian resident investors. Potential investors are strongly advised to consult their legal, tax and financial advisors before investing. The securities offered on this site are not offered in jurisdictions where public solicitation for offerings is not permitted; it is solely your responsibility to comply with the laws and regulations of your country of residence.

California Investors Only – Do Not Sell My Personal Information (800-317-2200). StartEngine does not sell personal information. For all customer inquiries, please write to contact@startengine.com.

StartEngine Marketplace

StartEngine Marketplace (“SE Marketplace”) is a website operated by StartEngine Primary, LLC (“SE Primary”), a broker-dealer that is registered with the SEC and a member of FINRA and the SIPC.

StartEngine Secondary (“SE Secondary”) is our investor trading platform. SE Secondary is an SEC-registered Alternative Trading System ("ATS") operated by SE Primary that matches orders for buyers and sellers of securities. It allows investors to trade shares purchased through Regulation A+, Regulation Crowdfunding, or Regulation D for companies who have engaged StartEngine Secure LLC as their transfer agent. The term “Rapid,” when used in relation to transactions on SE Marketplace, specifically refers to transactions that are facilitated on SE Secondary, This is because, unlike with trades on the StartEngine Bulletin Board (“SE BB”), trades on SE Secondary are executed the moment that they are matched.

StartEngine Bulletin Board ("SE BB") is a bulletin board platform on which users can indicate to each other their interest to buy or sell shares of private companies that previously executed Reg CF or Reg A offerings not necessarily through SE Primary. As a bulletin board platform, SE BB provides a venue for investors to access information about such private company offerings and connect with potential sellers. All investment opportunities on SE BB are based on indicated interest from sellers and will need to be confirmed. Even if parties express mutual interest to enter into a trade on SE BB, a trade will not immediately result because execution is subject to additional contingencies, including among others, effecting of the transfer of the shares from the potential seller to the potential buyer by the issuer and/or transfer agent. SE BB is distinct and separate from SE Secondary. SE Secondary facilitates the trading of securities by matching orders between buyers and sellers and facilitating executions of trades on the platform. By contrast, under SE BB, SE Primary assists with the facilitation of a potential resulting trade off platform including, by among other things, approaching the issuer and other necessary parties in relation to the potential transaction. The term “Extended”, when used in relation to transactions on SE Marketplace denotes that these transactions are conducted via SE BB, and that these transactions may involve longer processing times compared to SE Secondary for the above-stated reasons.

Even if a security is qualified to be displayed on SE Marketplace, there is no guarantee an active trading market for the securities will ever develop, or if developed, be maintained. You should assume that you may not be able to liquidate your investment for some time or be able to pledge these shares as collateral.

The availability of company information does not indicate that the company has endorsed, supports, or otherwise participates with StartEngine. It also does not constitute an endorsement, solicitation or recommendation by StartEngine. StartEngine does not (1) make any recommendations or otherwise advise on the merits or advisability of a particular investment or transaction, (2) assist in the determination of the fair value of any security or investment, or (3) provide legal, tax, or transactional advisory services.

Invest in StartEngine

190% YoY Growth: Invest in the leading equity crowdfunding platform.

This Reg A+ offering is made available through StartEngine Crowdfunding, Inc. This investment is speculative, illiquid, and involves a high degree of risk, including the possible loss of your entire investment. For more information about this offering, please view StartEngine’s offering circular and risks associated with this offering.


Kevin O’Leary is a paid spokesperson for StartEngine. Read the 17(b) disclosure here.

Founder's Summit Application