Impact Series

Founders Unfound: How this podcast is utilizing private tales to bypass racial bias in tech

Daniel Kihanya, entrepreneur and creator of the Founders Unfound podcast. (Kezia Silver Photo)

One of the often-cited reasons for why people of color are passed over for startup funding and tech roles is because those who are writing the checks and making hiring decisions are inclined to select people who look like themselves, who have followed similar life and career trajectories.

Daniel Kihanya has a plan for circumventing that bias.

Kihanya, a Seattle-based serial entrepreneur with 25-years experience, has created the Founders Unfound podcast. Twice a month, he shares the stories of up-and-coming founders who are underrepresented in the startup space, with a focus on Black entrepreneurs. Kihanya interviews the founders, helping them tell the compelling stories of their backgrounds and startup experience.

“The story is a powerful magnet that will draw folks in,” Kihanya said, “and replace that ‘I know where they went to school’ or ‘where they worked before’ that becomes the shortcut” that vouches for their credibility. Personal stories reveal the founders’ character and track record, he explained, which are important assessments when funders are deciding whom to take a chance on.

A recent interview with Cherae Robinson, CEO of Tastemakers Africa, a startup reconnecting Africa and its diaspora through travel, revealed a childhood shaped by strong, Black women; an ambitious, global career path that incorporated motherhood; and a need to engage deeply with Africa that led to winning a Nigeria-based startup contest.

On another episode, CEO Marcus Bullock of Flikshop, a tool for communicating with people who are incarcerated, shared the story of being sent  to a maximum-security prison at age 15 for stealing a car; the love of his mom pulling him through eight years behind bars by sending mail everyday; starting and running a successful painting business; and the experience of building his app for creating postcards for inmates.

The Flikshop app walks users through the creation of a postcard that is printed and mailed to loved ones who are incarcerated. (Image from

The entrepreneurs have overcome significant adversity, only to face racially-driven hurdles when they turn to launching businesses and fundraising.

Only 1% of U.S. startup founders are Black and 1.8% are Hispanic, according to a report by RateMyInvestor. A survey of venture capital firms found that 4% of employees were Black and 5% were Hispanic or Latinx, according to 2018 research by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte.

“Folks who come from underrepresented backgrounds are superheroes,” Kihanya said. “They have overcome so much even before they started their entrepreneurial journey.”

The first Founders Unfound podcast aired in April 2019, and 14 full episodes are currently available. The shows are produced by a cast of volunteers and the “sponsors” are highlighted for free. The series is hitting its stride just as the demand for identifying and supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs has never been higher.

The killing last month of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer triggered outrage, heartbreak and worldwide protests against police brutality and injustices committed against Black Americans. The movement has sparked awareness and action, including pledges from investors, tech corporations and many others to support people of color in ways they previously have not.

“It’s the largest civil rights protest in history,” Kihanya said. “There is an awakening that is much different.”

Last week, SoftBank announced the creation of $100 million fund to support entrepreneurs of color, and Andreessen Horowitz launched The Talent x Opportunity Fund with $2.2 million, targeting companies from underserved communities. Apple announced its own $100 million racial justice initiative on Thursday morning. A group called Blck VC hosted a virtual day of action called We Won’t Wait that drew thousands of participants and kicked off a fundraiser for efforts to fight racism.

The founders of the Seattle startup Neu were some of the first guests on Founders Unfound. The company provides vetted cleaners for vacation rental hosts and others, and recently participated in the Techstars Seattle accelerator.

Some members of the Neu team, from left to right: co-founder and CEO Kwame Boler; UX designer Laura Meng, and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Claudius Mbemba. (Techstars Seattle Photo)


In the podcast, the trio shared that two of their founders came from Boeing while the third previously worked at Microsoft and had co-founded another startup. They recounted an entrepreneurial drive traced to childhood: CEO Kwame Boler once sold chocolates to raise money to buy himself a computer, sometimes referencing a fictitious United Negros Computer Fund in his pitches, while Chief Technology Officer Claudius Mbemba — taking inspiration from school fundraisers — printed out online coupons, turning them into booklets that he and his siblings sold to neighbors.

In order to get funding, entrepreneurs of color are forced to meet much higher standards, Mbemba said in an interview with GeekWire.

“There are a lot of companies that are raising off back-of-the-envelope, back-of-the-napkin ideas,” he said, “and yet us, as minority companies and founders who have built so much traction and proven out so much, we are asked to do even more to get to that level of investment.”

Kihanya was struck years ago by these disparities and the resulting lack of diversity in the startup community. He wanted to take action to change it.

His own career path includes the roles of founder, consultant, advisor and various leadership titles for more than a dozen companies. He is currently head of marketing and strategy for an India-based startup called Wizely.

Kihanya grew up in Boston, attended Princeton University for his undergraduate degree, and University of California, Berkeley for an MBA. It was the mid 1990s, Silicon Valley was booming and his university connections provided him the access and networking needed to jump start his career.

In his decision to give back, Kihanya thought of his dad, a “master storyteller” who grew up in Kenya and embodied his community’s oral tradition. People were drawn to his dad’s stories, Kihanya said, so he took up his own microphone to promote underrepresented startup founders and help them land funding.

“There are amazing, exceptional entrepreneurs of color out there who are worth the bet,” Kihanya said. “They’re so determined and so focused and passionate. This is their life mission.”

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