Editor’s note: Investor and entrepreneur David Gardner is founder of Cofounders Capital in Cary and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. He’s our “Deep Dive” feature this week.


CARY – Late last year, the Kauffman Foundation, published its Trends in Entrepreneurship report showing how the demographics of the typical US entrepreneur is changing.   Its interesting to see how the faces of the innovation are trending.

David Gardner (Cofounders Capital photo)

Innovation is key to US Continued Success

Our standard of living and minimum wage requirement makes it very difficult for the US to complete globally in labor-intensive industries.  Our edge has always been our ability to innovate.  Our capacity to develop new technologies and tap new markets has been the key to our economic success.  Most of that innovation comes from early-stage ventures so it is important to understand who is creating that innovation so we can best continue to foster it.

Significant Increase in Minorities-Led Ventures 

In 1996 less than 22% of new ventures were started by minorities.   By 2021 that figure almost doubled to 42% lead by Asian and Latino entrepreneurs.  The ratio of Black entrepreneurs only grew by 2% during this period.  This was not a surprise as these percentages reflect the overall growth of the general population in the US.

Woman Entrepreneurship Unchanged

What was a surprise to me was how woman-lead startups remained consistent at around 40% over this time period.   I have witnessed an increase in women-lead technology startups over the last ten years and assumed this was the general trend but the Kauffman data includes all types of startups where on average the overall percentage has not changed.  Unlike the minority statistics, when I looked up the historical ratio of women to men in the US, that ratio has remained very consistent since 1996.

Immigrants Leading the Charge

It is no surprise to anyone involved in startups to see the growth in foreign-born US entrepreneurs which grew from around 13% in 1996 to over 28% by 2021.   If we count first generation born in the US, immigrants make up a majority of all startups in the US and even more so in tech sectors.  The US remains the land of opportunity for the best and brightest from around the world who brings their technologies, patents, and jobs here.   Except for a few blips where government policies hampered these innovators, the number of immigrant-started ventures has increased consistently since 1996.

Older Entrepreneurs Stepping Up

In 1996 over 60% of entrepreneurs were under the age of 44 with the majority being under the age of 34.   By 2021, those starting ventures in the US are almost evenly distributed across all ages brackets with the greatest growth coming from entrepreneurs over the age of 55 which grew from 14.8% to 22.8% over the same time-period.




For the most part, as best I can tell, these trends track along the lines of the general population proportionately which sadly means that we have done very little to impact more entrepreneurship among any particular underserved demographic.  This is especially evident in the stagnant growth in Black and Woman-led ventures.  Even the growth in older entrepreneurs simply tracks the general baby-boomer age projections.  The face of the entrepreneur today is the face of the country and overall simply reflects changes in our diverse population.