Andres Wydler is the Executive Director of StartOut, the largest national nonprofit organization supporting LGBTQ entrepreneurs. He has two decades of successful start-up experience as a co-founder, executive, angel investor, advisor, and board member. Andres’ career focused on corporate and business development, predominantly with early stage technology firms. Over the last decade, he raised equity and debt financing from first tier VCs, investment banks, strategic investors, and economic development partners. He secured government funds to augment private capital and completed acquisitions in the US, Europe, and Latin America. Most of his director and advisor positions focused on fast growing software and clean tech companies. Andres also co-founded an angel group that invested in and exited tech firms with cross-border strategies, and continues to be active in the space.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Andres Wydler: With over two decades of successful start-up experience, I have worn many hats that include co-founder, executive, angel investor, advisor, board member and lecturer. I have great empathy for the unique challenges entrepreneurs face from idea inception to fundraising and beyond. Entrepreneurship to me then means innovation, ingenuity, grit, passion and excitement – and in the end a hefty portion of good fortune.
How did your company come to be?
AW: StartOut was founded in 2009, long before I joined in 2015 as its Executive Director. The a-ha moment was the realization that most underrepresented communities had their support networks but the LGBTQ community didn’t. This led to the creation of StartOut.
When I was given the wonderful opportunity to lead the non-profit in 2015, the big changes were the creation of programs that could be delivered at scale and have a solid impact nationwide. The a-ha moment there was that unless we had a fully scalable, broadly accessible online portal for both program delivery and peer-to-peer support we couldn’t serve people effectively and throughout the US. Combined with our passionate community of over 17K supporters, the launch of the new startout.org thus was the big impact driver. The StartOut team and our Out entrepreneurs also built strong partnerships with key stakeholders to provide support to our community, such as Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
AW: We were fortunate in that our program delivery was already set up as a virtual service, with the exception of our in person events. Our local programming teams pivoted to focusing on topics such as early stage needs, fundraising, or culture and networking that apply to all regions. The pandemic has also forced us to accelerate the changes to truly serve all LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs nationwide with access to top notch resources.
In addition, we are now a virtual organization and can hire the best and brightest from around the country.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
AW: It’s really hard to pinpoint the proudest moments… They range from entrepreneurs overcoming their biggest personal obstacles with our help all the way to the establishment of the StartOut Growth Lab, a formerly in-person semi-annual, 6-month accelerator supporting high-potential LGBTQ+ founders. Together the roughly 35 Growth Lab alumni have raised over $250M in funding and created over 300 new jobs and counting rapidly of course.
The darkest moment? It’s not a moment but an ongoing and repeating realization – how far we have yet to go for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to get the respect they deserve for their contributions to society. I have a hard time understanding how, in 2021, many people who’d benefit from doing business with our talented, driven, passionate and extremely capable entrepreneurs make decisions against their own interests. It’s just weird and frustrating – but also driving us to do even more and fight even harder.
How is your company changing the landscape of entrepreneurship?
AW: StartOut is the largest national organization to support LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with over 17K members nationwide. Its mission is to increase the number, diversity, and impact of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and amplify their stories to drive the economic empowerment of the community.
StartOut helps aspiring LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs pursue their dreams and then has their backs as they grow and expand their businesses. StartOut offers a full suite of programs to support growth entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed. They include the accelerator for the most promising LGBTQ+ high growth entrepreneurs, mentorship with over 700 matches to date, an investor portal with close to 300 investors and expert sessions to address specific challenges. We also offer safe spaces to connect, through an online networking tool and an active event schedule nationwide (as mentioned, these events are held virtually). There, our members and supporters learn, network and enhance their business through education and one-on-one training sessions, workshops, panel discussions that help accelerate their businesses.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the impact of StartOut within the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
AW: I have a simplistic mind, I guess, so the credo is very simple as well. When we evaluate opportunities or look back on what we have done, we always ask ourselves, ‘Does that program or service or connection directly support our LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and have impact?’ If it does, we’ll prioritize the support and make it work. If it does not, then we pass and try to find partners who can do a better job at that specific task.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
AW: I have experienced what impact we, the growing team at StartOut, can have growing LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship in the US. The successes or even just journeys or stories of our entrepreneurs is the major everyday inspiration that keeps me going, and I wish I had more time to interact with and support them more directly. Fortunately, we have a great team on the staff and with all the volunteer supporters who help create these stories. The power of a single story cannot be overestimated!
What is StartOut’s inclusion Impact Index?
AW: In the U.S., there are millions of entrepreneurs and over the last 20 years about 150,000 high growth entrepreneurs as we define them. However, no one has measured the potential of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs among them, and there is a lack of transparency in realizing their overall contributions. In July 2020, with Socos Labs and support from JPMorgan Chase, launched the first of our Inclusion Impact Indexes to gain insights LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs’ economic impact in terms of job creation, patents, financings, and exits – and what these metrics could be with equal access to critical resources like funding. Municipalities, investors, ecosystem builders, and grantors can use the Inclusion Impact Indexes to improve environments for founders of diverse backgrounds and reap the corresponding benefits. Notably, we also published this same index on Female and All US entrepreneurs for benchmarking.
Now, StartOut is expanding the project and measuring every founder’s contributions to the economy across the United States. All founders can get counted in this initiative by filling out this confidential survey which takes about 2-4 minutes to complete. Details on the second phase of the project can be viewed in the press announcement from March 2021.
What else would you like to highlight about StartOut?
AW: We welcome you to join us, whether you’re LGBTQ+ or an ally! While our services are for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs of all backgrounds we need supporters within all industries to unleash the full potential of our entrepreneurs. It’s not just the right thing to do but a prudent business move! So thank you very much for checking us out and register here
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