Raising $3 million in seed funding would be a phenomenal feat for any tech startup, but it was particularly meaningful for Mandy Price and Star Carter, two cofounders and best friends behind Dallas-based Kanarys. As Black female entrepreneurs, the duo is acutely aware that their fund raising experience doesn’t happen often.
“There have only been 93 Black women total that have raised more than $1 million in VC funding,” Carter says. “So we’re thankful and really lucky to have the venture capital folks that we had come in [including Zeal Capital Partners], but the numbers are very dire.”
Ironically, the type of disparities and inequities the two observed in the fundraising world is exactly what inspired the former lawyers, along with Price’s husband Bennie King, to launch their own company in 2019. Kanarys — the name is a play on the canary in a coal mine phenomenon — uses Equal Opportunity Employment reports and assessments of policies to help companies measure the efficacy of their diversity and inclusion efforts, putting data and analytics front and center in a way leaders can easily understand. “Because numbers don’t lie,” Carter adds.
And though being tech entrepreneurs was never a longtime dream of the UT Austin and Harvard Law School graduates, their eight years working at the same Dallas firm ultimately built to an undeniable idea. “As I was going about my day to day and suffering various inequities, [Mandy] would be my confident. I would go into her office and say, ‘You won’t believe what happened to me today. Is this happening to you?’” Carter recalls. “As we talked to other diverse folks, in the law industry or others, we realized they were suffering a lot of the same inequities.”
Carter also understood firsthand the breakdown in communication that can happen when an employee suffers discrimination. “My thought had always been, you deal with it and move on because I was nervous about career ramifications,” she says. “So being able to bridge that gap between leadership and employee experience — that’s where Kanarys comes in.”
Since launching at the end of 2019, Kanarys has counted Neiman Marcus and the Dallas Mavericks among its clients, initially planning to target the wealth of local companies or entrepreneurs and expand out from there, though they couldn’t have predicted the events of the year 2020. Their scheduled talks with companies naturally began to stall when the pandemic first gripped the world, but soon picked up again with a fervor.
“Everything that happened with respect to George Floyd — having this egregious murder on camera — and the Black Lives Matter resurgence had companies reprioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Carter says. “We went from demos being canceled to our inbound leads multiplying four times.”
Part of the Kanarys education is to show companies that focusing on diversity and inclusion isn’t just the moral thing to do, but something that’s proven to be good for business. The founders often reference studies from McKinsey & Company and the Kapor Center to show how more racially and ethnically diverse companies have higher average returns than the national median, along with less turnover. “But even beyond that, we’re seeing more of these regulatory agencies — your SEC or NASDAQ — recognizing that making mandatory requirements around diversity leads to positive change and change to the bottom line.”
Kanarys’ $3 million in funding will allow the company to effect change in even more companies, though the founders (all of whom are native to the city) are adamant about keeping Dallas home base.
“Dallas has a huge corporate presence. It might not be as big as New York, but it’s a huge corporate center and it’s growing rapidly. Being able to build strong relationships with corporations that are here or are coming here is a huge advantage,” Carter says. “As Dallasites, putting Dallas on the map and helping to move the needle here in the city with respect to DEI is important to us. We’re up for any challenges.”