Arlan Hamilton’s journey from homelessness to running a venture fund for underrepresented entrepreneurs

In the closing keynote of EntreFEST 2020, Arlan Hamilton shared the wisdom she’s picked up from her remarkable journey of building a venture capital firm from the ground up while homeless.

In 2014, 34-year-old Hamilton was living in a hotel room with her mother in Houston.

“I remember taking myself through this exercise of asking myself if in five years, can I live with the idea that this fund would not exist, catapulting my way into the future,” said Hamilton. “I opened my eyes and said, ‘I can’t live in that world.’ That day I knew what I had to do and it was only downhill financially from there.”

Hamilton moved to Los Angeles to begin building what would eventually become Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in companies started by underrepresented entrepreneurs — women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders.

Eventually, Hamilton received her first investment from an investor and startup advisor named Susan Kimberlin in September 2015. Kimberlin later introduced Hamilton to her second investor who introduced her to her third.

“Being someone’s first yes — and it doesn’t have to be financial — a yes to an office hour, to a phone call, to an introduction can mean the world to them. That sort of power is really interesting to me and is often overlooked because we think in order to be someone’s hero we have to be heroic,” said Hamilton.

Fast forward to today, Backstage Capital has raised more than $10 million and invested in more than 130 startup companies.

Just last month, Hamilton released a new book with lessons she’s learned along the way called “It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage.”

“No matter what your position is, there’s something you can do for someone else. You don’t have to wear a cape, it doesn’t have to be huge. I think there’s something really powerful about that.”

Previous coverage

EntreFEST 2020: Day One Recap -June 4, 2020