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    1-BT-POSTStartOut Empowers LGBT Entrepreneurs to Greatness in Business and in the Community

    By Jonathan D. Lovitz

    Success for the LGBT community nationwide is constantly being redefined. For decades, the thought of being out at work, let alone starting your own national business, seemed impossible. Today, an openly LGBT person has myriad options for success from politician, to journalist, to movie star, to NFL draft pick. But where are the role models for the LGBT youth who hopes to be a thriving CEO? Certainly not on the Fortune 500 list. Yet. The glass closet is showing signs of cracking any day now, and one of the organizations helping to ensure that every LGBT business leader has a hand in shattering that glass for good is StartOut.

    Since 2009, StartOut has been a champion for America’s LGBT entrepreneurs by offering nearly sixty programs a year to a nationwide network of over 12,000 in areas including networking, education, and access to capital. Business thrives on competition, and StartOut is working for a climate where no one gets to win because a community has one hand tied behind its back. Entrepreneurs should never have to choose between the closet and their careers.

    In making the case for the LGBT community in business, especially for entrepreneurs, StartOut’s Bay Area based CEO Gene Falk hopes to get more people thinking about a sense of community equity. Entrepreneurs and small business owners will create more than half of all new jobs in the coming decades, and the LGBT community will make up a powerful subset of those job creators. “Why do gay people need a business network?” is probably the most common question Falk is asked. And the answers can be as wide-ranging and impassioned as our community itself is, but he begins with, “Because anything we can do to level the playing field in business is good for society, no matter who you are.”

    The sheer number of affinity groups and diversity initiatives at major corporations show that the playing field is anything but level. Knowing that a community takes care of its members, StartOut works to inclusively connect the LGBT entrepreneurial community to one another and those interested in doing business with entrepreneurs within the LGBT community. Of particular importance to StartOut is the notion of mentorship and the sharing of knowledge about the entrepreneurial journey. Through one-on-one mentor pairings and offerings like the Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program, StartOut connects emerging business leaders with experienced veterans who offer guidance, support, and potentially investment in their new ventures.

    With chapters running in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Austin, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and several more in development, Start Out thrives on the wide diversity of America’s LGBT business leaders from a variety of sectors.  Chris Sinton, Board Chair of StartOut and long-time Silicon Valley/San Francisco executive and philanthropist, said of the role tech entrepreneurs play in inspiring others nationally: “Tech entrepreneurs tend to break established systems and new ground. StartOut itself grew from tech oriented co-founders and now reaches beyond tech, spreading ideas of equality in entrepreneurship across industries.”

    The Bay Area will soon play host to one of the highlights of StartOut’s calendar, the annual StartOut Awards. This year’s honorees include legendary advocate George Takei; CEO and world-renowned investor Dave McClure; trailblazing social-mission visionary and CEO Amy Errett; and inspiring emerging tech CEO Li Han Chan. The awards are being held at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and celebrate the best of America’s entrepreneurial spirit with a cocktail party, gala dinner, and a full evening of entertainment.

    One can expect StartOut to show the same kind of exponential scaling that most startups dream of in the coming years. With a swell of membership and community support, including a recent $50,000 grant from the Arcus Foundations, StartOut will continue to support the next generation of LGBT business leaders through engagement on key issues: helping aspiring entrepreneurs start new companies, helping current entrepreneurs to grow and expand their businesses, and engaging successful entrepreneurs to support and mentor others throughout the community.

    Learn more and become a member at StartOut.org and by connecting on Twitter at @StartOut.

    Jonathan Lovitz is an LGBT community advocacy and communications advisor for StartOut, as well as for The Trevor Project, GLAAD, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and many other organizations.