A New Vanguard: Transgender Entrepreneurship
In the late 1980s, Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM and brought satellite radio to cars. When her daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension she pivoted and delved into the study of biology. Today, Rothblatt’s daughter lives on, United Therapeutics (the company Rothblatt founded to find that cure) is worth millions, and Rothblatt has gone on to publish a book, found a religion, and travel the world with her wife.
Rothblatt is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of a transgender person succeeding in fields unrelated to their transgender identity—a position she has used to advocate for transgender rights, acknowledging her “enormous good fortune” and the challenges of being transgender.
Like Rothblatt, other transgender entrepreneurs have made strides and broken new ground in areas unrelated to the specifics of the transgender experience. From Sloane Ortel, who founded Invest Vegan (an investment management firm that follows vegan principles), to Bunny McKensie Mack, who founded MMG Earth (a professional services change management firm), to Al Sandimirova, the founder of Automic Gold (a fine jewelry design company)—companies founded and led by transgender entrepreneurs are thriving.
Then of course, some transgender founders have innovated elegant solutions for problems they have encountered in their own journeys: creating clothing, support networks, and healthcare products that meet the needs and opportunities found in their own communities. Many of these companies provide transgender people with goods and services that were previously hard to find, unavailable, or very expensive. Gc2b, founded by Marli Washington, is a great example of this: the company’s chest binders were designed specifically for gender-affirming wardrobes. Another example of a trans-centered startup is Euphoria, founded by Kate Anthony, which offers (among other things) a monthly membership that helps people navigate social, legal, and medical systems as they transition.
Too often, media stories focusing on transgender people highlight objections to transgender women in sports or entertain restroom-focused discourse. When there is media attention of substance, it is often reports of violence directed at transgender people. In the rare case that coverage does focus on a successful transgender person, the story often focuses in on the person’s experience being transgender and overcoming bias rather than their achievements and successes.
These stratified stories hamper public perception of transgender people and thus also impede employment, education, public life, and opportunities to innovate and become entrepreneurs. A recent McKinsey study quantified one of the ways that this perception affects the economy, “a concerted effort to increase employment and wage equity for transgender people could boost annual consumer spending by $12 billion a year.” The upside of economic inclusion of the broad and growing transgender community is clear.
Beyond the economic benefits, the transgender community is becoming increasingly visible and integrated into the fabric of America. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 31% of Americans report having a friend, relative, or colleague who is transgender. This paradigm shifts when looking forward to the next generations. Half of adults under 30 years old have a transgender person in their lives. Today, more than 2.0 million transgender people live in the United States. And, 1.2 million LGBTQ people identify as nonbinary.
Rothblatt, to be sure, is more an exception than the rule when it comes to the often overlooked and undervalued ventures led by entrepreneurs who are transgender. Although few people have enjoyed success at her level, we can see in our examination of transgender entrepreneurs and their successful ventures that not all stories about transgender people are bleak.
We are closing out November, Transgender Awareness Month and a burst of attention paid to the social, economic, and political barriers to the success of transgender people. Investors and market-makers would be wise to take note. Transgender founders and their ventures are building successful businesses and growing traction in markets far and wide.
Megan Kashner is Co-founder of Colorful Capital and a professor and Director of Social Impact at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. William Burckart is Co-founder of Colorful Capital and CEO of The Investment Integration Project, an applied research and consulting services firm that helps investors manage systemic societal and environmental risks.
This article was written with the contributions of Sage Kashner and Jackson Block.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.