LGBTQ founders have a lot to celebrate as they continue to break glass ceilings and bring diversity and social change to their respective industries. Research from Backstage Capital estimates that LGBTQ founders receive less than 1% of VC funding. And, according to another survey conducted by Start Out, more than a third of founders keep their sexual orientation hidden while fundraising.
So yes, there is still a lot of progress to be made, but the individuals featured in this article have created space for themselves. They’ve been the voice of their communities in industries where diverse voices have traditionally been muted.
These featured entrepreneurs don’t step gingerly around the broken glass at their feet. They trample across it with pride and ambition, determined to make the world a better place for everyone. Whether that’s by turning food into social change, supporting tea farmers in Vietnam and Thailand, or making LGBTQ history in healthcare and entertainment, this 2022 list of trailblazing LGBTQs is reaching new heights and taking their communities along with them.
David Hertz is the President and Co-founder of the Social Gastronomy movement and Gastromotiva. He is a world-leading food entrepreneur tackling social issues and turning food into social change. The Social Gastronomy movement is a global initiative that connects people, projects, companies, governments and civil society around the transformative power of food. Hunger, waste, lack of opportunity, malnutrition and obesity and are global challenges that require joint action. Gastromotiva contributes to the transformation of lives locally, and increasingly extends its vision globally in cooperation with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2019, Hertz won the Charles Bronfman Prize and has worked closely with the United Nations’ World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
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For over 20 years, Shamina Singh has been on the frontlines of developing and implementing solutions to make the global economy work for everyone, across the globe. Singh is the Founder & President of the Center for Inclusive Growth, the philanthropic hub of Mastercard, where she also serves as Executive Vice President of Corporate Sustainability. In 2015, Singh was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a six-year term on the Board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. She is also a graduate of the Presidential Leadership Fellows program and an alum of the Young Global Leaders program of the World Economic Forum. Singh has also been named Financial Times’ Top 100 LGBT+ Executives and was recently ranked #9 on Fast Company’s Queer 50 list.
Jerek Theo Lovey
Jerek Theo Lovey is the Co-founder and CEO of Take Two Foods, a company that creates second chances for food, people, and the planet by upcycling nutrient-rich grain and transforming it into delicious plant-based barleymilk. Lovey is dedicated to protecting and preserving the Earth via the creation of sustainable food systems.
Leon Elias Wu
Leon Elias Wu is a the Founder & CEO of SharpeHaus, a bespoke suiting company that empowers his communities through fashion & entertainment. Leon’s classic and personalized designs have been featured everywhere from the Oscars to the Emmys to the Cannes Film Festival. His company is filling a valuable niche within the fashion world for members of queer, POC, and marginalized communities who deserve to be seen and celebrated.
Beyond his artistic presence on the red carpet, Leon is a force for good with his message, his charitable work, and his powerful activism. Having been named one of USA Today’s Top 10 Designers.
Founder of Utopia’s Touch Assisted Living, Jeremey Williams considers himself an industry disruptor. After losing his marketing job during COVID, he decided to open an assisted living facility in his hometown of Baltimore, MD. He enjoys knowing that the work he does every day adds value to people’s lives and makes a meaningful impact in his community.
“I would consider myself an industry disruptor simply because of my resilience and my willingness not to take no as an answer. As members of the LGBTQ community, we are used to being pushed to the side at times. Having been made redundant by COVID, I knew that I wanted a second option, a bit more financial security, and to make an impact on someone’s life. I also wanted to join a field that would be less affected by recessions or COVID. After I was laid off from my fancy marketing job, I opened up an assisted living facility in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, outside of NYC. Within 4-6 months, I generated a six-figure income and added value to people’s lives. In spite of the pandemic and staffing crisis in the U.S., I managed to keep my business profitable and am expanding towards my second facility. My advice is always to keep going and know that some days will be better than others,” states Williams.
Mark Veeder is CEO and Co-founder of sk*p – a clean hair and body care brand whose mission is to lead the revolution to break the beauty industry’s addiction to plastic packaging and rid the planet of toxic plastic waste. He is also an innovative horticulturalist and the original co-founder of the award-winning Farmacy Beauty brand, which earned the Skin Care Brand Award by CEW Indie and Best of Beauty Winner Award by Allure. Veeder also serves as Chief Innovation Officer at VP+C Partners, a New York City-based branding & marketing agency.
Amy Truong and Lani Gobaleza
Amy Truong and Lani Gobaleza are Founders and owners of PARU Tea, a QPOC-owned (queer people of color) purveyor of specialty loose leaf teas, matcha, and herbal teas from around the world. Truong and Gobaleza are passionate about helping improve the quality of life for tea farmers, focusing on farmers in under-represented tea-producing countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, and regions such as Nara in Japan. PARU is the first US partner for several of their farmers, including a few tea growers whose families have grown tea for generations.
Rachel Renock is the Co-founder and CEO of Wethos Virtual Studios, a financial technology company and the leading platform for freelancers to transform their one-person shop into a full-service studio. Renock is a former advertising creative working across big brands like Covergirl and Hershey, and quit her agency job at 25 in pursuit of more meaningful work. She teamed up with her now cofounder Claire to build technology that helped them scale their own independent studio to $1.4M in revenue in just 18-months, software that’s now known as a Wethos Virtual Studios. Since its founding in 2016, Renock has raised over $12M in VC funding and has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and the New York Times in pursuit of her mission to put more money into the pockets of independents everywhere.