9 LGBTQ entrepreneurs and CEOs paving the way for future generations
From technology to activism, these trailblazing LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs have shattered the glass ceiling in their careers so that the LGBTQ founders of tomorrow can pick up where they’ve left off.
While the movement towards greater inclusivity and diversity in the business world gains steam, a report from Proud Ventures highlighted that in the start-up ecosystem, there are still many barriers that LGBTQ+ founders face. The ‘LGBTQ+ Founder Report’ found that 75 per cent of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and founders hid their identity from investors at some point during the funding process.
To affirm the value and innovation that LGBTQ+ people bring to the business world, we’ve put together a list of 9 of the most influential LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and CEOs.
Sam Altman – CEO of OpenAI
Sam Altman, the co-founder and chief executive of OpenAI, the company known for bringing ChatGPT and allowing the world to access generative AI. Before his venture into AI, Altman was the president of Y Combinator, a renowned startup accelerator. His entrepreneurial journey began early, co-founding Loopt, a location-based social networking app, at the age of 19.
Altman has been in the headlines recently – after being fired from OpenAI, then joining Microsoft, then returning as head of OpenAI after a company revolt just a few days later. In more happy news, Altman just married his partner, Oliver Mulherin in a seaside ceremony. No word if either used ChatGPT to write their vows.
Tim Cook – CEO of Apple Inc.
The boss of Apple is one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ business leaders in the world. Tim Cook took over the reins of Apple in 2011, just months before Steve Jobs passed away from pancreatic cancer.
Cook came out publicly as gay in 2014 and has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights ever since. Under his leadership, Apple has continued to be a leader in innovation and has become the first US company to reach a market value of $1 trillion.
Martine Rothblatt – Founder of United Therapeutics and Sirius XM
Martine Rothblatt is a futurist, entrepreneur, lawyer, and author. She’s founded companies like Sirius XM Radio and the biotech firm United Therapeutics. Rothblatt came out as transgender in 1994 and has been an advocate for trans rights ever since. While money isn’t everything, Rothblatt was the highest-paid CEO in the biopharmaceutical industry in 2017.
Leanne Pittsford – Founder & CEO of Lesbians Who Tech
After noticing the gap in lesbian women and non-binary people in tech, Leanne Pittsford founded Lesbians Who Tech in 2012. Lesbians Who Tech is a community-based group committed to visibility, intersectionality, and changing the face of technology. The community has grown to over 70,000 LBTQ+ women and allies from 100 different countries and offers coding scholarships and mentoring programmes.
Peter Arvai – Co-founder of Prezi
Swedish entrepreneur Peter Arvai founded the cloud-based presentation platform Prezi along with Péter Halácsy and Ádám Somlai-Fischer in 2009. Arvai was CEO of the company until he stepped down in 2020 but still serves as its Executive Chair. He came out publicly in 2015 in a Forbes feature and has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ visibility in STEM ever since.
Alicia Garza – Co-founder of Black Lives Matter
Alicia Garza helped create the Black Lives Matter movement after the acquittal of the man who murdered the American teenager Trayvon Martin in 2013. Since then, the movement has evolved into a global organisation in the UK, USA and Canada. A decade later and the BLM movement has helped to pave the way for the modern feminism movement of today.
In addition to being an activist, Garza is an author, public speaker and the Principal of the Black Futures Lab – a California-based think tank focused on engaging Black communities to get involved in politics.
Joel Simkhai – Co-founder & former CEO of Grindr
Along with Scott Lewallen, Joel Simkhai founded Grindr in 2009. The app now has over 11 million monthly users active users and is the most popular gay dating platform in the world. Simkhai left Grindr in 2018 after the company was sold off.
He has since launched a new queer dating app called Motto, which aims to prevent some of the toxicity and discrimination associated with his original creation. Simkhai told NBC News in an interview in 2022 that his new venture is a chance to ‘course-correct’ the pitfalls of the app-based hookup culture that he had a hand in creating.
Jenna Lyons – Co-founder and CEO of LoveSeen
Jenna Lyons is a famed fashion designer and the former director of J. Crew. After stepping down from J. Crew in 2017, Lyons created LoveSeen, a faux eye-lash brand that centres its products around inclusion for all.
Lyons didn’t start off her career as an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur, she was infamously outed in 2011 after the New York Post published an article reporting that she was seeing a woman weeks after filing for divorce. Lyons told The Cut in 2021: “I don’t feel like it’s my job to make it clear for anyone else what’s going on with me sexually or romantically.”
Suki Sandhu, OBE – Co-founder and CEO of Audeliss and INvolve
Suki Sandhu is the founder and CEO of Audeliss, an executive search firm with a dedication to placing LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities and women into executive and non-executive roles. In 2018, Sandhu founded INvolve, an LGBTQ+ membership organisation which publishes an annual role model list recognising leading LGBT+ and ally executives and LGBT+ future leaders. He is also an ambassador for Stonewall.
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