Powerful Forces

African American women take on the high-tech world

aren’t many African Americans in the upper levels of technology, Dodson says, there are even fewer mentors. That holds true even more for African American women. “At the higher levels, it’s a very macho, male-oriented industry,” she explains.

As a budding entrepreneur, those barriers discouraged Dodson, who says that along the way she hit several walls that nearly prevented her from realizing her goals. For example, she says finding credible business consultants, attorneys, and even accountants, was a real challenge. At one point, she got taken for a large sum of money by an “investor” who was actually a con artist out to swindle start-ups, says Dodson.

Today, UBC has 10 employees, a number Dodson expects to double in the next few months. She’s expecting $5 million in revenues this year, and expects to double that next year, thanks to the recent addition of the cable network. Dodson invested $600,000 of her own money in the venture, and received $5 million in outside funding from a few angel investors. She’s forged alliances with the likes of Sony, Motown Records, and OlympuSat, but has kept control of the company by remaining its largest shareholder.

“I own the stake that’s going to keep UBC a legitimate representative of the urban multicultural market,” says Dodson, “because if we lose that, we would lose the very power and voice that I created the company on.”

Farther south, at Host Technologies in Virginia, Lansdowne says one of the biggest challenges she’s faced in the technology field is a lack of respect from male counterparts and customers. “In many cases, I go in and find that they want to put me in a niche or make me a generalist,” she explains. “Some people are just not as quick to accept us as subject-matter experts.”

For example, Lansdowne says one of her larger accounts had a habit of pigeonholing her company. The account expected Host Technologies to do basic, low-level staff augmentation–an area outside of Host Technologies’ core competencies. “We do business process assessment and full-life cycle software development, but they wouldn’t let us compete for that, and told us that they had it covered already,” recalls Lansdowne.

When that account approached Lansdowne about another noncore activity, she put her foot down. Fortunately, that didn’t drive the client away. Lansdowne actually came away with the type of projects she wanted in the first place. “I finally caught their attention. They took a step back and said, ‘Wait, let’s talk about what you really do and see if we can find you some opportunities,’” she recalls. Lansdowne says she’s also learned to clearly outline her company’s focus, its core competencies, and past achievements early in the relationship. This helps her avoid confusion down the road.

Just saying no on several occasions has had a positive effect on the business. For starters, she says, customers recognize that Host Technologies won’t touch business that’s outside of its area of expertise, and that shows clients that the company has confidence in what it can produce. “It actually

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