In the tech industry, less than 1% of founders who have received venture capital funds are African American. Black women compose only a fraction of that 1%. But, you would never guess that walking into Ogilvy & Mather World headquarters in New York City for day one of the FOCUS100 Symposium and Pitch Bootcamp.
The one thing many of these women had in common was the passion and drive to create their own dream, and become employers in today’s high-growth innovation economy. Founded by Kathryn Finney, the FOCUS 100 symposium was designed to not only connect black female thought leaders and tech innovators, but arm them with the skills needed to make an impression on the mostly white, male-dominated world of tech startups. Here’s a glimpse at what transpired: —Marcia Wade Talbert
Katie Rae, managing director of TechStars Boston and co-founder of the Boston Startup School said this was the best-dressed [tech] audience she had spoken to. But that was the least impressive attribute this crowd possessed. The room was filled with 100 or more women who had executive level backgrounds on Wall Street, in politics, IT and education. Rae advised FOCUS 100 attendees to ask themselves a few questions when it comes to potential investors:
Who is on the founding team? Her advice: You cannot do a high growth company alone.
What are your team dynamics? Does the team have the perseverance to stick it out together?
Do you know how to fail? Learning from your mistakes and moving forward is a very important pattern investors look for.
Lastly, she urged the tech crowd to write to potential investors about what’s getting done.
Smarteys.com co-founders Adrissha Wimberley and Charisse Conanan sat on panels discussing how to transition from employee to employer, as well as how to build a successful tech company.
Smarteys is a paycheck planning app for young professionals.
“Make sure you become a part of a community,” said Conanan. “Get out there and talk to people about what you are working on. Engage people even if it is scary, uncomfortable, or even boring. [If you want to join the tech world] make sure you are apart of the community you say you want to be a part of.”
The PITCH BootCamp was an intensive, workshop style event for tech-based startups interested in receiving funding for their company. Hundreds of women applied before the weekend and four were chosen to pitch their companies to a group of angel and venture capitalists. The winner received a variety of prizes including an opportunity to participate in TechStars New York.
The Focus100 Pitch finalists include Rachel Brooks, founder of CitizenMade, a product customization toolkit; Pitch-It winner Zuhairah Scott Washington, founder of Kahnoodle, a mobile app for busy couples hoping to have fun and reconnect; Marlo Rencher, founder of Good Sweat, which helps people raise money and awareness for the causes they love; and Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, co-founder of Tioki, an online professional network exclusively for educators.
The symposium gave attendees an insiders look at why angel and venture capitalists invest in startups. Panelists discussed the elements of a good pitch including everything from the team, the pitch deck, the number of engaged users, and the size of the market that the company is starting.
Image shows Eghosa Omuogui, EchoVC; Lauren Maillian Bias, Gen Y Capital; Deborah Jackson, Women Innovate Mobile; and Brian Watson, Union Square Ventures
Mayor Corey Booker spoke to the audience about his new venture, Waywire, a video-sharing news service open to everyone. Booker also touched on the centrality of purpose and how to determine if what you’re doing is making a difference.
Majora Carter (left), overwhelmed by the number of black women making an impact in tech, was brought to tears before her interview with tech entrepreneur Kathryn Finney (right) got off the ground. Carter discussed her passion for teaching young blacks how to “participate in technology in a way that means something to our local community.”
She recounted a story about a fight that broke out across the street from her office in the South Bronx. Everyone pulled out their cell phones and began to record the fight to post on YouTube. “Is this the highest use of how we are using technology in our communities?” she asked. “ Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have [Natalia Allen ] this beautiful brown girl to come to the South Bronx and talk to youth about the technology behind producing fashion. [She can show them that this is] not something that only the little white boys do. I want folks from my community to understand that they have the power to create something that didn’t [exist] before.”
In a session called The Disruptors: Founders Who Demolish the Status Quo, Monif Clarke (second from left), founder of MonifC Plus Sizes, gives this advice about Cashflow: “Watch that FICO score! [Investors] look at your revenue, your profit, and your FICO sore. You can have the best product in the world but if you don’t have a good business strategy you’re in trouble. When you’re solid with what you do people can’t help but want to work with you.”