Nichelle McCall is the chief executive officer and founder of the educational startup BOLD Guidance, a software platform that simplifies the process of applying to college by using technology and automation to empower students, parents, and counselors to view progress.
As a woman of color in the heart of the STEM world, McCall doesn’t allow daunting statistics and a lack of diversity interrupt the progression of her craft. With the odds against her, she was able to raise $500,000 for her tech company in 14 months.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native had no real formal tech training but has always had a love for education and says that passion, coupled with the vow to dictate her own destiny led her to a life of entrepreneurship.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with McCall to talk about her tech startup, what attracted her to the STEM space, and her big plans for her company’s future.
BlackEnterprise.com: Tell me a little about yourself and how you became an entrepreneur?
McCall: My parents always pushed the value of an education and working hard for what you want. I’ve always been passionate about education from the moment my mother worked three jobs to send me to a college prep school so I didn’t have to attend my failing neighborhood school to the time I worked as a liaison for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a $20 million college completion project.
My entrepreneurial desires started after completing my master’s degree and I was being recruited for a job back in Cleveland. After waiting several months and turning down other job offers for this opportunity that was designed for me, I was told they were going in another direction and were not going to hire me. I was devastated and unemployed. I vowed at that moment I would never leave my financial future in the hands of someone else. Shortly after, I started my own consulting practice with a dual focus of 1) helping entrepreneurs start their company and 2) developing college prep programs for schools and I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since.
What made you gravitate toward the tech space?
I participated in a business development program for my consulting practice to help me develop a strategy to grow my company. While putting together my plan on how to help more students on a national level, I quickly realized that I couldn’t scale myself, but I could scale technology. So I started researching ways to leverage software to help students and families through the college admissions process.
What was the inspiration for starting BOLD Guidance?
I realized students, families, and counselors still had a hard time navigating the college application process. So I started working with them to identify their biggest challenges and sketched out potential solutions. As I showed more schools sketches of our product, they continued to get more excited about the opportunity it had to streamline the college admissions process and help students navigate their way through this stressful and overwhelming time. Once I had schools sign on to use the product if it was built, we knew we were on to something and started the software development.
Describe your experience of being a black woman in the white-dominated tech space?
I’ve used it to my advantage because I know when I’m in the room, people see me. So it’s been important for me to have my facts and story tight about my company, the market opportunity, and why we are the right team to take this company to the next level. Having my team of advisers and board of directors who have experience creating and selling tech companies has helped to bring additional credibility to my company, since it shows I’m able to bring high-quality resources to my business. Ultimately, people respect numbers in the tech space. If you are able to show the huge market opportunity, a strong plan on how to capture the market, and show your customer and revenue traction, people cannot argue with that.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in the tech space, thus far?
My biggest accomplishment so far has been raising around $500,000 for my tech company as a non-tech person. Out of all the venture-backed companies in the country, only 8% have women founders and 1% have African American founders. The stat is less than .2% for black women founders that have received venture funding. So to be able to build a software company from idea to $500,000 in 14 months as a non-tech person is a huge accomplishment. That’s why I speak on and coach aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs in creating investment-ready tech and online startups, so we can increase those stats.
How do you plan to grow or improve your company? What are you three big future goals?
We recently launched our new product, I Got In, which helps colleges increase enrollment through Values-Based Admissions(tm). We share the values and experiences of current college students with prospective students to convert applicants into enrolled students. Our goal is to expand our product to more colleges to help them solve their problem in reaching their enrollment goals. Another goal is to continue to attract resources to our company. One of the keys to growing a successful company is having sufficient resources, which includes people, time, and capital. We have an ongoing need for all three, so are always open to talking to people about this. Our final goal is to also speak at more colleges and conferences to share my story of overcoming the challenges of starting a tech company and raising money as a non-tech person. We need to diversify STEM fields, especially tech. I want to encourage and empower more students and people that they can do it too.