Founder Of Black Girls Code Delivers Cautionary Lessons At Women of Power TECH
“Nobody is spending 3-plus million dollars to fight someone on a nonprofit organization if there’s not more to the story,” Kimberly Bryant cautioned a full room of attendees at BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Women of Power TECH Summit.
BE hosted its first-ever in-person tech conference for women, on Sep. 27. The empowering event, presented by Fidelity, MERCK, Salesforce, and Walmart, brought together power professionals and fearless founders for informative panel discussions, candid conversations, and unique networking and recruiting opportunities.
Bryant, founder of Black Innovation Lab and Black Girls Code, opened the first round of panel discussions with her past experiences. She shared some mistakes and lessons learned during her grueling fight with the company she spent more than 10 years building and expanding.
“It is very important to be very cautious and intentional about who you put in your closest circles,” Bryant said firmly. “We’re so ingrained in this white supremacist culture, we [sometimes] use the master’s tools against each other. We need to call that out and then stand up when we see it.”
The Cautionary Tale
Bryant founded BGC in 2011. During the 2020 protests, the ambitious entrepreneur said her organization received millions of dollars in donations, and its staff expanded. But it wasn’t without cultural friction and intergenerational differences at that uncertain time.
In 2022, Bryant found out that her board had suspended her indefinitely and was subsequently removed as CEO and board member. What’s worse? This all occurred without her having a CEO contract in place. The news prompted the former executive to spill the beans on her firing. She broke down the results of her removal, cited the law, and noted that she could be a victim of retaliation.
“The people on your board should be people you trust explicitly,” Bryant said. “You need someone who is going to be ride or die in that room.”
As a result, Bryant filed a lawsuit against them. She told the audience that the battle ended with her and her suit reaching a settlement. But the last two years were learning lessons for her. From a founder’s perspective, she made it clear that it is impossible to avoid the fire. On the other side, she has grown and discovered gems along the way.
“This baby [BGC] was not everything that I am, and I still have more to give,” Bryant declared. She is proud to have been called back home to Memphis, Tennessee, and build an accelerator dedicated to supporting socially and economically disadvantaged founders.
Though the legal battles were mentally and financially taxing, Bryant said, “I was acutely aware that my daughter was looking at me.” As a fearless mother, she was also aware that other young girls and women within and outside the organization were also watching. “I had to navigate the storm to show them that they can make it through.”
“When there is an injustice, it is important that we stand up,” Bryant said.
Be intentional about who you bring in your inner circle.
As a startup founder, the people you choose to occupy your board now have control. They have agency that can take things away from you as a founder. You need to build and keep the circle as tight as possible.
Protect your intellectual property and legacy.
Bryant explained that everything doesn’t have to be in your company name. Logos, trademarks, and how you run your business can belong to you.
Invest in a firm legal team.
As you navigate your business, the right legal team can prevent you from mistakes you’ve missed or mechanisms you are unaware of. Bryant said the investment in a legal team may be your biggest expense, but it could cost you the most if you don’t invest in the best.