Black Women Rock at Raising Capital: Sevetri Wilson’s NOLA Startup Raises $8 Million
Despite the obstacles, some black women founders are out here killing it when it comes to raising capital. New Orleans startup Resilia, founded by Sevetri Wilson, announced today that it has raised $8 million in its Series A round of funding.
The round was led by Mucker Capital and Callais Capital Management with participation by Cultivation Capital. It the highest venture capital raise by a female-founded tech company in the state of Louisiana.
Resilia is a software as a service (SaaS) platform with the mission to “harness the power of technology and human connection to bridge gaps between those deploying capital and those on the receiving end.” It provides nonprofits with tools for compliance, management, training, and funding, while also serving those entities that give money to the nonprofits—like governments and corporate or private foundations.
Wilson started her first company, Solid Ground Innovations, with zero capital and grew it to a seven-figure enterprise, then launched Resilia four years ago as a spinoff. Black Enterprise spoke exclusively with Wilson as she prepared to announce her latest achievement about how she’s found success raising capital.
You were already a successful entrepreneur, why did you decide to start a second company?
Most people thought I was crazy because SGI was doing really good. They were like why would you pivot and go to technology. I wasn’t in the venture world and I didn’t come up in San Francisco. So you could imagine going out to raise money, and you’re not a technical founder, and you’re black, and you’re from the South. I had a lot of “ands” with me.
But I’ve always been a big believer that if you can create a vision, and you can put together people to execute against a vision, knowing your weaknesses, then, ultimately, you can find success. I knew that technology was this major disrupter and it was disrupting industry after industry and either I was going to be on the side of doing the disrupting or I was going to be disrupted by it.
And particularly in the space of nonprofits and philanthropy, I saw that the technology was very dated, and generally the work that we were doing, we were doing as consultants. I was like there has to be a better way to do this, to collect information, to share information faster, to synchronize data. That’s what originally made me start thinking about how we could utilize technology to solve some of the issues we were having as consultants and essentially how could I begin to productize our services.
But you didn’t have any background in technology.
I believe that anyone can learn anything—whether you want to or not, that’s up to you. I just threw myself into the world of technology. I was taking courses online, learning the lingo so I could talk to my developers and engineers, I began to follow various different online news, and I hired people that knew what they were doing.
You previously made history with your seed round. What was that experience like for you?
Man, I remember reading so many stories about how difficult it was for women raising capital. But for me, because I started a company before, I felt that I had at least a head start, right? And when I went out to raise capital, it was like, ‘Who are you?’ Even after all of the stories, I was shocked that this was happening to me. When I was raising the seed round, it was just miserable. I didn’t have any more to give.
In my opinion, I feel like investors can try to discourage black founders from raising capital because they don’t want to invest in them: ‘Well maybe your business isn’t, you know, fit for raising capital,’ when you rarely hear that on the other side for other people.
So why even go the fundraising route?
I do subscribe to the fact that every business shouldn’t be backed by venture capital because I actually built a company that did not raise capital. We were able to build the company very lean, but we also weren’t building software. Software is expensive. And when you need to drive a go-to-market strategy and run a sales engine, it’s expensive. When you need to build out engineers, that isn’t cheap.
For us to really be able to compete, if we want to be able to capture percent of the market share, if we want to be thought leaders in this space, and really be the go-to for what we’re doing, we’re going to have to raise capital.
What does this new raise mean for the company?
This round of funding allows the company to begin to really scale. We launched to the public in November 2016 with one specific product. Then we were called Exempt Me Now; we rebranded to Resilia as it began to push into market as well as introduced a suite of new subscription-based products, speaking to more of a fast business model. It allowed us to begin to rapidly grow and focus on reoccurring revenue. Now, this funding allows us to begin to hire, to fill out our executive suite of individuals who can help us grow the company to greater heights. So this is a continuation of what we had essentially planned when we first started and we’re actually being able to realize a lot of the goals and intent behind the company now with this funding.
Was it easier this time around?
When I went to raise my series A, because we were growing at essentially at a 250% year-over-year rate, it became a little bit easier for investors to take my calls, to go into meetings and pitch. But even then the diligence is brutal. I know that some of my white male colleagues weren’t going through months of diligence, having to send off data and information and then you send off more and you send off more. But we were able to get through a pretty rigorous diligence process.
And you were also racing to beat the clock of a looming pandemic.
We closed in mid-March, and so I felt the pressure of COVID-19. I was trying to get wires sent and documents signed, and I literally felt like the walls were closing in on me. It’s definitely by divine nature that we were able to close right ahead of this. I’m thinking about founders who are just about to go out and raise money, you know it’s already hard enough for us black founders, you can imagine how far down the totem pole we’re going to be.
Speaking of coronavirus, it’s having an incredible effect on your industry.
Philanthropy is busier than ever. We’re seeing more funding being dispersed for COVID-19 than we’ve ever seen across any natural disaster. I’m from Louisiana, and I lived through Hurricane Katrina. One thing that actually influenced our own product was what happened next, after Katrina. We saw a move to disperse money really quickly. But when money is dispersed rapidly like that, we all know there’s going to be so many issues. It’s harder to track, if you’re trying to measure the impact of where that money’s going, is it reaching the people it needs to reach, what are we learning from this information and how can we use it to deploy the next round of funding. Our technology was built to help mitigate those risks. And so now that we’re in COVID-19, it’s like, wow we were built for this.
You also want to make sure that black nonprofits know you’re a resource.
The New York Times wrote an article recently about the disparity in philanthropy, and anyone who has worked in philanthropy knows there’s a lot of disparity about who receives funding and what people look like on the other end, who are receiving funds. I personally feel obligated to ensure that information is getting out to our communities, getting out to organizations led by black leaders, particularly when we know COVID-19 is impacting black communities more than anyone. Y’all are not going to leave us behind again!