We all know the statistics — even though Black women are the fasting growing group of entrepreneurs, we’re still the smallest percentage of all VC funding.
Sevetri Wilson however, didn’t let the naysayers stop her. This year she solidified her place on the list (along with 33 others), as one of few Black women founders to raise more than a million dollars in funding — she did $2 million, in fact. Wilson is founder and CEO of ExemptMeNow, an online platform that simplifies the process of creating and maintaining a nonprofit.
Don’t get discouraged — there’s hope for us all. The pool of funds raised by bBack women founders increased 500%, from $50 million in 2016 to almost $250 million in 2017. There are also 2.5 times as many startups founded by Black women in 2018 than there were in 2016.
At AfroTech, Wilson had a one on one “Founder Chat” with Megan Holston-Alexander to discuss what life is like during the “Seed Stage.” Following this discussion, we spoke with Wilson to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how she raised her millions — and how other Black women can do so also.
ESSENCE: The difficulty Black women founders face when raising VC funding is no surprise. Do you have any words of encouragement for Black women?
Sevetri Wilson: I really do believe that for Black women, at least for people of color in general, our breakthrough is on the other end of disappointment; on the other end of failure; on the other end of setbacks. And for me, it’s been having the courage to keep getting back up after being constantly knocked down. Being able to have the grit and tenacity to keep going every single day, it’s something that is understated and undervalued, that Black women just have a lot of, right?
In addition to that, I think it’s also important to have the right people around you. If you don’t have those people — because not everyone has a strong support system — you have to go out and build it. Go and [find] the people that you need to talk to. Who are the people that can give you advice? People who’ve been there and done that. Those who have had successes and failures. You can learn from both, in order to be successful. That’s something that I have curated. Those relationships and networks of people I’ve been able to create without even necessarily knowing anybody. Sometimes we don’t know anybody, but you have to do it very organically.
Speaking of building your network and surrounding yourself with the right people, where are you finding these individuals? And how do you know whether or not these people are authentic to help you or to build those relationships with?
You have to go out — attend events, networking conferences and summits. Even if it’s your local business entrepreneur summit. Start somewhere. You have to try to get in front of people. I remember, a mentor of mine, I met at a conference where he was speaking to a room of about 500 Black women. After his talk, he gave us all his information: resources where he could help, where he could give advice, and told us to do all these things with our companies. And he said, “I’m going to leave this on you: here’s my number and my email. But I’m going to say this, when I go back to my office on Monday, maybe two people are going to call me. Maybe.” So week 2 passed after the conference, and I sent him an email and scheduled a meeting with him. He said that out of those 500 women, I was still the only one to reach out to him.
Oftentimes we think people are untouchable, or inaccessible, but you can’t get caught up in that rejection. You have to focus on the people who will give you that time of day.
Talk to me about the process you went through in raising capital. What was that like?
I remember going out to raise capital, and at the time, our company had traction and numbers. And now that we had more than a minimum viable product, we were gaining traction so I went out to essentially raise money because that was the natural progression of what we were trying to do as a scalable tech company. When I went out, I would be met with a, ‘Oh, who are you?’ Because the majority of Black people aren’t in Silicon Valley, so we’re trying to build companies in the south and all across the country. It’s easy to turn us down because people are like, ‘oh, I’m not going to see you again.’ And surprise! people saw me come back.
For me, raising capital was tough and it goes back to the thought process of figuring out which investors are for you. We created a funnel chart and identified investors that [met our needs]. Some of those people still told us no. People can be what you are for, and still not be for you. We were preaching to rooms of all white men. You go in from a negative position. So you have to work yourself to just the foundation. And we’re not saying this because we feel like everybody’s against Black people or we have a chip on our shoulders — no, this is reality. And it’s not a coincidence that my story looks like her story and we all look alike. Some of us hadn’t even met each other, yet we have the same identical stories? There’s a barrier that’s there for Black women and it’s deeper than the tech that we’re building. We have to really break through that. It’s tough.