For the ESSENCE Best & Black Owned series, Work & Money Editor Marquita K. Harris and her team learn about the ups, downs, and in-betweens of running a business.
It’s a widely known fact that the tech startup world is devoid of Black and Brown faces, particularly those of women.
In fact, according to The National Center of Women and Information Technology, as of 2018, women of color make up just 5 percent of the industry with Black women holding 3 percent and the remaining 2 percent being Hispanic women. With numbers this shockingly low, tech entrepreneur Kathryn Finney made it her mission to help Black and Latinx women not only make their debut in the industry but help fund their companies and watch them grow.
In 2013, Finney launched Digitalundivided a social enterprise geared to economic empowerment for women of color. Digital Undivided takes a key focus on economic security through entrepreneurship, with an overall mission in helping women of color fund their business, own their work and control their economic destiny. We spoke to Finney about her journey, check it out!
Take me through the early stages of founding Digitalundivided?
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I know how to build a company and with my academic background, self-made startup experience, and street cred as one of the first online influencers, I knew I was going to be fine. Yet while building out TBF in one of the early tech incubators in NYC, it hit me that it was the first time, as an overachiever that people had zero expectations of me. No one wanted to talk to this lone Black chick in the room. I had to push hard just to be seen, let alone to be heard. And when I did finally get my chance to pitch, I was met by responses like, “I don’t do Black women stuff”. Or told that I, a Black woman, could not relate to other Black women simply because I had an accountant. I knew that my horror stories weren’t unique. And I knew that I had to do something about it. And so, digitalundivided was born.
What is the mission of Digitalundivided?
At Digitalundivided, we’re building a world where women own their work and economic security through entrepreneurship and innovation. We empower them to think BIG. We do this through ProjectDiane, a groundbreaking research initiative on women, entrepreneurship, and innovation that helped pave the way for increased attention, support, and funding for Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs; the BIG Innovation Center, a culturally-relevant innovation space in Newark and Atlanta that has over 30 pipeline-building events for local women entrepreneurs every year; and the award-winning BIG Incubator, a 30-week incubator program in Newark and Atlanta for high potential Black and Latinx women (now on its fourth cohort). We encourage Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs to become part of our community and participate in these programs and events because as the saying goes, we don’t just open doors of opportunity, but we also equip the people to walk through those doors.
What do you want young entrepreneurs to know about funding and the early stages of starting a business?
Trust your instinct — but listen. Sometimes founders are the only ones who can truly see the vision of a business, so don’t get discouraged if it feels like you’re the only one who does at times. But it’s important to listen, too. If you’re building a consumer product and no consumer seems to get the concept, then you should probably let it go — the market speaks. And prioritize building your product first. There are cost-effective ways to do this that won’t require large sums of money upfront in order to materialize. Don’t seek funding for the sake of itself.
What’s the best way for entrepreneurs to go about raising funds and finding the right investors in their companies?
Don’t ever try to target every investor you come across. Focus on the ones who are actually known in the community to write checks for women of color founders. I’ve made it a cardinal rule that if your investors are more interested in how you made it to the room with them rather than what your startup actually does, then you should walk away fast.
You’ve raised over $25 million outside funding for Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs, through digitalundivided, the obvious question is ….how sway?
We’re at the forefront of creating and building a direct pipeline to tech entrepreneurship. Over 40 percent of the Black women who have raised Series A funding in the past five years are a part of the digitalundivided network, where they received mentoring and/or valuable connections to people and organizations that can write them checks.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Black and Latinx women in the world of entrepreneurship?
We need more pipelines for Black and Latinx women to break into the innovation economy. One way of doing that is to support organizations like DID that are building solid pathways for women of color entrepreneurs through the BIG Incubator and its other programs. You also don’t need to be a Warren Buffett to invest in WOC-led businesses—crowdfunding nowadays makes supporting women founders easier and so much more accessible. We should also lure WOC entrepreneurs away from the big, expensive cities like New York and San Francisco, and into the neighboring tech hubs like Newark and Sacramento. These latter cities offer lower costs of living AND business operations (crucial to early-stage businesses) while also serving as home to major research institutions, diverse populations, and cultural experiences that fosters innovation in the startup and drives business growth.
What would be one piece of advice to a young woman of color entering the world of entrepreneurship?
Show up, no permission needed. Women, especially young ones, are often told to stand in the sidelines quietly and wait for our turn. But if my team and I waited for permission, we might never have gotten DID off the ground!