Since 2012, digitalundivided has built and scaled successful data-driven programs that remove barriers and create a pathway for women of color into innovation entrepreneurship. Read on to learn how our work impacted, informed, and inspired global companies, mission-driven organizations, and passionate Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs.
digitalundivided in Action:
The Case Foundation, created by digital pioneers Jean and Steve Case, is driven by its mission to “invest in people and ideas that can change the world.” At the core of the Case Foundation’s work within the Inclusive Entrepreneurship movement is the belief that there is a powerful economic opportunity to seize by providing the resources, networking and support that entrepreneurs from all races, places and genders need to succeed.
The Case Foundation looks to partnerships and programs that aim to reduce common barriers to entrepreneurship faced by diverse entrepreneurs and scale local pilots into national programs serving women and entrepreneurs of color. That is why they supported digitalundivided in 2017.
Sarah Koch, VP of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation, noted “ProjectDiane 2016 had a real impact as we, at the Case Foundation, saw a signifcant change in people’s perceptions of entrepreneurship in communities of color. ProjectDiane put real numbers behind what people felt was happening but could not quantify and ensured these stark inequalities could not be overlooked by those who were in denial about what was happening.”
The Case Foundation incorporated data from ProjectDiane 2016 into their work, anchored by specifc efforts designed to show investors that there is a strong pipeline of diverse entrepreneurs from a wide variety of backgrounds.
A partner and thought-leader
ProjectDiane’s data and insights have informed much of the Case Foundation’s Inclusive Entrepreneurship work.
The Case Foundation’s Inclusive Entrepreneurship movement seeks to accelerate more inclusive and broad growth by bringing a more diverse set of innovators and founders – particularly women and people of color – to the table to drive high-growth potentially impactful startups. The ProjectDiane data is integral to changing cultural perceptions of entrepreneurship, simultaneously providing important role models for aspiring entrepreneurs and showing investors and other stakeholders the stark inequity that exists for diverse entrepreneurs. The Foundation, working with DID, believes there is a powerful opportunity to elevate stories of female founders and entrepreneurs of color amongst investors and journalists.
digitalundivided in Action:
JPMorgan Chase’s Small Business Forward program has committed to investing $150 million over five years to support women, minority, and veteran-owned small businesses. With small businesses growing fastest among people of color, particularly women of color, the program focuses on helping these businesses get started and shepherding their subsequent growth. It is through this program that JPMorgan Chase (JPMorgan Chase) partnered with digitalundivided.
The first year of the Small Business Forward initiative demonstrated solid results in terms of how small businesses supported by the program were generating revenue, hiring people, and acquiring patents, at a faster rate than industry average. JPMorgan Chase also noted though that the programs didn’t always include a diverse set of founders. Ted Archer, Head of Small Business Forward, Global Philanthropy, said, “While tremendous gains were being made, those gains did not translate enough to the inclusion of founders of color, women, or the communities that surrounded those companies.” JPMorgan Chase decided then that, as a global company specializing in improving the flow and delivery of capital, there was more that could be done to open doors to underrepresented founders and help ensure inclusive economic growth for more communities with greater access to flexible capital, targeted technical assistance, and access to important networks.
Partnering with digitalundivided
In 2016, JPMorgan Chase learned about digitalundivided (DID) and its research initiative, ProjectDiane, and were interested in DID’s data-driven approach, connections to investors, and the fact that its programming was designed for women of color by women of color. ProjectDiane in particular highlighted the fact that capital is not flowing to women of color founders, which struck a chord with JPMorgan Chase. “With their data-driven approach DID is uniquely positioned to shed light on the fact that capital is not flowing where it should and also to scale up women of color founders in a way that helps them navigate the maze of particular challenges that exist for them in the startup space,” Archer expressed. “We are proud to be a partner in this important work and raise awareness to drive greater investment in this arena.”
digitalundivided in action: Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC)
Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) helps entrepreneurs in Georgia build technology companies by connecting them to coaching, capital, customers, campus resources, and talent. ATDC and digitalundivided have collaborated since DID moved to Atlanta in 2016.
ATDC hopes to make Atlanta a national leader for minority and women-founded startups. Jen Bonnett, ATDC’s general manager, cited Atlanta as a city that is moving forward, saying, “if you’re sick of Silicon Valley and New York, and being considered a second-class citizen due to your gender, race, or sexual identity, Atlanta is the friendly place for you to do a startup.”
To achieve ATDC’s vision, Bonnett says Atlanta must do three things: publicize what they can offer businesses, encourage more collaboration and knowledge-sharing between the many local organizations working with startups, and offer more investment capital. This requires changing people’s perspectives by reinforcing that the city’s transformation will not happen overnight. “This is a 5-10-year game,” says Bonnett.
DID most contributes to ATDC’s mission by raising awareness of specific gaps facing Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs and by developing and inspiring more inclusive programming. The 2016 #Projectdiane report was the first step in this process. Bonnet says, “#ProjectDiane was insane. It taught me what a life of privilege I have led as a white woman. Despite all the challenges I’ve faced—which have been big in technology—I’m still privileged.”
But Bonnett reframes the challenge, saying “Those statistics are the history, so let’s change history. Let’s build great, fundable businesses and help [Founders] get funding.” In order to help more founders do just that, ATDC has worked over the past three years to improve diversity within the organization, mostly by creating partnerships such as the one it has with digitalundivided.
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: Founder builds a community for Misfits of Color
Bryanda Law, a former cytogenetic technologist, is the Founder of Quirktastic, a media tech company that aims to be be the go-to for all things for quirky people of color and build the largest, most authentic community of geeks, nerds, alternatives, and free spirits of color. The company’s core products include Quirktastic, a contributor content site, an ecommerce shop called The Quirk Shop, and a multi-genre convention called QuirkCon.
Within 1 year, Bryanda has successfully scaled the company to almost six figures in annual revenues. “I’m building a sense of community for people who haven’t had this type of community before, because I was one of those kids. For example, I was the only black kid at the Asian culture club. You can grow up feeling like you’re the only one, but when you go online, you have all of these groups of people that find each other. That’s what Quirktastic has become and where we define success – no matter what happens, we can go back to that base of building this large, authentic community.”
Bryanda stresses the importance of customer discovery as the foundation for decisions ranging from product development to marketing strategy to event organization. She has even organized the data for her managing editors to help them brainstorm topics to write about for Quirktastic.
Knowing her business through and through improved her confidence. “Some of the fears I had about talking about my business went away because... I knew I had a business. I had done the work. I can look at my unit economics and know what’s working. I can tell you my month over month growth rate. I can tell you my customer acquisition costs. That helped me become more confident within my business.”
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: using blockchain to disrupt the music industry
Farah Allen is the founder of The LABZ, a cloud-based blockchain music creation and real-time collaboration platform. The LABZ makes it easy to protect artists’ music by collecting song data to facilitate electronic exchanges of contracts and digital copyrights. For Farah, the first spark came with her husband, who is in the music industry, having issues with artists not knowing anything about business. By not protecting their music, they were leaving money on the table and being sued. This problem led to her first solution, the Song Society App, which allowed professionals and aspiring songwriters to complete the songwriting process in a single step.
DID’s network helped give Farah access to other CEOs and Founders further along in their entrepreneurial journey. “I don’t think anyone tops DID’s network,” she said. “The effort it takes to nurture and grow black women entrepreneurs, I don’t take for granted.”
Empathetic understanding of the pain point, combined with Farah’s problem-solving nature and IT background helped her conceptualize a solution that led her to be accepted in Comcast Universal’s “The Farm” Accelerator program post BIG Incubator. Farah’s family is also a source of support, pushing her to be big. At first, her family had some concerns due to stories they had heard about failed entrepreneurs, but once she brought them into the world of startups at the BIG Demo Day, they really understood that Farah could go the distance.
At BIG, Farah learned what it meant to be a high-tech, high growth potential enterprise, but she was also empowered to think of herself as leading that enterprise. Farah often refers to that empowerment as one of the greatest benefits derived from BIG: “They have empowered me to think bigger…to think big. You can be big.”
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: Rethinking How to Build A Startup
Valeska Toro, Founder of Sola Reviews, came up with the idea for Sola, a travel review site designed for women travelers, on a trip to Japan in January 2017. She honed the idea of a startup geared towards women travelers throughout the customer discovery process: “What we found through customer discovery....is that women are afraid to travel alone. Women control the travel market—80% of travel-related decisions are made by women—yet we are afraid to travel alone. And the only way we will get to a point where we do feel comfortable [doing that] is a change in the industry and the way that hotels [and] AirBnB treat us and prioritize us. ”
It was important for Valeska to be able to keep her full-time job as a project manager for a major financial services firm while also developing her startup. This flexibility is a key feature of digitalundivided’s BIG Incubator. The community of other women of color founders was also an important factor, because her friends and family don’t fully understand why she is pursuing her enterprise.
Thinking back on her experience, Valeska recalled, “I think there is something very unique about every single founder being a minority female. Close to Demo Day, [I was] looking through YouTube videos of pitches from other Demo Days [to] get inspiration, and every single pitch was a white guy. That was the moment I realized how unique our environment was because for 6 months, I was just used to it being women. Entrepreneurship is so hard already. To be able to just... focus on you and what you’re building and no one to look at you in a certain way because of who you are – it’s really important.”
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: Using Data to Build Communication Between Communities and Law Enforcement
Noelle Adams is the founder of the Culpability App, a mobile application that allows people to capture non-emergency incidents such as police harassment and gang intimidation and store the footage in a secured database.
Driven by her brother’s wrongful conviction in 2005 and the tampered police video and audio that helped convict him, Noelle has been on a 13-year journey to develop a solution that provides more accountability and helps communities feel safer. Noelle’s dad is also a retired police officer. “I know what it feels like to be worried about him coming home safely. At the same time, I know what it feels like to see someone be wrongfully convicted. One thing I think the majority of folks want is for everyone to be able to go home safely at the end of the day.”
Noelle started building her business by joining startup community leaders like Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), where she learned about customer discovery. But mentors she was working with were “older white tech guys, and did not understand the problem I was describing. I knew that I was in front of the wrong audience.”
Noelle said her greatest challenge was “getting rid of all that crap I’ve picked up, those things that cause me to doubt myself. Or those things that have made me feel like, ‘Can I really do this? Are you sure you can do it?’”
Being a part of a tech incubator for Black and Latinx women provided the training, but also the encouragement and “tough love” that Noelle needed to build her startup. Noelle recalls her mentors telling her, “Noelle, you can do this.” She would reflect for a while, then realize that they were right: she could do it.
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: Piersten Gaines, Founder of Pressed Roots and 2018 BIG Incubator Participant
Piersten’s first blowout hair salon experience in 2014 set the wheels in motion for a business that would combine beauty with today’s wellness movement—think rejuvenated ‘dos and fresh-pressed juice. Piersten entered Harvard Business School with the goal of building her new salon brand. But her mother’s passing expedited Piersten’s plans.
“I realized life was so short,” she says. “Why don’t I just go after what I want right now?”
Piersten first learned about digitalundivided through Julianne Zimmerman, Managing Director of Reinventure Capital and a guest speaker at one of Piersten’s seminars at Harvard. The BIG Incubator’s main selling point was its focus on women of color—her main clientele. “If anyone was going to, it was going to be DID,” says Piersten.
For Piersten, Pressed Roots isn’t just a business—it’s a testament to the drive her mother instilled in her. But for Harvard Business School grads, who typically take consultancy jobs after graduation to pay off student loans, it’s the road less traveled. Still, many have been inspired by Piersten’s dream, and are eager to help.
Navigating the customer discovery waters and learning how to accrue funding for Pressed Roots are two challenges Piersten looked to the BIG Incubator to help her conquer. Though still in the first few weeks of the program, Piersten says being surrounded by others going through the same thing inspires her.
And she has big plans for Pressed Roots. “I want it to be a franchise in every major city in the country,” says Piersten. “I’d [also] like to partner with gyms. Working out is good for your health and your hair. But when you work out, you mess up your hair.” And then it’s back to Pressed Roots for a blowout and a cold-pressed juice!
DIGITALUNDIVIDED IN ACTION: Pamela Barba, Founder of Vamos Ladies and 2018 BIG Incubator Participant
Pamela had risen in the graphic design world to a high-powered, high-paying position, but a lack of diversity and the inability to make an impact in her field compelled her to seek an alternate path. She became determined to leverage her activist skills, design expertise, and tech passion to build something that would economically empower the Latinx community. But she realized that in order to do so, she’d need guidance.
Pamela first learned about digitalundivided (DID) and the BIG Incubator Program through the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Georgia State University. “I had never had a mentor who was a woman of color. That was something I needed,” says Pam.
The BIG Incubator helps Pamela develop the confidence and skills needed to create a successful startup. “It’s less about your skillset and more about believing in yourself, dealing with fear, and being organized,” says Pamela. She’s learned to step out of her own way so that her business can climb toward its potential. And for the first time in her life, Pamela feels at peace with what she is doing: “I know I’m doing my part to make things better.”
Pamela is working to see what sort of connections people want in order to determine which platform she needs to build. “If I can find a way for women to feel like they can turn to something or somebody and not feel alone,” says Pamela, “then I think I did it right.”
Until now, she has lacked a clear direction, but she says that BIG has helped her pinpoint her next move: “Being in a program like BIG that takes me through a process helps provide clarity.”