BIG NUMBERS: #BIGATL Cohort 2 Demographic Data

Each year, digitalundivided (DID) releases an infographic highlighting the demographics of each cohort of our BIG Incubator program, based in downtown Atlanta. The BIG Incubator received 120 Black and Latinx women applicants for 20 spots in our incubator program, an increase of 25% from last year.

 

GEOGRAPHICAL DATA

Applicants mostly came from these cities: Atlanta, New York City, Washington D.C., Detroit, and Los Angeles. Except for Detroit, these were all the top cities from last year’s applications as well. We also had a number of applications from outside the US (UK, El Salvador, and Jamaica).

While the largest single group of founders came from Atlanta, over 70% of the applicants came from outside Atlanta. The strength of the BIG brand and our reputation of using human-centered design in building out our program has created a strong pipeline of applicants into our program. This allows us to circumvent the challenges others have in finding and developing Black and Latinx women founders.

STARTUP EXPERIENCE

A majority of applicants were at the idea stage. Most had co-founders (86%). However, only 36% of them had experienced working in a startup before, and less than 5% of them have raised money (ranging from $200,000 to $850,000.).

In contrast, of the 2016 applicants, 64% have co-founders, while 68% have worked in a startup before. Reflecting the difference in target company stages, 38% of last year’s cohort already had sales.

EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT

The women came from many different schools across the country, with the following producing the most applicants for this year’s cohort : New York University, Georgia State University, Harvard University, and University of Pennsylvania.

Our applicants are highly educated, with 37% of them holding a bachelor’s degree, 24% holding a master’s, and 3% holding postgraduate degrees. 18% hold an associate’s degree, while the remaining 18% opted not to disclose their education.

PROFESSIONS

The applicants worked in a diverse number of fields, ranging from photography and aesthetics to accountancy and project management. We had therapists, students, chefs, civil engineers, diplomats, and technicians. A little over 10% had technical skills, often through working as a developer/software engineer.

CONCLUSION

BIG clearly demonstrate that there are a significant number of Black and Latinx women interested in building sustainable, high-growth companies, IF you know how to reach them.

To learn more about digitalundivided and BIG Incubator, please visit us at digitalundivided.com or email us talk@digitalundivided.com

Give Them Something to Look At: Mount Holyoke 2017 Commencement Speech

Kathryn received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters at the 2017 Mount Holyoke Commencement. Here’s the charge she gave to the crowd of over 2000 faculty, students, family, and friends.

Thank you President Stevens, the trustees and faculty of Mount Holyoke College, and the amazing class of 2017 and your friends and family.

This quirky black girl is totally freaking out that, I’m receiving an Honorary Doctorate with two of my personal heroes, Dolores Huerta and Joan E Biren. Thank you Ms. Huerta and JEB for continuing to blaze trails for women and men, like me, to follow.

My favorite things in the world are:

  • My family and friends, who love and support me
  • Filling out forms- there’s nothing I love more than a good form. The excitement I feel at tax time is measurable. A well organized form, with well-sized prompt boxes is nothing but pure joy for me.
  • Fashion- especially big hair. To paraphrase Dolly Parton- The bigger the hair, the closer to the stars.

However, many moons ago, back in the day of grunge music and hammer pants, I went through a time when I felt I had to hide my love of fashion, and in reality hide myself because being a quirky big black girl in 1990s Minnesota was NOT the business.

I was the ONLY black girl in my honors classes. Despite being told that I could not, SHOULD not run against a popular upperclassmen for student government, I did and won.

Sounds good, right? WRONG.

My reward for winning was that I was with faced severe, relentless, bullying for the entire time I was in high school. The. Entire. Time.

For those of you who’ve been bullied, you know the first reaction is to shrink yourself, to try and be invisible in the hope that the bullies will forget about you.

So, I dressed to not be seen. I thought if I de-quirked myself, tucked my big hair under a hat, maybe, just maybe, they would forget about me and leave me alone.

Again, this was during grunge and so no one noticed that I changed the way I dressed…

Except my family.

One day I had a particularly challenging outfit on, not exactly sure what I was wearing, but, trust me, it was not a good look. And, my father, who was a true fashionisto — the guy got his jeans starched — had had enough.

So, he pulled me aside from the kitchen table, where I was probably filling out a form, looked me in the eye, and told me:

“You are a big girl. You have a big personality. You walk into a room and people notice you. AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. This is your lot in life, to be noticed, to be looked at. So give them something to look at.”

As women, we’re told to make ourselves small, to shrink, to become invisible so our presence doesn’t offend someone or take up too much space. We think that by being small, by being less than who we truly are, that the very fragile egos of others will be preserved and protected. And they will let us be. That we will be “safe.”

But, as Marianne Williamson says, ”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I thought that the bullies targeted me because I didn’t fit in. That I was being punished for daring to challenge the status quo. But, really they were afraid of my power.

There is nothing, NOTHING more powerful than a woman, especially a Black woman, who owns her personhood. Nothing.

You do the world and yourself a great disservice by making yourself small. No matter what you do your true self will shine through and at this moment in history, Mount Holyoke class of 2017, we NEED you to let your true self shine through.

So give them something to look at.

Kathryn Finney
How digitalundivided is Building Confident Black and Latina Women Entrepreneurs

“Solving the problems of poverty in American cities requires us to support visionary, entrepreneurial women and people of color.” (Henderson, Living Cities, 2016)

digitalundivided (DID), an Atlanta-based social enterprise founded in 2013, takes an innovative, transformative approach to economic empowerment by building a data-driven ecosystem that harnesses entrepreneurship, innovation and technology as tools of change for Black and Latinx communities. Our theory of change is rooted in the belief that providing innovative women founders from these communities the training, capital and networks they need to build and scale their businesses impacts the economic development and growth of their communities, as well as prepares these founders for career, personal and life success.

DID uses data from #ProjectDiane, digitalundivided’s ongoing research initiative that gathers data on women of color in tech, to take an evidence-based approach to the development of our programs. Startlingly, prior to #ProjectDiane, much of the research in the tech startup space didn’t include research on women founders, let alone Black and Latina women CEOs. As a result, most of the data on women of color in tech was anecdotal, which made it difficult to develop programs to service these entrepreneurs. Over a six-month time period, DID conducted the primary research necessary to build the largest database of Black and Latina startup founders. #ProjectDiane serves as a repository for data on women-of-color founders, and analysis of this data continues to uncover alarming statistics that highlight the inequality and lack of opportunities for Black and Latina women in the startup world.

Black and Latina women entrepreneurs have an enormous impact on the growth of entrepreneurship in the U.S. Women of color, specifically Black and Latina women, are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, creating over 80% of the new women-led small businesses since 2007 (AMEX, 2016). Yet, there are only 88 U.S.-based tech startups led by Black women (#ProjectDiane, 2016). These startups represent only 4% of the women-led tech startups (compared with 35% of the U.S. female population) and receive less than .2% of all venture funding (#ProjectDiane, 2016). The average Black women-led startup raises $36,000, while the average (mostly) white male failed startup raises $1.3 million (CB Insights, 2015).

Further analysis of the #ProjectDiane data pointed towards three primary factors that restrict the ability of Black and Latina women to enter and succeed in the tech entrepreneurship space: lack of training, lack of network and lack of capital. These factors, and the data gleaned from the first year of #ProjectDiane, were used to develop the BIG Incubator program.

The BIG incubator program (BIG) guides high-potential Black and Latina women founders with tech-enabled businesses through a 26-week program based on the Lean Startup Methodology (LSM) model. DID uses LSM, which has strong mentorship and risk reduction components. It also addresses the contemporary challenges facing members of our cohort, many of whom are GenX and millennials starting innovation-centered businesses that are currently not served by traditional business incubator and accelerator programming.

BIG is focused on three primary outcomes:

  1. To develop a vibrant, data-driven ecosystem that tracks, assesses and expands the current body of data and insights to create more understanding and capacity within the larger tech ecosystem and economy.
  2. To create Confident Founders who can demonstrate their ability to grow a company, to attract customers and investors, and to articulate where they are going, what they need to get there, and how they are managing risk.
  3. To empower Black and Latina technology women for career, personal and life success.

In the fall of 2016, DID ran a 12-week pilot of the BIG program with seven companies. Each company received up to $20,000 in angel investment from the Harriett Angels Network, free membership at the BIG Innovation Center and access to over 30+ mentors from companies ranging from Microsoft to Case Foundation. The pilot received support from a wide range of partners including the U.S. Small Business Administration and Surdna Foundation.

The success and challenges of the pilot led to several internal discussions within DID on how to capture more Black and Latina women founders, many of whom are at the “early stages” (idea, pre-investment) rather than “later stage” (growth, development, investment) of their entrepreneurial journey in the innovation space. DID received close to 100 applications for the seven available slots for our first cohort. As a result, DID expanded the length of the incubator from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the second cohort, organized it into three key modules (Customer Development, Product Development, and Company Development) and added an introductory module called START, a weekend ideation program that gives founders a peek into the world of tech entrepreneurship prior to committing to the program, while giving DID the opportunity to serve more founders at an earlier stage in the process.

The rise in technologies like mobile and cloud servers reduced the barriers that limited the entrance and success of women of color in the world of entrepreneurship in general. The rise of technologies like cloud servers, machine learning, and mobile devices reduced the unit economics, the cost to acquire and maintain a customer, a business. A founder doesn’t need a bank loan to start a website. They don’t even need a computer. These changes have opened up a path to sustainable entrepreneurship. Through the BIG Innovation Center and BIG Incubator, digitalundivided is focused on empowering more Black and Latina women founders to access these opportunities.

This post originally appeared in the series “Closing the Racial Gaps: Together We Can” which highlights efforts across the United States that show promise for closing racial opportunity gaps and creating a more equitable future.

Kathryn Finney