Looking for Black and Latina Women Founders? Well, We Found Them…

digitalundivided recently completed the application cycle for the BIG Accelerator Program, the first accelerator program for Black and Latina women founders of high growth companies (more on how we developed the accelerator to come). BIG is a 12-week accelerator program for startups led by Black and Latina women. Located in the heart of Atlanta, BIG provides a structured curriculum focused on developing sustainable businesses, mentorship by top leaders, opportunities to pitch directly to investors, and $20,000 in funding from the Harriet Angels. BIG is a winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2015–2016 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition and supported by the Surdna Foundation.

digitalundivided is acutely aware of our role to assist in the development of amazing, tech-enabled, companies founded by great founders who just happen to be Black and Latina women. We’re also acutely aware of our role to show that there are, in fact, amazing tech companies founded by Black and Latina women.

So, we put together a simple infographic on the 96 (!!!) Black and Latina women founders who applied to the first cohort of BIG. The most interesting, but not surprising, data point was the sheer diversity of companies that applied. From augmented reality to cannabis management software to custom shoes, the BIG applicant pool shows that there isn’t a lack of ideas or even development capabilities (68% have a tech co founder).

Why There’s No Diversity in Tech

To really understand why tech is having a hard time with diversity, you need to understandLibertarianism

The idea of forced inclusion is one that goes against the very Libertarian foundations of tech. The freedom to run your life/company as you wish without outside interference is a sacred right in this community. There are venture capitalists, who pride themselves on being free range and not monitoring their investments.

The idea that an outside group, and for the most part women, Latinos, Blacks are outsiders in tech, would exert power, even force, technologists to be more inclusive, is an idea that sends tremors down the objectivist spines of the greater tech community.

The concept of Objectivism — the focus on individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, and “facts” — is one that is often hard for outsiders to understand. I didn’t fully understand the philosophy and it’s impact on tech, until I read folks like Ayn Rand and David Boaz.

At the center of objectivism is the belief that “facts are facts”, and “personal opinion or social convention has no impact on facts/reality”. Which is true, except when it’s not.

Reality is not a fixed position. If in a race, one runner starts at the starting -line and the other runner starts 15 feet back, yet both finish at the same time, who’s the better runner? Imagine how good the person who started 15 feet back had to be to run a longer distance, yet get the same time.

Tech is being asked to use their resources to help the runner in back get to the starting line. To be honest, most people in tech are ok with helping as long as they’re allowed to choose when/how/who to help.

What I wrote in 2015:

I was getting tired of encouraging black people to apply to work at companies that will never, ever, hire them. Tech is looking for a certain type of black person (the perfect description of this person can be found in this clip from Ocean’s 11). The hiring process in tech is all about, “who do you want to have an artisanal, organic, beer with?”. If the hiring manager doesn’t see you as a possible friend, the likelihood of getting hired is pretty slim. Black women aren’t high on the “friend list”.

Tech Has a Friend Problem

While tech is very good at disrupting transportation, getting you to chase strange animals into the middle of the street and changing the way you buy razors, the industry is very very bad at inclusion. The reason, they’re not looking for talented employees or interesting investments, but are really looking for friends.

Read the full piece, published over a year ago, Here

Medium: How to Gain Mainstream Success

The easiest path to success is to model yourself after those who are already successful.

Find someone who is where you want to be and use his or her path to success as a roadmap for yourself.

Here’s a Story…

In the early 1990s, a middling talent rapper with a few hits and a Grammy (the first ever in the rap category), found himself in the most clichéd of situations — he owed close to $3 million dollars in unpaid back taxes to the IRS.

Now, this was the 1990s. Hip-hop was, well, in transition, on it’s way from an east coast underground music phenomenon to the the global force of today. Rappers weren’t the multi-hyphenated business moguls they are now. Jay-Zwas still a part-time rapper/full-time drug dealer. Sean “Puffy” Combs was still an intern at Uptown Records. 50 cent didn’t have a dime. The only (legal) way for a rapper to raise that kind of money was to go into acting and, fortunately for this rapper, he was presented with the opportunity to star in a television show somewhat based on his life.

The show was a “fish out of water” situation comedy, centered on his character moving from his urban east coast hometown (“the hood”) to a high-end enclave of Los Angeles (“so NOT the hood”) to live with his mother’s rich younger sister and her bougie family.

The show became an instant hit.

But the rapper, who was very smart and prior to becoming a rap star flirted with the idea of going to an Ivy League school, knew that the real money in entertainment wasn’t made by TV stars (This was BK — before Kardashian. The most famous Kardashian at this time was trying to help his bestie beat a murder rap). The real, real money in 1990s America was made by movie stars. And since he was a rapper, meaning he had no shortage of ego, he didn’t want to be just any movie star, but “THE” movie star.

So he began.

Now, not many rappers in the 1990s were able to make the transition from music to film. The most successful at this point was the ever charismatic Tupac Shakur, but Tupac had some formal training, attending a performing arts high school, ironically, with our rap star/budding leading man’s future wife.

So, the rapper started out slow. His first major starring role in a movie was in a small budget drama based on an acclaimed play. Critics LOVED the movie.

“A rare sight: a sharply observed Hollywood satire of poignant ideas,” 
- Random Movie Critic.

His character was gay — remember this was the 90s when machismo was full blast in rap. It showed his range as an actor and showed he was willing to take risks.

But small budget dramas don’t make you THE movie star.

Logically, he should have followed in the footsteps of the black male movie icons of that time — Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor — who starred in successful comedies with a slight action bent like Stir Crazy48hrs and Beverly Hills Cop. Since he was already a TV comedy star, he could seamlessly transition to become a movie comedy star. A black guy, as a comedian, people could understand. But a black guy as a mass market superhero, that was a new idea.

But just like drama films don’t make an actor THE movie star, neither do comedies with a few action scenes thrown in for good measure. No full fledged comedy film was in the top ten grossing films of the 1980s. In fact, seven of the top ten grossing movies of the decade were action films, and all of the top grossing films of the 1980s fit into one of two genres — action or science fiction (Sci-Fi).

Top Ten Highest Grossing Movies of the 1980s

At that time, and remember this is the early 1990s, THE biggest stars in terms of box office gross were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, and Harrison Ford. Schwarzenegger was killing it at the box office in the TerminatorPredator, and other movies that deftly mixed Sci-Fi with action and a small dash of humor. The same with Willis and the Die Hard franchise. Ford was coming off a decade of iconic roles in movies that changed entertainment — the Star Wars Trilogy and Indiana Jones movies. Ford’s combination of winning matinee idol good looks with a penchant for a good quip led him to star in 5 of the 10 biggest grossing movies of the 1980s, all a mix of action, with a dash of comedy (and a lot of Sci-Fi in the case of Star Wars).

So, if your goal is to be THE (male) Movie Star, it’s pretty clear what genre you should focus on — action — and if you can add in a bit of Sci-Fi with a dash of comedy, you have yourself a solid formula for success.

So, the rapper studied the careers of Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Cruise, noting the roles they selected, how much each movie grossed, and even noting the time of year the films were released.

He chose his next film, a buddy action comedy set in a beach city known for having a ton of very good-looking people, based on this criteria. It was a solid hit, making 10 times the box office gross of his critically acclaimed drama. However, this film was missing the Sci-Fi angle, and he knew to truly break out, he would need that.

His next, next, film had all the elements of the winning formula: Sci-Fi, lots of action, and a few iconic comedic situations.

This was the movie that turned him into THE movie star.

The film went on to become, at the time, the second highest grossing film of ALL time. ALL TIME. He applied the formula to his other movie choices throughout the 90s and into the early part of the millennia, becoming one of the top film stars of all time, with his combination of action and Sci-Fi comedy bringing in over $2.5 billion dollars.

Oh yeah, he also dropped his rap moniker and started using his real name.

Will Smith.