When Kathryn Finney, a Yale-educated epidemiologist, joined one of the earliest and biggest incubators in New York City in 2007, she was met with extreme sexism and racism that also served as the trigger moment that led her to create an enterprise that actively addressed her and others’ experiences in pursuing opportunities in tech and entrepreneurship. Launched four years ago, digitalundivided (DID) is a social enterprise that fosters economic growth in communities by finding, training, and supporting women of color entrepreneurs.
Now, both Finney and DID have relocated to the South —Atlanta, to be exact— and are set to go big, literally. The 6,000-square-foot BIG Innovation Center is projected to open in September, with its goal to encourage innovation in communities that have been excluded from the process.
And by process, Finney more specifically points to funding. While Black and Latina women comprise the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. (over 1.5 million businesses owned by Black women alone) and their businesses generating over $44 billion a year in revenue, they remain undercapitalized compared to other startups. “The proprietary research by #ProjectDiane discovered that Black women startup founders raise $36,000 on average, while the average (mostly white male-led) failed startup raises $1.3 million,” said Finney. “Statistically, zero venture deals from 2012–2014 were for Black Women startups (0.2%), and Black women Startups represent a mere 4% of the already few women-led startups.”
While most programming at the BIG Innovation Center is in the planning stages, one major new program that directly addresses the funding needs is already set and actively taking applications until July 31 for its inaugural cohort in the 12-week BIG business accelerator program. “We’re looking for tech-enabled startups led by Black or Latina women founders, with business models that are highly scalable and investable,” says Finney, who noted that while they’ll accept startups at all stages, a pitch deck is a required part of the application.
In addition to the structured curriculum focused on developing sustainable businesses, mentorship by top leaders, opportunities to pitch directly to investors, and direct access to funding will be provided.
When asked why Atlanta, Finney said that they specifically chose Atlanta for the pilot run because “it’s really shaping up to be a major tech hub outside of Silicon Valley. It ranks second in America’s Most Tech-Friendly Cities.” The tech talent pipeline from the Atlanta University Center was another factor in selecting the location, as well as active support from the city officials. “We’ve also received outpouring support from the city, including the mayor of Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed.”
Cover photos credit: #WOCinTech