Atlanta’s digitalundivided, led by Kathryn Finney, is working to break down the barriers for black and latino women entrepreneurs. It recently graduated the inaugural cohort of the 12-week BIG incubator, which, of course, culminated in a Demo Day. Last weekend, the six founders who participated (Tatiana Figueiredo of Everist, Christina Valdez of Taeleur, Kelechi Anyadiegwu of Zuvva, Amina Yamusah of Bloc, Kellee James of Mecaris and Nicole Sanchez of ECreditHero) pitched their startups to a packed room.
“We had over 300 people who registered, and for us to be able to host an event that highlighted companies founded by black and latino women during MLK weekend in Atlanta was incredibly special,” says Darlene Gillard, a director at digitalundivided. Keep reading for more from Gillard on the event and the importance of providing targeted support to this under-represented group in entrepreneurship.
If you could only highlight one or two moments of the BIG Demo Day, what would they be?
One of the highlights of the event was having Mark Walsh, head of investment and innovation for the U.S. Small Business Administration and some of the advice he gave during his talk. Another would be having Dr. Freada Kapor Klein, one of our early supporters, come out from Silicon Valley to speak and to show her continued support of digitalundivided
All of the companies got a $20,000 seed investment, but they were also pitching to investors. Did any connections or interest come out of that? Was there a “winner”?
There were several connections made and leads to potential investment that we are extremely excited about. In the beginning of the 12-week BIG Incubator we had some investors come in to meet with the companies and to learn about what they were doing. A couple of the companies were being tracked by those same investors who showed up on Demo Day to find out where they landed. We are excited about all the possibilities.
This was the inaugural class, and I assume only the beginning. Are you planning for another cohort, is that already in the works? And what can you tell us in terms of interesting events or programs you’re planning in the near future for digitalUndivided?
We’ve opened up the BIG Innovation Center to events, memberships and co-working. In April we’ll start our next cohort accepting up to 30 companies.
Was the growth apparent in the companies pitching on Demo Day? In other words, how did the incubator program help grow these individuals and ideas?
Some of the companies that entered into the program were simply ideas, others were already established and yet through mentorship and training were able to pivot to ideas that are scalable.
Your organization is synonymous for many people with #ProjectDiane and the research finding that only 0.02 percent of venture deals were with women of color-owned companies. We’re now coming up on a year since that statistic first made headlines. What’s changed since then? And what does that say about how long (or not long) making a sea change like this takes?
We believe that there are at least two more companies founded by black and/or latino women that have been able to raise more than $1M since we released #ProjectDiane but that’s not a significant enough increase to think that our work is done. It is going to take years for a sea change to happen and we’re doing our part to move things along. We created The Harriet Fund to provide investments in high-growth companies led by under-represented women founders and this year we are looking to expand our current data collection efforts and create a variety of reporting and dissemination tools (white papers, infographics, workshops/talks) on black and Latina women entrepreneurs in the tech and innovation space.
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