Women 2.0 sits down with tech founder, Dr. Brendesha Tynes to discuss her new app that advances racial and media literacy.
W2: What were some of the factors that led you to become an entrepreneur? How has your past experience gotten you to where you are now?
BT: While working on my Ph.D. at UCLA, I became interested in the race-related experiences youth have online as a researcher on a National Science Foundation-funded project on sexual identity in chat. As we were reviewing some of the transcripts about gender and sexuality I noticed they were full of racial epithets. I thought, “this is what I’m going to study!”
After 14 years of research in this area, I no longer wanted to simply report on these issues, but the current racial climate made me want to use technology to take action. I wanted to start a company that would create tools that promote representations of groups in their full humanity, that would call out the inaccuracies in the ways people of color are portrayed across a range of media, and facilitate the development of more positive perceptions of self for underrepresented groups. Ultimately, these tools will serve as a buffer against some of the negative outcomes we typically see associated with negative images and messaging in the media.
Having a Ph.D and leading large, diverse research teams has helped me tremendously as an entrepreneur. I not only have the content knowledge to create educational apps, but my designs build on more than a decade of research.
W2: What problem did you see in the market that inspired you to start your company?
BT: In addition to the findings from my own research, we know that other forms of media such as television are not keeping in step with the changing demographics of American society. Despite the fact that we are witnessing the most diverse generation come of age in US history, we don’t see all groups accurately represented on screen, according to the UCLA Diversity Report. This is also the case with other forms of media including educational materials, apps, music and games.
W2: What type of customers do you serve? Why is your solution uniquely positioned to address their problem?
BT: We will have a different customer base for each app. Some will be focused specifically on adolescents and others, like Rate My Media, will be for 13-113 year olds. As for Rate My Media, we are hoping to attract users who care about representations of underrepresented groups in media. We are the first app to crowdsource ratings on issues of equity and inclusion.
W2: Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced so far and how did you handle it as a company and as a leader?
BT: I think with all companies led by women and people of color, we have problems raising capital. We have ideas that promise to transform EdTech, but don’t have enough of a budget to support all of them. I’ve been consistently applying for federal funds, incubators and accelerators as well as connecting with VCs. For now we are focused on making a difference with what we have. As more people become aware of our mission and our products, we will raise the capital we need.
W2: What resources have been especially helpful to you as you’ve built your company?
BT: Tara Reed’s (who is a Google Entrepreneur in Residence) Apps Without Code program has been invaluable. Black Women in Tech LA, taking coding classes through Girl Develop It and Grand Circus (Detroit) also helped me to see myself as an entrepreneur.
W2: Based on your experience, what’s the biggest takeaway you can give to other Founders?
BT: Having a rich inner life can help you to be more creative and make you the best leader you can be.
W2: What’s next for you and your company and where do you need help or support?
BT: We are now working on an app called CRITmetic that will train youth to critique the messages they receive online. We will have the MVP completed by mid December. The biggest challenge is funding. We need VCs who understand that racial and media literacy are perhaps the greatest challenges facing our nation.
Dr. Brendesha Tynes is an associate professor of education and pyschology and director of the Digital Learning and Development Lab at USC Rossier. Her research focuses on youth experiences with digital media and how they are associated with academic and socio-emotional outcomes. She is also founder and CEO of Zinly Technologies, LLC, an EdTech firm. @Brendesha
Photos by D’Andre Michael Photography.