Focus100: Black Women Entrepreneurs Share Startup Tips And Resources

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The women discussed the cultural pressures and myths that hold black women in business back. By Sian Morson (Founder & CEO, Kollective Mobile)

The first Focus100 conference and symposium, created by Kathryn Finney, convened with the goal of ensuring that 100 tech companies founded by black women receive funding by the year 2015.

Day one started off with Essence Editor-in-Chief Constance White who reminded us of the rich culture of entrepreneurship shared by black women. The women discussed the cultural pressures and myths that hold black women in business back. As the fastest–growing segment of business owners, Constance White encouraged attendees to seek out information and resources needed to take their business to the next level.

Next, Katie Rae of TechStars Boston offered practical advice to those founders seeking funding from VCs: “Every business isn’t a billion dollar opportunity” she said, “but that doesn’t makes it a bad business”.

4 Key Takeaways from Focus100

1.) Be bold! Women make great CEOs and founders but they often tend to underestimate themselves by thinking small and not seeing the big picture.

2.) Entrepreneurship is for gladiators - Founding a startup is no easy task. It requires time, energy and a huge commitment. Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, and then some.

3.) Take care of yourself - While being a founder is hard work, we also need take care of ourselves. You can’t run a company if you’re not well. This includes taking breaks (and even naps) when you need to.

4.) Use your network - Never underestimate the power of your connections. Use them!

Afternoon panels discussed making the transition from employee to founder, the types of funding available to women and minority-led companies, and strategies for finding a partner or technical co-founder.

Day two started with Kathryn Finney offering brief keynote outlining statistics on black women, especially as it pertains to their adoption of new technologies and spending power. A conversation between entertainment journalist Lola Ogunnaike and Majora Carter followed during which Majora Carter was overwhelmed with emotion at seeing so many women of color in one room. The conversation focused largely on Majora Carter’s experience in using technology for the greater good and to form sustainable, socially responsible businesses.

During the next two hours, attendees were paired with mentors for one-on-one sessions during which they could ask for advice on anything business related. Mentors were chosen from a variety of industries and disciplines and some doubled as speakers and panelists throughout the day.

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ, sat down with Kathryn Finney to discuss opportunities available in urban America and to touch on his own experience as founder of the startup Waywire, an online video sharing network.

Four more panels followed were on tech opportunities in politics, the rise of mobile, founders who demolish the status quo, and why we invest (featuring VCs who provided practical advice for founders seeking funding).

The final event was a pitch contest where five founders gave their best pitches to judges David Tisch (Box Group), Janet Hanson (85 Broads), Jeanne Sullivan (Starvest), Eghosa Moigui (Echo VC), Lauren Maillian Bias (Gen Y Capital) Deborah Jackson (Women Innovate Mobile) and Kelly Hoey (Women Innovate Mobile).

The founders represented a diverse group of companies: Rachel Brooks of Citizen Made (a product customization tool), Marlo Rencher of GoodSweat (a fundraising platform for charity sports events), Zuhairah Scott Washington of Kahnoodle (a mobile app for busy couples), and Mandela S-Hodge of Tioki (a social network for educators).

Zuhairah Washington, the CEO of Kahnoodle, wont the competition and earned meetings with Andreessen Horowitz, Jeanne Sullivan of Starvest Partners and Comcast Ventures.

It was a fun, educational two days and the camaraderie in the room was palpable. Many of the women spoke of how amazing it was to not be ‘the only one’ in the room. Often black women in technology don’t see very many familiar faces as they navigate corporate America. Kathryn Finney set about to change that and change it she did.

Women 2.0 readers: Are you changing the ratio? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Sian Morson is the Founder and CEO of Kollective Mobile, a mobile development agency in Oakland, CA. Sian brings over 15 years of experience in digital development and leadership to the mobile marketplace. She has a passion for creative information design, a strong technical background and experience working with agencies such as Tribal DDB, Draft/FCB and McCann Erickson. Follow her on Twitter at @xianamoy.