FOCUS100 was the first time in history a conference united and celebrated black women technology entrepreneurs. By Zuhairah Scott Washington (Founder & CEO, Kahnoodle)
I confess. When I first heard about FOCUS100, an event focused on black women in technology, I was a little skeptical. While I am always game to network with other women in the industry, I questioned how a conference focused on such a small segment of the tech community could yield big results for my business. Boy was I wrong! After attending the two-day event, I can confidently say it was one of the best tech events I have attended to date.
The event marked the first time in history a conference united and celebrated black female technology entrepreneurs. The agenda was packed with startup CEOs, influential bloggers, like Cheryl Contee, co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics and luminaries from both the public and private sector. Majora Carter, a literal “genius” and Corey Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and founder of new social video startup #waywire, were both keynotes at the event.
TechStars had a strong presence proving they are willing to do more than give mere lip service to the issue of diversity in tech. David Tisch, Shaun Johnson and Katie Rae were all in attendance sharing pearls of wisdom about what it takes to perfect your pitch and build a successful startup. Rae stressed the importance of keeping your advisors and mentors up to date on your progress.
For many of the attendees, the event felt like more of a spiritual awakening than like your typical tech conference.
You couldn’t walk a few steps without running into one amazingly accomplished woman after another, like Lauren Maillian Bias, Founding Partner of Gen Y Capital and noted as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under 30 in the United States, Tracey Solomon, Co-Founder and CEO of the hosiery subscription service Hoseanna and Heather Hiles, Founder and CEO of Pathbrite who in addition to successfully raising over $4 million in venture capital for her education startup is a former public servant and formidable civil rights advocate.
Many commented that they had to hold back tears of emotion during the event because they literally could not believe their eyes. For once, we were at a tech event where we were not only, not the only women in the room; other black women who were rising and thriving in the industry surrounded us.
Kathryn Finney deserve all the praise for flawlessly executing on the vision for the event and leveraging their social capital to reign in big sponsors like Olgivy Mather and Adreessen Horowitz to selflessly help other female entrepreneurs make powerful connections that will fundamentally change the trajectory of their businesses. That was in fact the case for me and many other women.
As the winner of the event’s Pitch It competition, my company Kahnoodle now has the opportunity to meet one on one with several of the industry's top investors and advisors.
The event marked the beginning of a sisterhood of sorts. A guild of woman (and allies) who genuinely understood each other's assions, struggles and vision for building big, innovative businesses despite the odds, because they were walking the same path. I personally left feeling empowered and more motivated than ever to go forth and dominate!
A few days after the event, I ran into some women from FOCUS100 at another tech conference and we immediately started chatting and sharing advice and resources for how to improve each other’s business. That was confirmation for me that what we had experienced was transformative indeed, binding all of the woman who attended in a authentic and unique way that few events can. I can’t wait to see what else is in store.
Look out world, here we come!
Women 2.0 readers: Did you attend FOCUS100? What did you learn at the conference, or who inspired you? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: Black Enterprise About the guest blogger: Zuhairah Scott Washington is the Founder and CEO of Kahnoodle, the first mobile app to use gamification to make it easier for busy couples to win at love. She is an entrepreneur, investor and seasoned business professional with over a decade of digital media, private equity, and business development experience in global markets including London, New York, and Dubai. She holds a JD/MBA from Harvard and a BA magna cum laude from UCLA. Follow her on Twitter at @zuhairah.