I'm a change-maker. There is a point in every change-maker's life when she decides that she's going to stop complaining about the current state of affairs and do something about it. I was fed up hearing statistic after statistic about the gap in access to capital for women-led businesses, so I decided to do something about it. Based on my passion, we were able to attract enough investors, team members, capital providers, and supporters to gather $500 million in financing for women-led ventures through EnrichHER.
EnrichHER is a tech-enabled platform that provides training, resources, and business financing to help women-led businesses grow. In 2019, we launched the business financing platform component so that we could fund traditional women-led companies in both consumer products like dog treats, health and beauty as well as services such as salons and accounting. Within the first few months, EnrichHER deployed its first $3 million in financing and was ready to scale up to $50 million+ in 2020.
But before we launched, we had to get capital providers on board to finance women-led business. Our initial goal was to access $10 million for our first set of companies; but we were ecstatic to find that we could create pathways to so much more.
Our strategy included meeting with executive-level teams at tech-enabled business financing platforms to see if they wanted to work with us. They already had the data that corroborated women's lower loss risk as compared to our male counterparts. As such, we met with several tech-enabled companies, shared our statistics and mission, and they were happy to work with us.
This strategy took a while to implement, because EnrichHER's financing platform was still in pre-launch. This means that we didn't have any data yet. But what we did have was passion, purpose, and validity in the market. We were able to use these traits to secure meetings, partnerships, and the capital that we needed to grow. But we didn't stop there.
Our platform is regulated by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) to allow retail investors to lend directly to women-led ventures on our platform. But we wanted qualified everyday people to be the ones to decide if a business is worthy of financing. By doing this, we would open up small business investing to an often overlooked set of consumers. This means that communities could decide which businesses they would support, and those discriminated against by the typical financing ecosystem would have a new way to access capital.
It wasn't easy accomplishing this. Not only is it strategically difficult, but it's hard to find people who are willing to open up their mind to working with businesses that are not run by white founders. In my article, How Discrimination in Venture Capital Led me to Techstars, I share how when I presented myself to white male decision-makers, they would automatically assume I wasn't qualified. I would start off each meeting telling them about my Ph.D. in computer engineering and finance, that I was the youngest director at a consulting firm managing a staff of 50 by the age of 27, and that I had won numerous awards ranging from 40 under 40 to the Top Disruptors in Tech. However, more often than not, I was told that I needed the help of someone else to enact my vision—maybe a white male who just finished his undergraduate degree, someone more "technical," or one of their friends.
So although the industry acknowledges that change is needed, the belief persists that the only ones who can successfully create that change are the same type of people who created the problem. I accepted that this was and is still true even if people are mission-aligned. As such, I recognized that my path wouldn't look like anyone else's. I decided to use my superpowers to access the capital that we needed so we could get money into the hands of women in business.
One of my superpowers is being loud online.
With my 72,000 followers, I created a campaign to attract supporters of women-led businesses that would advocate for our mission. By doing that, we were able to attract qualified women-led ventures, investors, supporters, and media opportunities.
Another one of my superpowers is that I love public speaking.
I love being on stage and sharing my passion with others. I started traveling around the country speaking at events and pitching in pitch competitions to drum up support for EnrichHER. We received an investor and/or strategic partner from 100% of my speaking engagements.
Also, you'd don't obtain a PhD in engineering and finance without knowing how to impress people with your schoolwork. I used my straight-A superpowers to create compelling decks, materials, and email responses so that I had the best shot possible with people who made decisions based on the quality of materials.
Another superpower that I have is that I'm generally an excellent candidate for recognition through awards. With my history of awards, my intelligence, my educational background, and my likeness, I'm typically overqualified for external recognition. As such, for organizations that have a scoring rubric that matches what I'm about, I created a strategy to collect as many awards as possible. This additional validation opened up doors to potential strategic partnerships and capital providers.
All that I know is that I've been underestimated my entire life and no award, recognition, salary achievement, or external factor has changed how the masses will treat a black woman in FinTech. However, I decided to go around the masses and find my own advocates so that I could achieve my goals without them. This is the way that I've made everything in my life, and this is the way I will continue to win.
For other entrepreneurs, while it's good to learn about the journey of others on their paths to success, it's also important to remember that your way may or may not resemble that of anyone else. What this means is that it's best to look inwards and use your superpowers to get what you want.
Motherhood, no matter how you slice or dice it, is never easy. Running after small children, feeding them, tending to their physical and emotional wounds, and just taking the time to shower them with love— that's a lifetime of internal resources. Now add a job on top of all of that? Geez. We spoke to 14 working mothers to get an open, honest look at the biggest day-to-day challenges they face, because despite what Instagram portrays, it's not all dresses on swingsets, heels, and flawless makeup.
1. “Motherhood in general is hard," shares Rachel Costello. “It's a complete upheaval of life as you once knew it. I have a 22-month-old due any minute and a baby. The hardest part is being pregnant with a toddler — chasing, wrangling, etc., all while tired, nauseous, and achey. Then the guilt sets in. The emotional roller coaster punctuated by hormones when you look at your baby, the first born, knowing that their life is about to be changed."
2. “I'm a work-from-home mom," shares Jene Luciano of TheGetItMom.com. “I have two children and two stepchildren. The hardest part about parenting for me is being the best mom I can be to someone else's children."
3. “I joined the Air Force at 18 and had my first child at 20," tells female power house Robyn Schenker Ruffo. “I had my second baby at 23. Working everyday, pumping at work and breastfeeding at lunch time at the base, home day care was rough. Being away from my babies during the day took a toll on me— especially the single mom days when they were toddlers. I had a great support system of friends and military camaraderie. The worst was being deployed when they were 6 months old, yes both, and I was gone for 90 days. Not seeing them every night was so depressing."
4. “Physically, the hardest part of the parenting experience (and so far, I'm only six months in with twins) was adjusting to the lack of sleep in the very beginning," shares Lauren Carasso. “Emotionally, the hardest part is going to work everyday with anxiety that I'm going to miss one of the twins' firsts or other milestones. I know they are in good care but potentially missing those special moments weighs heavy on my heart when I walk out the door each morning," she continues.
5. “The hardest part of being a parent is social media, actually," says Marina Levin. “Shutting out the judgmental sanctimommy noise and just doing what works best for you and your family in a given moment."
6. “Trying to raise a healthy, happy, confident and self-respecting girl, when I'm not a consistent example of those qualities is the hardest for me," explains Adrienne Wright. “Before motherhood I was a pretty secure woman, and I thought passing that onto my daughter would be a piece of cake. But in the age of social media where women are constantly ripping each other to shreds for the way they raise their kids, it's nearly impossible to feel confident all of the time. Nursing vs. formula, working vs. stay at home, vax vs. anti-vax, to circumcise vs. not, nanny vs. daycare— the list goes on and on. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have. We should empower each other to feel confident in the decisions we make for our families."
7. “The hardest part is the sense of responsibility and worrying that comes along with it," says Orly Kagan. “Am I feeding my kids properly? Are they getting too much screen time? Are they getting enough attention and love? Are they developing as they should be? It goes on and on and on."
8. “For me, by far the hardest part of motherhood has been managing my own guilt. As many triumphant moments as there may be, the moments when I feel like I did badly or could have done better always stick out," confesses Julie Burke.
9. “Balancing work and doing all the mom things and all the home things and all the husband things are not the hardest part of motherhood (for me, anyway)," shares Zlata Faerman. “The hardest part of motherhood is trying to figure out just how to deal with the amount of love I have for my son. It can be super overwhelming and I'm either alone in this sentiment, or not enough moms talk about it."
10. “The hardest part for me is giving things up," shares Stacey Feintuch. “I have two boys, an almost 3-year-old and almost 7-year-old. I have to miss my older one's sports so I can watch the little guy while he naps or watch him at home since he will just run on the field. I hate that other parents can go to games and I can't. I also really miss going out to dinner. My older one can eat out but we rarely eat out since my younger one is a runner!"
11. “I think if I'm going to be completely real, the hardest part to date has been realIzing that I chose this life," shares Lora Jackle, a now married but formerly single mom to a special needs child. “I chose to foster and then adopt special needs, as opposed to many parents who find out about the special needs after their child is born. It's still okay to grieve it sometimes. It's still okay to hate it sometimes and 'escape' to work."
12. “I'm a work-at-home mother doing proofreading and teaching 10-20 hours a week. The hardest part for me is not yelling. I took the 30-Day No Yelling Challenge and kept having to restart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong," says Michelle Sydney, exemplifying the difficulty of balancing work with family.
13. “I'm a full-time working mom of a 2.5-year-old," shares Anna Spiewak. “I bring home equal pay, keep the apartment clean and take care of dinner. Still my male partner gets all the praise for being a good dad and basically sticking around. It's mainly from his side of the family, of course. What I do is taken for granted, even though I'm the one who still changes the diapers, bathes her and wakes up in the middle of the night on a work night when she cries. I wish all moms got credit for staying on top of things."
14. “I am a stay-at-home-mother and currently working full-time from home on my start-up clothing brand, Kindred Bravely," says Deeanne Akerson, founder of Kindred Bravely, a fashion line devoted to nursing, working mothers. “The hardest part of my parenting experience is the constant feeling of never doing quite enough. There is always more to do, meals to make, laundry to fold, kids that want my full attention, errands to run, or work in my business. And since there really always are more things to do it's easy to feel like you're failing on nearly every aspect of life!"
This piece was originally published July 18, 2018.