6 Min ReadBusiness 18 June 2020
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 EnrichHE
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.
We didn't have any data yet. But what we did have was passion, purpose, and validity in the market.
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.
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.
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.
This article was originally published in January 2020.
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I am a proud Black business owner carrying a line of lip colors for the woman who wants to shine. At Vatarie Cosmetics you can find cruelty-free and vegan lip care products, including clear lip gloss and liquid matte lipsticks. The line is still under development, so there are more products in the making that you'll hear more about soon!
My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe.
I have worked my way into my entrepreneurial career as I did not come from money. The goal of my cosmetic line is to bring excitement to everyone who tries the line. My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe. I believe that with added makeup and a good set of threads, anybody can confidently face the world. I am a proud and firm supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a proud member and supporter of the LGBTQIA community.
There have been plenty of hardships that I have had to face throughout my entire life, the most recent being the recent death of my father who passed far too soon. I have never allowed these hardships to deter me, and won't start now. I will continue to progress and work hard to build my business, knowing that this is what my father would have wanted.
About the Vatarie Line: What It's All About
Upon launching the line, I had the mission of inspiring every human to find their inner beauty and to have fun along the way. With this in mind, my products are designed for people of all genders, races, religions, and creeds. The Vatarie line will have more to offer customers very soon as I am continually working on developing products and expanding the line. In addition to the lip colors currently offered, the line will soon include highlighters, eyeshadows, and new lip gloss additions.
I believe that no one needs makeup to validate themselves, and we are all beautiful on our own. I do believe, though, that makeup can make life a lot more fun. Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness. Sometimes all we need to change our moods and get away from that darkness is something to help us feel better and more vibrant — this is where a pop of makeup and a well put together outfit can really make an impact.
Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness.
I encourage everybody to embrace their inner beauty and inner style, and express themselves no matter what. My line of products is inspired by high fashion and designed to make a bold statement. The running theme across my products is empowerment at every stage and level. I create products that make my customers feel happy, and I ensure I am happy myself with my products before I release every single one. There is no place for cutting corners as I believe in producing the highest quality product.
I bring my sense of humor and quirky personality into my products and you can see this in the names of each item. Take the lip color "Blood Money," which signifies all the money, tears, sweat, and yes, blood that was put into the brand. Let me tell you, it was hard work, and it still is hard work, but at the end of the day, it fulfills me to know the type of quality I am providing. It gives me great pride to create a line of legendary products that will positively affect someone and bring them to a place of self-love and acceptance.
About the Past that Gives My Business Meaning
I have struggled over the years with mental abuse that has left me feeling as if "I wasn't enough." Added to that, being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.
Coming from a broken home, my family struggled with addiction, making my entire childhood a miserable nightmare. My mother abandoned us as she was being physically abused, and it was up to us the kids to do everything necessary to take care of the home and each other. We eventually ended up living with my grandmother in Miami, Florida. At a very young age, I had to endure physical and mental abuse and was locked up. At the age of 22, I lost my younger sister to gun violence and found myself raising her one-year-old son as my own.
Being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.
While my past was a rough one, it is what has made me the strong, independent, and vibrant woman I am today. That woman strives to be her best every day and works tirelessly to provide a line of only the best cosmetics products. I couldn't see this while I was living through those bad situations and struggling to grow up, but I can look back and see how I was made more resilient because of my hardships.
As I grieve over my father's recent passing, I become stronger. It is this added personal strength that will push me forward in everything I do and will be reflected in my work ethic and in the development of new products for my Vatarie line of cosmetics.