In a world where many complain about the lack of resources for women in businesses, few put their money where their mouth is. However, female-forward companies, Circular Board and Dell, are doing just that. Their new platform, Alice, which is meant to help the 35 million women-lead businesses in the US, offers female entrepreneurs targeted brand-building tools via smart technology.
Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz.Circular Summit 2017
“Alice is essentially a search tool for founders," says Carolyn Rodz, Founder and CEO of the Circular Board. “Based on their profile Alice will know a user's industry, location and state of growth, so that it can refine [search results] based on real time needs, like securing capital or finding legal representation for a certain niche locale." As more women use Alice, the platform is able to aggregate and disseminate data more specifically.
“Alice gets smarter the more people use it," says Rodz. “She is learning from the community as a whole, learning what works based on geography, industry, getting very granular. Alice is collaborative. It's not just providing information for you, it is helping women everywhere."
Named after Lewis Carroll's wily protagonist, Alice is meant to help women move forward in business building by streamlining their search for resources. “In Alice, we saw an entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and guts to push beyond the hurdles to get to where she needed to go," said Rodz," adding that the platform represents the work that has been done manually by the Circular Board up until now. “Alice was created as the result of what we learned was the great value we provided; integration into the existing startup ecosystem. Men can turn to buddies from business school, but a lot of women are a real disadvantage in terms of the value of their social network. We heard there was no shortage of resources but they were having a hard time navigating the space. We realized we can reach hundreds and thousands through the Circular Board accelerator, but if we wanted to impact millions, technology was the answer."
According to Rodz, the choice of Dell as a partner was a natural one, as the Circular Board and Dell have been working together for two years. Both companies also are laser-focused on the advancement of women across industries, especially tech.
“There is this obvious “this needs to be in the world" moment and for us and as we started talking to people to figure out why there was such a disparity, we discovered that the ecosystem is large and the solutions are very granular," says Rodz. "We knew the execution would be complicated. We couldn't do it alone, we needed backing of key players and really significant partners."
Elizabeth Gore, the Entrepreneur In Residence at Dell, says she was all too excited and motivated to be that partner.
“Dell has a really interesting opportunity right now because we had a very large acquisition last year of multiple companies [including tech firm, Pivotal] so now we can be the solution provider for these platforms--whether that be through security, digital transformation, their hardware and technology--and we have a very robust policy team who is always looking out for entrepreneurs," says Gore. “[The idea was] what if we took The Circular Board as a company, put it through a digital [reinvention] and created what is now the first ever artificial intelligence from female entrepreneurs."
In addition to its powerful search engine, Alice is built to get smarter and more refined the more it is used. Through machine learning, entrepreneurs input information about their company needs, including location, stage of growth, employee numbers, fundraising status, and industry vertical. “Based on that, through the life cycle of your company Alice will [populate] resources for you, everything from marketing to accounting to accelerator recommendations to potential mentors. As you grow and as you expand, it will continue to push that information to you based on the data it's continuing to gather from you and your industry peers."
Alice Press Conference at Dell EMC World.Karen Quintos, Elizabeth Gore, Carolyn Rodz and Michele Perras
"Every time you ask a question Alice will put it in this data and analytics to start building out and predicting, says Gore. “The platform will go from good to great to awesome as more and more women populate it. The cool thing about women is we love feedback so we've built in this consistent feedback loop."
Gore, who works with Dell's executive leadership team and is constantly looking for ways to help “bolster ecosystems" for entrepreneurs across policy (her personal passion) and technology. “We look at specific demographics and figure out to get entrepreneurs the right technology," says Gore. “Every country has a very different need and focus."
With 1,200 new female-led companies launching per day, Rodz says the immediate goal is to get 4 million Alice users over the next five years. “We are confident we can do that with the partnerships we are building out and the demand from women for a tool they can use to grow," she says.
Alice User Dashboard
Currently Gore says the Dell team is focused mainly on content aggregation, pulling all available reports and data that can help entrepreneurs grow. One of the key points of focus, according to Gore, will be providing resources for female-focused fundraising, which Gore says is greatly lacking. “A big objective will be to go out to as many groups as possible and ask them to be part of the platform," she says. “A lot of the angel networks are really excited about this." Next, Gore plans to impute more information about banking and loans, as most women go that route to grow their businesses rather than through the VC community. “We want to go after the banks and understand why women aren't getting loans like men," says Gore. "It doesn't make sense."
Ultimately, the greater purpose of helping female entrepreneurs--on a larger level--is the biggest motivator for Gore and Rodz. "There is so much more to come," says Rodz. "It's a big undertaking, but so exciting to have the potential to rewrite the story for women entrepreneurs."
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.