By Monique Wingard (Afrotech)
In 2018, the energy behind catch phrases and hashtags like “The Future is Female” seemed to be limitless, and that movement seems to have gained more vigor with the election of President Donald Trump. A record breaking number of women were elected to state and local office in 2018, and we’re seeing more and more women in leadership roles.
But if you take a close look at the representation of Black and Latinx women in tech and among the ranks of well-funded entrepreneurs, it seems to be more of the same. DigitalUndivided(DID) wants to change that.
In 2013, DID founder Kathryn Finney made her dream of seeing more successful women of color in business a reality. That vision was DigitalUndivided (DID). Lead by Finney and her all woman leadership team, DID focuses on three primary areas: Research, Knowledge and Community. Finney’s work has continued with the development of Project Diane, a study taking a closer look at the state of Black women in the innovation space.
Now in 2019, DID will be welcoming its fourth cohort in its BIG Incubator—a program for Black and Latinx female-led startups. Soon, thousands of women across the country will be vying for the opportunity to take part in this 30-week, curriculum based experience in Atlanta, GA. However, only 20 startups will be chosen to receive assistance from industry leaders to turn their idea into a viable business.
We spoke to DID’s Director of Community, Darlene Gillard to learn more about BIG and the work being done to ensure another year of successful training for future women of color in tech.
If you have been wondering what “BIG” stands for, it’s not an acronym. The leaders of DID wanted to use it as a motivator for women to “Think BIG. Be BIG, and do BIG thangs!”
What makes 2019 more exciting than previous years of BIG?
This year, we’re running the BIG Incubator program in TWO different cities (Atlanta and Newark). We’re very excited about opening the new BIG Innovation Center, a 4000 sq.ft. space in downtown Newark, along with our groundbreaking center in downtown Atlanta (We have Oprah wallpaper!). It’s an honor to have the opportunity to reach more communities and to serve more Black and Latinx women, especially since people have been asking us about expanding to their cities for years. We also work with amazing pathway partners, who provide the “next step” to BIG founders, including the global accelerator, Techstars, and social enterprise pioneers, Echoing Green.
As with any project that deals with constantly shifting facts, stats, and outcomes (like diversity, funding, and data on women of color in tech), are there any new focuses for the next cohort?
digitalundivided has a bold mission, to create a world where women, especially Black and Latinx women, own our work. The BIG incubator focuses on finding great founders first, many of whom are new to the world of startups, and equip them with skill sets that will allow them to thrive. The heart of the BIG program is how to build a successful business, regardless of how the startup landscape changes.
Last year, there were mixed opinions shared by some leading women of color in tech regarding access to capital. Do you or the leaders of digitalundivided think that the landscape looks bleak for women of color who may require funding to take their business to the next level?
Funding avenues for women of color exist, though obviously not as many as there ought to be. The fact remains that it’s still relatively better than how things were back when we published the first ProjectDiane report and that infamous .2% statistic in 2016. For instance, our research in ProjectDiane shows that the total amount raised by Black women increased 500%, from approximately $50 million in 2016 to close to $250 million in 2017. That is positive. However, that $250 million is approximately .0006% of the $427 BILLION raised in total venture funds since 2009.
With the growing attention to the lack of inclusiveness in the space, coupled with the increase of visibility among successful WOC-led startup companies, we’re hoping we can sustain, if not expand, the access to capital of these founders.
Do you have any encouraging words for women of color just getting started on their entrepreneurial journey?
As women of color, we tend to feel pressured to always win in order to prove ourselves to the world. Know that it’s okay to stumble around a bit, or to not get everything right the first time. The best entrepreneurs aren’t those who haven’t failed or made any mistakes, but those who worked through hardships, even pivoting if they had to.
Ladies, if you have been looking for the perfect next step for your business, get your applications in today! The deadline is February 8, 2019–or until every slot is filled. Make sure you take a look at the FAQ first. Click here to apply or visit digitalundivided.com for more information.