How Black Women Entrepreneurs Are Finally Breaking Through the Tech Glass Ceiling
When co-founders Candace Mitchell and Chanel Martin decided that they wanted to create a company that catered to hair care for African-Americans, they had no idea how challenging it was going to be to explain to investors “why hair is so important for black women.”
Why is this so difficult for investors to understand? Simple. Because most investors are middle-aged, white men who have no idea that there's even a black hair care market out there worth $684 million that's waiting to be tapped into.
That's exactly the kind of thinking that Mitchell and Martin's startup Techturized was up against.
The co-founders said that the investors they met mostly "applied their funding based on pattern matching," meaning "they look for a pattern of success for their business model" and young, white men typically fit that pattern, said Mitchell.
Statistics prove that this kind of thinking exists. In the first half of 2010, out of all venture capitalist-backed startups, only 8% were women-owned and, even more startling, only 1% were black-owned. Despite this, reports show that African American women are now among the fastest-growing entrepreneurial segments in America with a rate of nearly 200% from 1997 to 2007.
Both Mitchell and Martin knew they were going to have to work harder and smarter than the young, white men running most small businesses in America. So they did.
The women entrepreneurs pooled their own savings to get their business off the ground while juggling full-time jobs and taking meetings during lunch breaks and after-hours. During this time, the two said that they made it a point to network and be as visible as possible.
Their relentless pushing paid off and the two women eventually got the funding they needed, relying mostly on investments from their own communities. In 2012, they received $35,000 in funding, a shared office space and feedback from a slew of successful entrepreneurs and mentors, from Flashpoint, a startup accelerator program based at their alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology.
The next year, Techturized won the 2013 Blacks in Technology (BiT) Pitch Competition at SXSW and the 2013 TAG Business Launch competition, which gave them around $50,000 in cash and more than $100,000 in donated services.
After going through this experience, Mitchell and Martin advise minority women entrepreneurs to save their money, anticipate challenges in majority-dominated sectors, and be willing to learn and grow with their companies.
“When you go and look at the Facebooks and Twitters and Snapchats … they romanticize it, they make you think that you will come up with an app and then sell it instantly for a million dollars," said the founders. "It doesn’t happen like that for everybody. You can take your time, and make sure that whatever it is that you are doing is the best that it can possibly be.”
Whatever they'll face in the future, Mitchell and Martin are excited about their journey. Techturized recently launched an app called Myavana, which will provide a social networking platform for users to share and gain insight on black hair care products.