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.
WRITTEN BYRoshawnna Novellus