Five Women Founders Driving for Change in Uncertain Times

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This Women’s History Month, as corners of our society are coming to a halt, I am finding hope in the stories of women overcoming challenges, just as we have always done. From Elizabeth Warren’s stunning campaign and leadership to the Coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on women (despite our enhanced immune responses), I am reminded once again of the strength of women — as leaders, as mothers, as workers, and as so much more.

As I (remotely) reached out to women within my networks these past few weeks, an enduring truth emerged: we’re all more powerful when we uplift and invest in those at the margins. Women — and, in particular, women of color — are transforming the innovation economy, but our investments need to better reflect this reality. Across the country, my fellow founders and investors (who are innovators in their own right) shared their insights into our future. Here’s what they had to say:

We need to uplift solutions from every corner.

As Palak Shah, the Founding Director of NDWA Labs and the Social Innovations Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, shares:

We often look to the centers of power for solutions: Silicon Valley for technology, Wall Street for the economy, Washington D.C. for politics. I would argue that if we look beyond those centers and to the margins, we can see signals from the future. Domestic workers — nannies, house cleaners and homecare workers — have lived and worked in those margins and in the shadows for generations. At the National Domestic Workers Alliance, we have been charting a path forward out of the shadows, building on decades of work by the women who came before us. By innovating from the margins, women of color are generating the solutions that will yield the breakthroughs we need.

To make these innovations a reality, we need to ensure that founders and entrepreneurs have adequate access to funding and mentorship.

Julia Pimsleur, Chief Empowerista at Million Dollar Women, discusses how we can minimize these critical gaps:

More and more women, including mothers like myself, are starting small businesses and coming up with innovative ideas in healthcare, tech and the food industry, but very few are getting past the $100k per year mark. Women now own over 12 million businesses and yet fewer than 2% get to $1 million in revenues. The way to make sure that more women start making more money is to give women entrepreneurs access to business education. Million Dollar Women is one of the programs women can turn to, and we are fully online, with a 4-month business program that is the equivalent of an executive MBA plus community, coaching and mentorship.

Simple but meaningful solutions are often the most effective.

At skills-building platform Cell-Ed, Founder and CEO Dr. Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami shares:

Cell-Ed’s big idea is a radically simple one: text audio lessons to upskill and train those workers who need it most; the one in two locked out of learning opportunities. We started by teaching non-literate, mostly working women or mothers in Los Angeles how to read and learn English for life and work while on their bus commutes to work — as nannies, housekeepers, home health aides, restaurant and hotel workers, and more — all over their basic feature phones. When women drive their own learning, as we have found countless times with Cell-Ed, they drive better futures for themselves, their families and their communities. This is how we change the game. Investing in women offers the same profound promise.

Representation matters. We need to craft complete, diverse narratives about the innovation economy.

Sherrell Dorsey, Founder of ThePLUG+BLKTECHCLT, is doing just that:

Journalism focused on the growing trends of how Black and brown people are participating in and driving innovation in society and within the economy is at the heart of the work we do at ThePLUG. It is critical, particularly as women and women of color, founders or professionals, to ensure that our narratives are complete, nuanced, and drive data-focused discussions about our contributions to the world of work and beyond.

Our shared future will involve more voices at the table.

Lauren Washington, Cofounder of Black Women Talk Tech and Fundr, has more than a few compelling ideas:

We’re seeing significant movement towards the support and funding of underrepresented founders, which is encouraging. In just a few short years, the number of Black women founders who have raised over $1M has doubled, though that number is still under 50. To me, the future of innovation means more voices at the table and more opportunities for wealth distribution. I’m so passionate about entrepreneurship because it has historically been one of the best vehicles to do this — however, we have to be aware of how systemic bias has played and could continue to play a part in providing equal opportunity for all.

In times of both crisis and stability, women are on the front line — tirelessly innovating, amplifying, and convening solutions for a better shared future. On the heels of Women’s History Month and in the midst of a global pandemic, I encourage you to reach into your own networks and explore how you can invest in other women — whether through your dollars, your time or your shared expertise. Please reach out to me and share your stories if you take action — I welcome the opportunity to amplify your work and share additional ideas with this community.

Innovating + Investing at the intersections of the Future of Work, Race and Equity. Twitter: @angjack

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