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Take Action: It Makes a Difference

Take Action: It Makes a Difference

I must admit that I love pitch competitions. For those that also have an affinity for Shark Tank, you totally get where I’m coming from here. It is so fun to meet entrepreneurs, to get a sneak peek at their vision and the ways they are driving disruption, and to be able to offer advice and feedback. I’ve spent the majority of my career working at start-ups and, for me, pitch competitions are a way to give back by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned over time.

I remember vividly the first time I was on stage presenting a pitch at a NYC competition. I was one of the founding team members of Zeel and the founder, Samer Hamadeh, knew that I wanted to get more involved in the fundraising process. I’d learned a lot from him over the years and took all of that learning to the stage where I… promptly flopped. What I realized is that I can learn so much from others but the confidence and the comfort with public speaking needs to come from me.

Fast forward many years later and I still get nervous when walking on stage, but practice makes perfect and I’ve learned to perfect my own personal style.

This year was my first time at SXSW (more on that in next week’s post) and I opened the trip with some stellar women at the Riveter’s new Austin digs. I was there to be a judge for the LLShe Pitch Competition. LLShe is a joint effort between Berlin Cameron and Refinery29 to advance women-owned businesses and women-owned startups through pop-up experiences.

Jen DaSilva, President of Berlin Cameron opened the evening addressing the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs — as advisors, investors, and consumers. The more we actively seek out companies with diverse founders, the quicker we’ll change the status quo. We all have a role to play and when only 2% of VC funding is going to women-led start-ups and only 0.2% of funding to start-ups founded by black women, every act in the right direction matters.

The night started with a panel on growing the women-led and diversity-driven economy. Panelists were Danielle Kayembe, Founder & CEO GreyFire ImpactBecca McCharen Tran, Founder & CEO Chromat; and Melanie Goldey, CFO, Refinery29. The panel was moderated by Kim Jenkins, Professor Parsons School of Design. I was really inspired by the panel.

Becca actively seeks out diverse teams — from models to photographers — to work on her shoots. This is so key. To be intentional about how we are not only spending/hiring with our values but also recognizing that telling the story of Chromat through a diverse lens only makes the brand's story better. Melanie detailed the ways that Refinery29 is amplifying diverse voices and stories through their platform and within their company. Danielle’s influence is not only as an advisor to start-ups and funders, but as a connector building the bridges between innovation and funding that will ensure the success of more companies with diverse founders. 

I was really impressed with a story Kim told. She had been hired by a major clothing brand as a consultant after an incident where the brand faced accusations from the public that an item they released was racist. She discussed why it was important for companies to admit mistakes and ask for help in correcting them. I wholeheartedly agree. The core theme that ran throughout the panel is: Intentional Action. We can all create, help, and grow the women-led and diversity-driven economy as long as we intentionally seek out diverse founders and take action every day with our wallets, connections, knowledge, and more.

After the panel I was honored to join the team on stage alongside Karen Cahn, the Founder of iFundWomen and Amy Nelson, Founder of The Riveter, where we judged the pitch competition. I’m always energized by the conversations that happen during the judging process. There are so many spectacular, smart, insightful women in this world. The questions posed were totally on point and the entrepreneurs rose to the challenge.

Drumroll please….the winners were:

Both companies are fantastic and I encourage you to support them however you can.

After the event, we all went out for some of the best BBQ in Austin. Community is where the magic happens.

Tune in next week for my # TBT on SXSW.


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