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Ask HN: Any black women founders out there? What's your story?
9 points by brewgardn on Mar 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments
Today I've read my nth article about gender bias in silicon valley and just realized they've all. been. about. white. women.

...Maybe an Asian or Jewish woman thrown in once in a while.

Is it b/c there just aren't many? I would love to hear stories from black women founders, as well as their opinion of the coverage on this issue.

Yes, there aren't that many in Silicon Valley. Blacks are better represented in the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest of the United States, where there are fewer high-profile startups.

Also, culturally, black women entrepreneurs tend to pursue things other than computer science. The following are the business projects of black women entrepreneurs I personally know in the Midwest:

1. A music performance/album sales career ( this is entrepreneurship )

2. Coaching and motivational seminars

3. A staffing agency

4. An event planning company

5. A photography business

6. A law firm

And to move to black men, even the two entrepreneurs I know who have CS backgrounds are focused on music production and a culture magazine. I do not think my experience is atypical.

So my observation is shared. But you think that it fairly representative of the actual population, rather than what holds our attention in this entrepreneurship culture.

Well, your experience with male founders is not typical with where I live (Richmond). But I do agree that they are much more represented in the media.

There are quite a few. digitalundivided is a social enterprise dedicated to helping black women create and grow digital companies. Check them out here: (http://www.digitalundivided.com) held a conference last Oct. sponsored by Andreesen Horowitz, Oglivy, etc and had OVER 45 TECH ENABLED COMPANIES FOUNDED BY BLACK WOMEN. The keynote was Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Many are developers as well. Here's a list of companies: http://www.digitalundivided.com/alumni-companies/

There are a lot of blogs/digital magazines in there. Care to elaborate on that? Plus I notice a strong interest in the fashion industry. Comments?

This is AWESOME. So is Cory Booker. Now tell me, which major publications covered it?

This conversation thread is always an interesting one that surfaces from time to time, disappears, then resurfaces again. For me I think the issue is really one of access and exposure. Black women have been at the helm of technology companies as either CTO's, CEO's, C-suite executives, etc for several decades (see notables such as Shellye Archambeau, Ursula Burns, etc). Yet we still rank VERY low in terms of the number of black female founded startup companies which receive venture capital (less than 1%), thus the media coverage for black female founders is likewise sparse. This is probably why we appear nearly invisible in the articles you may come across but it does not mean there are not many new enterprising young women led startup in the space. It just means our voices are not often heard. I personally believe as more women of color enter the technology space and build businesses which will scale at the level of tech behemoths such as FB, Twitter, etc we will change this dynamic. There are many promising and talented young women currently in the space moving in that direction and certainly many even younger codenistas from programs such as Black Girls CODE that I certainly feel change the future. Then hopefully this discussion will finally go away. For good... ;-) ~Kimberly- BlackGirlsCODE

"There are many promising and talented young women currently in the space moving in that direction and certainly many even younger codenistas from programs such as Black Girls CODE that I certainly feel change the future. Then hopefully this discussion will finally go away. For good... ;-) ~Kimberly- BlackGirlsCODE" -- Kimberly, I love that and speaking for my organization, I actually have a saying for that; My org exists so it doesn't have to exist. My ultimate goal is to make what I do so much the norm that I won't have a need to be around. Maybe that's 5 years, maybe 10, maybe 20 years. As long as the problem exists my org will be here to combat it.

Greg Greenlee Founder of Blacks In Technology (http://www.blacksintechnology.net) Founder of BIT Tech Digest (http://www.bitdigest.net)

Sorry failed to mention you Kimberly. I was just talking about this with BFC (Black Female Coders). It's a thing of visibility and perception. Something that needs to be overcome. That's why I try and become an outlet for all Blacks In Technology through my podcasts, and by spotlighting the skill set of black techs/engineers/founders through the BIT Tech Digest (http://www.bitdigest.net), and the Blacks In Technology website (http://www.blacksintechnology.net) and hopefully an upcoming conference. I feel we need to try and control as much of our "brand" as possible and not let others do that for us. Programs like BGC is making tremendous progress in tackling this very thing.

Greg Greenlee Founder of Blacks In Technology Founder of BIT Tech Digest All around techie!!!

Here here. It's not that we don't exist: we do and we always have. It's that the problem is two-fold: 1) we don't get the access and resources needed at a young age to encourage us to pursue STEM fields and succeed/achieve in that realm and 2) for those of us who choose to pursue that route anyway, we don't get the exposure later on once we have achieved. The positive is that I see change happening, even if it's not as quickly as I would like, but it's still an issue that will need to be continually acknowledged and addressed by all until it is (ideally) not an issue anymore.


So how to fix the exposure problems. Are media outlets like Inc, Forbes, Techcrunch making a good enough effort to cover stories like this?

I think it's going to be more organic. This is the age of the internet. The internet is media therefore we have the best outlet possible to get the word out ourselves. We can do this by supporting each others causes. People have already laid the ground work, so support them. As numbers increase the visibility increases and all these other outlets will follow not because they want to it'll be because they have to. Think about the Negro Leagues. It's a perfect example of something that grew organically and made such an impact that it couldn't be ignored. Now there is no Negro League, just Major League baseball.

Greg Greenlee Founder of Blacks In Technology (http://www.blacksintechnology.net) Founder of BIT Tech Digest (http://www.bitdigest.net)

I think one of the main reasons media outlets such as the ones you mentioned don't cover these stories is because they just aren't aware of all of the work that is going on in the community to resolve this. It's just not on their radar. I think, in part, it is our responsibility as founders and community advocates to continue doing what we're doing and putting our work out there, but it also just as much (if not even more) the responsibility of these larger media sources to make addressing this a priority.

The hardest part, in my opinion, is getting people to understand that this conversation is not limited to one subset of the community. It involves everyone in some way.

As a HBCU comp sci alum, one important message that should be shouted - entrepreneurship is a career option for hackers. Especially hackers with unique insight into diverse communities.

What I remember of undergrad is that companies were desperate to hire smart CS types. These jobs were, more often than not, represented as the pinnacle for students. With good options to join top-tier IT and other firms, most "success" stories were about doing just that. Not so much about starting companies by wielding your code chops.

Love y'alls program.

Three questions: 1) Do the gender messages of women pioneers like Sheryl & Marissa resonate with black entrepreneurs or does the message feel "hollow"?

2) Are there any mainstream outlets that you think do a fairly good job of covering success (or struggles) of BFFs?

3) Who is your dream mentor?

I'm a black female developer who founded BlackFemaleCoders (http://blackfemalecoders.tumblr.com/) as a way of building a community of us out there. I've found it difficult both throughout my CS studies and while working in the field to find other women like me who can share and relate to my experience and I noticed that there wasn't really a strong presence out there for those of us already in the field to connect with each other. I'm hoping my blog can help fix that.

In terms of my experience, I can count on my hands the number of other black women developers I've encountered thusfar. Whether it's at conferences, in my classes or at work, I'm often one of a couple or the only black woman around (and oftentimes black person in general). I'm not happy about it and have become an advocate for getting more women of color (and women in general!) in STEM fields, specifically in computer science.

I've shared more on my experience as being a black female coder here in this post: http://blackfemalecoders.tumblr.com/about

I encourage you all to check it out and please get in touch with me if you are interested in sharing your experience! (twitter @lifeissweetgood)

I think it's awesome! Good code has no race or gender! :)

Hi, I am a black woman and the founder of Airfordable (fly.airfordable.co)based in DC. There has been an increasing number of black woman founders in the startup space. They are very much vocal about it. I guess because I seek out to find them and associate myself with the programs they organize. For example, www.DigitalUndivided.com/ @DigUnDiv brings together 100 black women founders in tech startups every fall in NYC for workshops, pitch competitions etc. They also host events during the year in cities like Mountain View, Detriot, NYC, chicago ATL etc. They are very active on twitter as well. There's also www.Blerdology.co/ @blerdology (a movement of Black Nerds) that hosts hackathons to target black techies among other programs. I actually won first place and best startup idea at their very first hackathon in ATL that landed an investor meeting. Both groups had events at SXSWi last week. So, Im Not sure why there are claims that there are not much coverage. Either way, folks like DigUndiv and Blerdology are changing this! Check them out.

I also got interviewed by Techcocktail and tech hustlers at sxswi to share my story!

Do you have a link? I'd love to read/watch. Thanks for turning me on to those groups!

Also, I think a major issue is that startup eco-system is very much geared to specific gender, class, and race, which causes a series of institutional barriers. The system is based on how much you raise, versus how much you actually make. Remember it wasn't until the last few years (2-3 years) that women led startups were even covered.

If you expand the definition of a "startup" to include tech-enabled companies, you will see a large number of companies backed by Black women, many of whom are making millions.

Some quick examples are Marve Frazier at Moguldom Media (Bossip, Madame Noire), Natasha behind YBF, and even myself. Some of us have investment, including traditional VC firm/PE, like Heather Hiles of Pathbrite, Zuhairah Scott of Kahnoodle, and some of chose not to go that route.

I do think it has to do with class more than anything.

Education coupled with social norms (hence the lack of female founders from every ethnicity)is really the issue.

If you would poule together all the succesfull white tech guys and combined them into an average. Using education, upbringing, basically soc-eco background. You would get a very different guy if you compared it with the average white male in america.

Its about exposure troughout your youth especially into the STEM areas.

Also are you the Kathryn Finney ? I actually bought your book: TBF in high school I really liked it and still have it. Someone in this thread said they noticed a lot of black women (but I think women in general) are into Fashion oriented start-ups.

And that really is true ! Girls are more exposed to beauty related things and guys are more exposed to technical stuff because I guess that is what society still values.

Also, thank you for making this post, as this is a topic that I strongly feel needs to be addressed. I think there is coverage on the issue from the standpoint of other black founders advocating for more (BlackFemaleCoders, Blerdology, DigitalUndivided, BlackGirlNerds, etc) but outside of that community, I find the issue doesn't get addressed nearly as much, if much at all. This isn't just a "black" issue or a "women" issue, it's an issue in the tech community at large that applies to and affects the whole community. It requires everyone to at the very least be more aware and communicate openly about it so that we can all work together towards positive change.

There's a whole accelerator of startups for under-represented demographics, including women and minorities: http://www.newmeaccelerator.com/

Sweet. I figured there were programs for under-represented. I was wondering why there wasn't as much coverage on blogs, twitter, editorials, etc. I bet you will see 20-25 stories come through your feed about the struggles of women founders today. I doubt any of them will be about black women. Full Disclsoure: I'm not a black woman.

I've had this discussion before: One reason you don't frequently hear about founders that are women and minorities is that journalists don't go out of their way to point out the physical characteristics of people. To do so would itself be potentially prejudicial.

To use your example, if a company is run by a black woman, no responsible reporter is going to put in their article "Oh, and by the way, this company is run by a black woman." Just think of how negative that sounds.

You're right! But most articles have photos, so do blogs, so do twitter profiles. 99% White. I'm new to startups, but I can think of at least 50 women founders/cofounders, many are household names, none are black. I'll put it this way. Who is the most well-known founder you can name? I'm going to tweet at @blackgirlscode to get some input.

The coverage is certainly less than stellar. I certainly expect to see that shifting in time--the changing demography of the country demands it.

I run an early stage startup PlusNavigator, Inc. a solution simplifying the shopping experience for plus size women. Founder Institute alum, cited in the NYTimes this past summer, I'm Chicago based. I've learned to pitch my little heart out, and have had favorable interest from respected persons in the VC community...its now a matter of delivering qualitative traction for the business.

The process seems somewhat uniform once you're out there and competing with your fellow peers and their startups, irrespective of race/gender however the process of GETTING into the active conversations around startups, accelerators, incubators, and serious conversations about effectively positioning your company is something that the individual has to own.

My personal path started in desktop support, then enterprise IT sales, and I've always had a strong affinity for tech. Solving the woes of millions of plus size women, by leveraging technology seemed immediately viable.

A lovely tech sis of mine Obi is working on PopInGym, another brilliant idea...and its JOY seeing her at SXSW each year.

While there is a difference between tech enabled companies and tech companies, I think the future of startups makes that difference close near indistinguishable, and it turns into solving every day problems by leveraging tech.

Access to mainstream startup communities makes a difference. Since August, I've worked out of Chicago's highly regarded 1871 digital startup community, having to compete against a large pool of applicants, an in-person interview, and panel voting review for acceptance to work on my startup there. The programming, education, and network fostered certainly helps to neutralize the lack of diversity some.

It seems I have an great deal of female, and black female founder colleagues to name a few Obi (PopInGym), Bolaji (SociaLifeChicago), Feyi (CancerIQ), Christine (ItsAShort.com) among others.

The news coverage certainly isn't sensationalized. We're out there, we have a story to tell, and its inclined to empower other women just like us...because we know there are others out there, waiting to claim their space at the tech table.

You raise an interesting point. I've seen plenty of white female entrepreneurs and plenty of black male entrepreneurs, but I can't recall any image of a black female entrepreneur (or any other woman of color) asides from Oprah :p and a few women who appeared on Shark Tank.

I get the sense that they are lots of female entrepreneurs of colour, but largely invisible for some reason (self-imposed or otherwise).

Tiffani Bell from PencilYouIn. Sian Morson from Kollectiv Mobile, Hadiyah Mujhid was once involved with a startup, Ama Morfo, Janelle Jolley, The ladies from Techturize....

A good person to ping about this would be Scott Hanselman:

http://www.hanselman.com and @shanselman

He knows of quite a few and can help you.

Sure, we should bring in @tiffani, @xianamoy, @lynneluvah, @contessagibson, @KathrynFinney to the discussion. That's just off the top of my head but I'm AFK at the moment.

Similar discussion was had on Quora back in 2010 - 2011 there's a list of names there http://www.quora.com/Who-are-some-influential-black-women-te...

This 2011 article on 10 Black Women In Tech will also expose you to the women who know the women, if they aren't the women themselves http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2011/11/10-black-women-in-tak...

Women are women. Why separate ?

I'm sure you didn't mean that statement to sound like all women are interchangeable.

Well,that's exactly what I'm asking. When people who talk about women in tech, they use the phrase broadly. But you don't often see black women founders standing up in solidarity.

I am curious: 1) is it because there are very few founders, 2) they aren't as vocal, 3) or b/c we, the listeners don't pay attention?

Please don't downvote ertehsrfd. I want this preserved for posterity.

He's got binders full of women founders.

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