By Kamille D. Whittaker
At the 2016 South by Southwest Conference, Kathryn Finney, founder of Digital Undivided, had a major announcement: She would be launching an initiative in Atlanta to be housed in the BIG Innovation Center.
This 6,000-square-foot space is now home to the BIG accelerator program, a 16-week track for high-growth companies led by women of color and financed by the newly launched Harriet Fund. It is the first venture fund focused on investing in exceptional black and Latina female founders — those with ideas and ventures that are groundbreaking and game-changing, but still go unfunded or unnoticed. This is where DID comes in — investing where others won’t; championing what others don’t; doubling down on opportunities that others consider small bets to bridge the digital divide.
“Little attention has been given to the role of intersectionality in tech entrepreneurship. In fact, a cursory glance of inclusion programs and activities revealed that the majority of the discussion focuses on either women (mostly white) or black (mostly men) founders, but rarely on those who are both women and Black (or Brown),” says Finney. “It seemed black women founders, who own a majority of Black businesses and are in the greatest position to have an immediate impact on entrepreneurship and innovation in Black communities, are invisible in the startup world.”
To address the paradox, DID finds black women and Latinas who are tech founders with high-growth companies and connects them to a network of investors, mentors and influencers. The women develop with DID’s startup tool kit and hone their leadership skills on the pathway from the build phase to exit; from the beginning of the startup funnel into the innovation ecosystem.
The pipeline begins with an invite-only weekend of ideation, pitching, feedback and networking. From this weekend, it chooses the cohort for the BIG incubator that culminates in a day where members demo their product/company to an audience of active investors, potential corporate partners and community members.
DID’s proprietary data initiative #ProjectDiane provides the quantitative fuel, filling the vast research gap on Black and Latina women entrepreneurs in the innovation economy through public white papers and reports. The project maintains the largest database of Black and Latinx women startup founders and its report is replete with detailed findings and analysis on women of color in the startup space.
“We found that black women are extremely entrepreneurial and lead startups. DID identified 88 United States-based black women-led startups and these companies are a part of the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. (over 1.5 million businesses owned by Black women) that generate over $44 billion in yearly revenues,” says Finney.
The community element rounds out the initiative through TOWER, a gathering of women building companies, sharing resources, and uplifting each other on the entrepreneurship journey — ensuring they all stay committed to DID’s mantra: “Go big, or go home.” AT