Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, CEO & Founder of EnrichHER, shares her story below on how discrimination led her to Techstars.
“Life changed the moment I looked at the text message on the iPhone resting in my lap. It was my last day in Washington, D.C. and I just finished a meeting with the owner of HeraHub to discuss a potential collaboration. Feeling good, I decided to drive with the windows down from Friendship Heights to Georgetown to the end of Halcyon Incubator in celebration. Luck would have it that I found a much-coveted parking spot right in front of my destination; I had made it.
After parking my car, I reached for my phone. It turns out Alonzo, my attorney, had called with what I guessed was another request for information from a government agency about logistics, plans or strategy details for EnrichHER. I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to call him back.
Alonzo said, “I have great news for you. You are officially approved by FIRNA.”
I immediately responded with a question, “so does this mean that we can get started; or is there another step?”
He replied, “you’re good to go barring…” – the rest of his words got lost in my excitement. All the months and years of frustration had finally brought me to this pivotal moment of tangible success.
I didn’t feel the need to listen to the rest of the information he provided; I just knew then that I finally had finally surpassed the numerous roadblocks and difficulties that had prevented me from progressing. My goals were just a grasp away and all I could feel was happiness.
One might wonder what any of this has to do with discrimination in venture capital. The answer to this quandary is everything.
Throughout my life, I was faced with others’ assumption that I did not belong in certain circles and conversations. I recall my mother having to call in the NAACP to stand up for me in high school after authoritative figures decided to scrap class rankings when I was selected as Valedictorian. I remember certain co-workers telling me that they would never consider me a doctor even though I had a Ph.D. I remember being told over and over that I didn’t look smart. The obvious truth is that all of these experiences stemmed from the fact that people expected someone with my level of achievement to be male and Caucasian, or Asian and they were disturbed that I was neither.
In the face of diversity and disrespect, I set out to achieve whatever I wanted. I told myself that any negativity people displayed towards me was simply the manifestation of their own self-hatred. One must learn to focus on the goal ahead and silence any static displayed by other insecurities.
There comes a point while chasing success when you forget about keeping a balance between work and relaxation. One can easily lose themselves in the monotony of vicious work cycles. When I realized that this was happening in my life, I decided to move to an ashram in Thailand for six weeks. There I would eat off the land, study yoga 12 hours per day and live without internet or hot water to balance my chakra energy. Although the experience was much more difficult than I expected, I was still able to align myself with peace of mind, high-frequency energy, and acceptance that there truly is a place in the world for a Type A personality hippie with wanderlust. My Trip to Thailand was the tipping point where I regained confidence and focus. Following that point, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had all of these skills for a reason and I was determined more than ever to apply them.
I went to Thailand in search of peace and restoration. However, I left Thailand transformed into a Wealthy Yogi. For a few years following, I taught an intersection of yoga and finance classes, teaching people that they needed to be mindful and present before making decisions about anything. Through all of my coaching, lessons, and webinars I collected enough data to tell me that most people want to be in charge of their own economic footprint. The one obstacle that prevents most people from achieving their dreams is capital. There are many resources for those who want to learn or be inspired, yet not enough for everyone who is qualified or capable. The reality is if you are not a stereotypical male in the business world, you are instantly marginalized by the proverbial glass ceiling. Because of this, I became absolute about trying new avenues and started by co-founding Bootstrap Capital with three other entrepreneurs. Our motto is that “we are entrepreneurs investing in entrepreneurs”. The four of us arranged learning and investment sessions in front of investors for a variety of New Majority companies including ShearSHare, MomSource, ArMR and more. While these joint ventures were fruitful and monumental in our track record, it wasn’t enough to fully resolve the issue.
As a serial entrepreneur, I knew I was tired of hearing comments such as “women don’t ever have any good ideas” or “women can’t run a business.”
“You’re too old to start a business” was another one. Many people believe that only 25-year-olds are fit to be business founders.
And my favorite comment of all – “Maybe we would believe in you or someone like you if you could find someone technical to join your team,” to which I respond, “I have three engineering degrees including my AI. My doctoral studies focused on applying machine learning techniques to solve real-world problems. I used to work for IBM TJ Watson Research center and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Labs, two of the most prestigious technical research institutions in the world. Let alone that I learned how to code when I was six years old and used to design operating systems from scratch.” I could have gone on, but eventually, I stopped responding as it was evident what they meant and that is “you’re not a white guy and I don’t understand your existence.”
So, I founded EnrichHER, a financial technology platform that is fueling the growth of women-led businesses by enabling female founders to secure $30k-$70k of capital in an affordable and non-dilutive manner. Similar to Kiva, we provide investors with an opportunity to lend to small businesses. EnrichHER Loans range from $50,000 to $75,000 and are made to pre-screened, women-led companies.”
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