In This Issue:
- The Magic of Mentorship
- Q&A With Shashi Srikantan
- Tech Equity Hub
- Empowering Women Through Mobility
- Have an idea?
The Magic of Mentorship
Lessons Learned From an Unlikely Pairing
Fiona McKay of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions and Tiffany Hosey of BuilDATAnalytics
In June 2020, Project W put out a call to action to the investors and advisors in our network, asking them to volunteer 30 minutes of time to mentor a Black founder. The result was overwhelming, and we ended up pairing over 120 Black founders with mentors. Some pairings didn't click, but many others did, showing us what can happen when people freely and authentically give and get. We're thrilled to share the story of mentee, Tiffany Hosey, CEO and founder of BuilDATAnalytics, of Oakton, Virginia, and mentor, Fiona McKay, Managing Director and founder of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions and Fiona-McKay.Com of Manchester, England, and the lessons we learned about mentorship from Tiffany and Fiona.
The first question that came to mind when Tiffany opened our email, letting her know that we had paired her with Fiona, was “What were they thinking?” Not only were Tiffany and Fiona an ocean and six hours apart, but Fiona didn’t have any background or expertise in the construction industry, the sector Tiffany was aiming to disrupt. (Our reason for the pairing: On her application Tiffany indicated she would like executive coaching, and Fiona is one of the best executive coaches we know.)
Their mentoring session was scheduled for 6 a.m. Eastern Time. One of the first pieces of advice Fiona imparted to Tiffany was not to show up for a business meeting looking defeated or with low energy. Fiona only later learned that not only had Tiffany reached a point of stagnation with her business, but only a few months earlier she suffered the devastating and sudden passing of her father, her biggest champion. As a result, the meeting with Fiona came at a critical inflection point for Tiffany. She had left the practice of law to start her company. She knew the construction business intimately, from managing a construction company to working on a construction site, and she knew that it was ripe for change. Her SaaS enterprise solution was poised to modernize and disrupt the archaic way contractors have built complex projects for decades and, at the same time, significantly reduce the costs and risk associated with construction. Nevertheless, although she had closed a few contracts, her business development efforts had stalled, and she could not figure out how to increase her deal flow and close more deals when she pitched to potential customers. She had begun to lose confidence and questioned whether she should reverse course and return to the practice of law.
So, after some straight talk about presenting her best self via Zoom and not emoting defeat, Tiffany and Fiona dug into why Tiffany was feeling the way she was. Fiona took the time to understand what was causing Tiffany to lose focus, which resulted in the "lightbulb moment" that revealed to Tiffany how to adapt, what to focus on and where to accelerate. And in this process, Tiffany discovered she and Fiona had more in common than she thought. They were about the same age. Both had left traditional careers (Tiffany, in law, and Fiona, in the civil service) to start companies. And, while trying to grow a client base and achieve a big breakthrough in her own company over 14 years ago, Fiona had experienced the same numbing frustration that Tiffany was currently experiencing.
That first meeting led to several others, all focused intentionally on building Tiffany's business, from mining Tiffany's LinkedIn contacts to Fiona sitting in on a customer pitch. Leveraging her renewed energy and focus that resulted from her work with Fiona, Tiffany was able to build on her company's relationship with Aon Risk Solutions, one of the largest insurance brokerages in the construction space, to develop a robust pipeline of new clients in both the public and private sectors.
Tiffany and Fiona have agreed that their mentorship sessions have come to an end. However, their relationship hasn't. Based on deep mutual respect and a growing friendship, Tiffany will continue to learn from Fiona and, as Fiona readily acknowledges, Fiona will continue to learn from Tiffany.
Here are some of the lessons we learned about mentorship from talking to Tiffany and Fiona:
- ✧ Mentorship comes in different shapes and sizes. Your first mentor shouldn't be your last.
If you're lucky, you will have multiple mentors during your professional life. Some mentors may help address a specific need. Tiffany had a mentor at the architectural firm HKS who taught her how to read architectural drawings and about various aspects of the construction industry. Fiona's first mentor was a judge who took her on as a clerk (despite her lack of any legal education or experience) and taught her the ropes so she ultimately ended up in wig and gown acting as clerk for some high profile lawsuits. On the other hand, Fiona and Tiffany's relationship took on a broad scope, from the emotional and personal to the strategic and tactical. Different types of mentorship may be appropriate at different stages of your career and career path. Know what you need and when you need it and seek out the right mentor for the particular point in time.
- ✧ Being open about your vulnerabilities is important, but so is plugging them.
Tiffany and Fiona started their journey with Tiffany openly and candidly sharing her disillusionment but also her deep desire to scale her business and make more rapid progress. From her own experience, Fiona recalled what it was like to feel isolated and how important it was to have a safe space to explore your frustrations. But, acknowledging challenges and low points in your journey does not mean accepting defeat. Fiona helped Tiffany turn her vulnerabilities into action by challenging Tiffany to think big. Was she willing to be satisfied with what she could get? Or was she going to aim for what she really wanted? Tiffany rose to the challenge, realizing that belief, talent and self-confidence got her to where she was and that by tapping into those reserves, unleashing her increased self-confidence and applying laser focus to key growth priorities, she could go much farther as an entrepreneur.
- ✧ Speak and accept uncomfortable truths.
Fiona didn't pull any punches in her first meeting with Tiffany. What Fiona had to say might not have been what Tiffany expected to hear. But Tiffany listened and embraced the message. Fiona's straight talk was just what Tiffany needed to reclaim the person she knew she was: wicked smart, ambitious, innovative and the creator of a product that has huge potential.
- ✧ Don't underestimate what you have to get and what you have to give through mentorship.
At first, Tiffany didn't see how Fiona, with no background in software development or construction, could be helpful. But she quickly changed her mind. Fiona's coaching – informed by Fiona's own journey as an entrepreneur -- was just what Tiffany needed. And, Fiona is grateful for the opportunity to learn about the technology Tiffany has built, the industry she aims to disrupt, and the formidable challenges faced by a woman of color in the construction industry.
We occasionally hear from accomplished men and women in the Project W community and from our colleagues at DWT that they have nothing to offer as mentors because they lack domain expertise, they have no entrepreneurial experience or what they have to offer is too specialized or not the right fit. Let Tiffany's and Fiona's story be a lesson not to undervalue what you have to give or get in any mentorship relationship. And consider this feedback we received from another mentor who has never founded or run a business but, instead, has a career in government service and government affairs: "As trite as it may sound, I think I've gotten as much out of the experience as I've given. And what [my mentees have] gotten from me in return is plenty of confidence building, which I think has made a big difference."
So, whether you are a potential mentor or mentee, keep an open mind as to what you can give and what you can get. That's when the magic happens.
Read more about BuilDATAnalytics
Read more about Lightbulb Leadership Solutions & Fiona-McKay.com
Q&A With Shashi Srikantan
Shashi Srikantan, Investor, Level Up Ventures
Shashi Srikantan has always loved the world of entrepreneurship. As a former entrepreneur herself, Shashi understands firsthand how difficult the process can be. At Level Up Ventures, Shashi invests in early-stage, tech-enabled startups led by Black and Latinx founders. Shashi is also the founder of Project Two.Eight, an accelerator providing support to female entrepreneurs through the earliest stages of creating a company.
Q: What is Level Up Ventures and what was the catalyst?
Level Up Ventures is a pre-seed and seed stage investor in tech and tech-enabled startups led by Black and/or Latinx founders. The Hearst-backed initiative provides cash investment and access to a number of resources at Hearst, including legal, hiring, and the support of Level Up Champions, colleagues from across Hearst’s 360+ businesses who share their expertise and networks with Level Up portfolio companies.
The idea for Level Up Ventures was developed by the program’s Chairman, Carlton Charles, Senior Vice President, Treasury & Risk Management at Hearst. Carlton wanted to create a program that addressed the racial wealth gap in under-resourced communities. Entrepreneurship has historically been a driver of wealth. Carlton was already actively engaged in helping to inspire the next generation of founders through BUILD, an entrepreneurship program for high school students from underserved communities. So, an accelerator focused on Black and Latinx entrepreneurs was a natural fit.
After the events of last summer, Hearst wanted to do something impactful over the long term to address racial inequality and the racial wealth gap. Carlton brought the idea for Level Up Ventures to Hearst’s executive team who embraced the concept. I was brought over from another Hearst subsidiary in November, and we launched Level Up Ventures shortly thereafter.
Q: What differentiates Level Up Ventures from other venture labs and accelerators focused on Black and Latinx founders?
First, at Level Up Ventures we have the immediate advantage of being able to leverage and build upon the successful blueprint of HearstLab, an investor in women-led startups, which has been around since 2015. HearstLab has proven to be at the forefront of helping underrepresented founders and a leader in the space.
Second, we realize that although funding is important, getting the support and expertise you need to grow your business is just as important, particularly when you are early in your journey. Level Up Ventures can leverage Hearst’s 360+ businesses that span media, healthcare, financial services, transportation and more– to provide our founders with a depth and breadth of expertise, access to coaching and mentoring, and services such as legal support that only a company as diversified as Hearst could offer. Although we are sector agnostic and don’t require startups to strategically align with an existing Hearst business, having that fit does allow us to leverage our internal expertise to adequately support our founders. We can also tap our Champions Network – volunteers comprised of experts within Hearst’s verticals– to evaluate opportunities and provide in-house support. This is made easier because so many within the organization are mission-aligned; it has been incredibly heartening to see how many people within Hearst have reached out and become involved.
Q: Despite working diligently to get Level Up Ventures off the ground, you agreed to serve as an Advisory Council member for Project W’s Tech Equity Hub. Why?
It was a matter of prioritization. There are so many people and organizations doing such important work. I know that compared to their male counterparts, women – particularly women of color - need support in the earliest stages of launching their businesses. Last year, 2.3 percent of all venture funding went to female founders and less than 0.5 percent went to women of color. The large wealth gap that exists means that Black and Latinx founders aren’t able to rely on family and their personal networks to provide the startup capital their ventures need. I feel strongly about the need to address this inequity and want to be part of the solution.
Like Level Up Ventures, the Tech Equity Hub is providing early-stage founders with an important foundation and is leveraging its own in-house expertise and the expertise of Project W’s network of investors and advisors. As a former founder I know how difficult the fundraising process is – it is even more stressful when you’re the only woman and the only minority in the room. I was impressed by Tech Equity Hub’s approach to addressing the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities and I’m honored to be part of it.
Q: For many organizations, there was a reactionary response to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests. Do you think this desire to be more involved in closing the racial wealth gap is short-term or the start of a more long-term commitment to racial equality?
While the initial response of organizations may have been reactionary, I think people are realizing that there is so much untapped talent and opportunity in addressing the funding gaps. As people continue to recognize and overcome their biases, I think they are going to see the long-term value in investing in these businesses. That trend should drive continued growth and interest in this space.
Tech Equity Hub
We are excited to announce that Project W has launched its most ambitious program to date – the Tech Equity Hub – to address the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx women in the tech startup space. Through our 12-week accelerator, we will provide our cohort of 8-10 women access to the networks of expertise, influence and connections that are so vital to a startup's success. Our expert faculty and accomplished mentors will provide our cohort with workshops and 1:1 deep dives focused on product design and evolution, marketing and sales, business strategy and finance, growth, legal, fundraising and personal development.
Last year was a year like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women of color, revealing the historic economic disparities between communities of color and white communities. And the shootings of unarmed Black people served as an awakening, opening the eyes of the American people to the systemic racism within our country.
Through these lenses, we saw the startup ecosystem as a microcosm of the broader societal systems that hold back and disadvantage women of color, and we committed to do our part to break down those barriers. The Tech Equity Hub is an important step to deliver on that commitment.
Tanea Foglia, Director of the Tech Equity Hub, feels a personal connection to the mission of the Tech Equity Hub: "To be able to build on Project W's success by launching an accelerator focused on Black and Latinx women was an opportunity that I could not pass up. I've said on many occasions that as women – and women of color – who advance professionally, we have a moral obligation to support one another and lift one another up. I feel fortunate not only to have this opportunity to fulfill that obligation, but also to work with our mission-aligned corporate partners M12 by Microsoft, R/GA, Stripe, and US Bank and to collaborate with members of the Hub's Advisory Council to build a program that will have tangible, long-term impacts."
Applications for the Tech Equity Hub are open until June 4th.
Empowering Women Through Mobility
Katherine Sheriff is an attorney in Davis Wright Tremaine's Technology Group who devotes her legal practice to identifying areas of opportunity and potential challenges in emerging technology sectors, particularly in the dynamic fields of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. Katherine discusses how her passion for emerging technologies and mobility intersects with her desire to see women find independence and autonomy to better their lives.
Katherine D. Sheriff
Associate, Technology Group, Davis Wright Tremaine
For women to be empowered and able to thrive, they must be able to move.
– Jan Peterson, Chair Huairou Commission
What does mobility mean for women? It represents change and possibility. For me, it means hope. In many countries, women are not allowed to travel freely and trips to the store or school require a male escort – often the women's husband, brother, or father. Even in countries where women are allowed to move freely, it is not without risk.
My entry into the world of mobility was fueled by a desire to empower others. While my sister's engineering career inspired me to invest my time in the future of mobility, my grandfather was the true catalyst for my quest to find solutions. My grandfather was a Marine, gas station owner, truck driver, and mobile home enthusiast at one point or another during his life – always on the move. But he developed a debilitating condition that robbed him of his mobility and his independence. This instilled in me the belief that mobility is empowering and can be synonymous with autonomy and freedom.
My grandfather lost the ability to drive. But even those women who are allowed to travel 'freely' in countries like ours lose mobility access or are deprived of certain mobility options incrementally. Every single day. This unfortunate reality is exacerbated by the fact that access to opportunity and mobility are so closely aligned.
The future of mobility will only improve for women if we correct the narrative and reject the idea that what is expected must be accepted. Of all emerging technologies, I believe mobility has the potential to truly change the way women live. Looking forward, there are three ways the mobility landscape may improve for women in the United States:
Improve the data. Diversify the input. Elevate the insight.
Problem: Gender Bias in Mobility Access – Solution: Improve the Data.
We cannot fix a problem when we do not know we have one. This is why data is so critical to understanding how the lack of mobility options can impact women. Before the #MeToo movement, most transit systems lacked meaningful data on the harassment women experience during transit. From street or deck parking to ridesharing, from taking public transit to biking, the uncomfortable reality is that women experience challenges that raise personal safety concerns on a daily basis. Increasingly, transportation groups in the public and private sectors are focused on collecting data regarding the mobility patterns of women. The insights that can be gained from this type of data that specifically tracks transportation patterns of women can be used to design safer and more reliable mobility solutions.
Lack of mobility options also has a significant economic impact on women, which has only been amplified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Recently, the Women's Congressional Policy Institute discussed reports that the COVID-19 pandemic undid many of the economic achievements we have seen. By 2020, women had made significant gains, reportedly representing 50 percent of the workforce. Today, four times as many women as men are dropping out of the labor force as lockdowns have forced women out of the office. In a single year, the effects of the pandemic could erase five or more years of economic progress for women in the United States. While there are other factors contributing to the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women, the inability to take children safely to childcare or school and the increased difficulty of getting to and from the workplace have undoubtedly had an impact on the decision of many women to leave the workforce.
Problem: Gender Bias in Mobility Planning – Solution: Diversify the Input.
For decades, urban planners have used transit data to design transit systems and organize schedules. However, until recently, much of the data collected has not reflected the gender of the riders. The 2019 LA Metro study 'Understanding How Women Travel' is a good example of how diversifying the input can help identify issues and develop solutions. The study revealed data that has not been historically taken into account in the planning process. For instance, instead of focusing on the peak period commute, the study focused on the many trips women make during the off-peak period. The study also looked at what modes of travel impact women and the effect on women of unreliable transit, slow travel times, or high transit fares. With this kind of input, transit planning teams can more effectively address the needs of women riders and mitigate some of the adverse consequences resulting from lack of mobility options.
Problem: Gender Bias in Mobility Teams – Solution: Elevate the Insight
Transportation planning has historically been driven by men, largely because of the pipeline in the technology and engineering sectors. The Mineta Transportation Institute at San José State University reported that women represented just 15% of the transportation workforce in 2019. Lack of diversity among the teams that are designing, building and operating transportation systems creates structural 'blinders' when it comes to the needs of women. Bringing diverse perspectives and insights into the design, construction and operation of our transportation systems – with input from a more diverse transportation workforce and more community engagement – will begin to chip away at those blinders and make transportation more accessible for the communities such systems are intended to serve.
Gender bias exists in mobility access, in mobility planning, and in mobility teams. We can disrupt this bias in three important ways: Improve the data. Diversify the input. Elevate the insight. By doing so, we will develop a greater understanding into how the current mobility landscape adversely affects women. Equipped with perspective, we will have the contextual tools required to generate and implement solutions that empower women through greater mobility.
Have an idea?
If you would like to submit an opportunity, event, or thought leadership in our monthly newsletter, please contact MollyKlein@dwt.com.