Project W's Tech Equity Hub aims to unlock the potential of Black and Latinx female founders by providing the resources, connections, and knowledge needed to build a successful tech company. We do that through the generosity of dozens of experts who give their time and wisdom. Learn how this year's Tech Equity Hub faculty is empowering the next generation of game-changing companies.
Although the twelve founders in the third cohort of Project W's Tech Equity Hub have taken their companies beyond the ideation stage, most are still focused on developing and iterating on their technology, finding product market fit, refining their go to market strategies, building their teams, and positioning their companies to raise their first institutional round. That's where the over two dozen faculty who volunteer for the Tech Equity Hub come in. In the curated and individualized setting of the Tech Equity Hub, the investors and experts who volunteer their time and expertise provide the guidance the founders need to identify their target markets, to generate leads and convert them to customers, to recruit and develop the talent they need, and to raise the pre-seed and seed stage capital required to scale their business.
Here's how our dedicated faculty of experts shapes the future of companies that are breaking new ground and changing the future.
Mapping a Path to Success
Yasmin Ibrahim knows from first-hand experience how critical a solid business plan is to the success of a business. Leaving her career in finance, Yasmin founded a quick-service restaurant concept serving fresh, healthy meals in New York City. Following that, she brought her real-life experience to American Express, working in their strategy group. Even the most experienced founder can benefit from developing a well-thought-out business plan, and Yasmin provides the roadmap: understand your market and the problem you are solving, clearly define your product or services, set clear objectives for product development and marketing, and establish the KPIs for your business and hold yourself accountable to them.
Building Your Product
Translating an idea to a product or solution requires hard work and often a leap of faith. Do you and your team have the technical skills to build your solution? Are there customers in the market who will buy what you build? Once you've built it, how can you ensure that a competitor won't appropriate your idea? Nicole Hamilton, Greg Coleman, and Dylan Adams have the answers to those questions.
Many of the founders in the Tech Equity Hub do not have technical backgrounds and need to hire or outsource the experts to build their technology. But finding the right experts and making sure they are building the technology your company needs can be very challenging, and any misstep in selecting and overseeing your technologist can be costly and sometimes fatal to your business. Before founding her own tech company, Nicole Hamilton spent years in product management and development, learning how to write the specifications that deliver the technology you want to build. Nicole shares her tips on how a non-technical founder can effectively communicate with her tech team and how she can monitor their progress to ensure the right product is built on time and on budget.
As the founder of a fitness company and U.S. Defense Department investor, Greg has seen companies with great ideas fail to get off the ground because no one buys their products. Understanding your target market – who wants to buy your product – is key. Greg encourages every founder to conduct one-on-one interviews with potential users and customers, collect and review the data, and then make any necessary modifications to her product to meet the needs of those potential users and customers.
Dylan is a patent lawyer and best-selling author of Patents Demystified: An Insider's Guide to Protecting Ideas and Inventions. And Dylan does demystify patents for our founders, providing guidance on what is patentable, when to file a patent, and other ways to protect your proprietary property. Dylan also makes patents understandable and fun for adults and kids through his YouTube channel, Patents Demystified.
Into the Market
Building a product is an important first step, but selling the product is what running a business is all about. Sarit Amir has been in the innovation business for years and knows that even the most exciting innovation can fall flat if there is no market for it. She shares her insights into how to achieve product market fit. With over two decades of experience in product management and communications, Lenore Kantor knows what it takes to achieve a successful product launch and how a successful launch can jumpstart sales, create excitement in the market, and attract winning partners. Whether you take a "big bang" approach to gain first mover advantage with a fully built product, a soft or stealth launch to get customer feedback, or a growth launch to showcase new features or product lines, understanding the process is key and Lenore shares the ingredients of a successful launch.
Drawing on her experience in marketing at two software companies, Eva Sasson focuses on three steps to build a successful go to market strategy. Develop your "persona" – who is your ideal customer? what do they care about? what problem do you solve for them? Identify your channel – how are you going to reach your customers? Hone your message – once you've reached your customer, how do you get their attention?
Regardless of where you are in your go to market journey, building – and protecting – your brand is key to a company's ability to grow its revenues. IP lawyer Danielle Toaltoan has important tips for founders: use a distinctive trademark for your brand, clear your mark to ensure it can be registered and doesn't conflict with an existing brand, and act sooner than later to avoid costs and, worst case, the need to rebrand.
Your Financial Infrastructure – On Track to Profitability
You've built your product. You're in the market. But is your company making money and on the road to becoming a profitable business?
A company's assets and liabilities and revenues and expenses comprise its financial infrastructure. The corporate treasury team from U.S. Bank — Luke Wippler, John Bernat, and Hannah Honeycutt — do a deep dive into the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement of a company, helping founders understand what their company is worth and whether it is making money. The team also examines how different types of investments in the company – debt and equity – are reflected in the balance sheet and affect the income and cash flow statements.
Especially at the earliest stage of their companies' development, founders know that cash is king. And understanding how to manage and maximize your cash flow can mean the life or death of your company. As a venture capitalist, Janet DeFrino focuses on a path to profitability when evaluating companies. After walking through the drivers of cash flow and how founders can push those levers to manage their liquidity, Janet leaves the group with a financial model they can adopt as their own to manage their cash flow and ensure they always have sufficient cash to pay their expenses.
Building your Team
At the beginning, a founder does it all. But, as her company grows, she needs to build a team that is culturally and mission aligned. Sarah Holmes has worked with talent for many years, from placing top candidates at high growth companies to running people ops at a venture firm. Finding the right people, creating a successful onboarding process, and then evaluating and developing talent are key to building a high performing team and Sarah shares her tips as to how to do just that. While building their teams, founders need to be aware of the legal considerations in recruiting, onboarding, managing, and, if it comes to that, terminating team members. Employment lawyers Danielle Gerson and Erik Mass provide guidance as to how to do all of this the right way and how to avoid pitfalls that befall many early stage founders.
The process of raising capital can be mysterious, frustrating, and often demoralizing for early-stage founders – particularly women of color. With a series of workshops, the Tech Equity Hub unpacks the process and gives the founders the insights and tools they need to approach the process with confidence and to be successful.
It's never too soon to start building relationships with venture capitalists, even if you are not ready to begin raising an institutional round. Investor Jen Richard shares her suggestions as to how founders can start building their network within the investor community, including how to make connections and with whom, how to keep investors apprised of your company's progress, when to start the fundraising process, and what terms to expect. And, when you start fundraising, you need to have a compelling deck to guide you through your pitch. Jenevra Georgini, a startup lawyer and advisor, readily admits she loves to read decks. Jenevra reads the decks of the founders in the cohort and uses examples from them to illustrate how to effectively make each of the key points you need to convey, including the problem statement, market size, traction, competition, and more.
It's important for a founder to start the fundraising process armed with the knowledge of how an investment is structured and on what terms and with an understanding of how that investment affects the company's capital structure and the founder's own equity interest. Startup lawyer Shelly Malik walks through the different types of investments – convertible note, SAFE, and preferred stock – and offers some tips on what founders should look out for with each of them. Regardless of the type of investment, giving up equity in a company affects a founder's ownership interest. A master of cap tables, Kevin Pasternak discusses how to construct a cap table, how to use it as a tool to understand the consequences of bringing in outside investors, and how different investment rounds (pre-seed, seed, Series A, and later) affect both founders and early stage investors.
Life as a Founder of Color
Being a founder – particularly a founder of color — can be a lonely existence. The opportunity for a founder to make connections with peers who are experiencing similar challenges is invaluable. That's part of the magic that happens during the 12 weeks the founders in the Tech Equity Hub are together.
However, not every founder goes it alone, and being a co-founder or bringing on a co-founder has its own challenges. Alterrell Mills, who advises values-based, mission-focused companies, has seen both successful and unsuccessful co-founder relationships. Alterrell provides his perspectives on how to foster a healthy and productive co-founder relationship by sharing tips on how solo entrepreneurs can intentionally "date" and find potential co-founders and by providing guidance on effective conflict resolution.
Lorine Pendleton was a trailblazer in investing in founders of color, first as an angel and now as the lead investor for Portfolia's Rising America Fund I and II. From her perspective as an investor, Lorine has seen many founder journeys unfold and she provides guidance has to how to make your journey a success.
We always stand on the shoulders of others, and hearing from women of color who have been down the startup path, successfully raised capital, and overcome many of the challenges under resourced founders face is often the inspiration a founder needs to keep going, shrug off the disappointments and setbacks, and keep her eye on the prize. Noelle Acosta, alumna of our first Tech Equity Hub, quit her day job during the program. Within six months after the program ended, she had built her beta and raised $1.4 million. As one of less than 100 Latinas to have raised $1 million, Noelle shares her story with the current cohort and, through her journey, demonstrates that if she can do it, so can other founders of color.
Like Noelle, every member of our faculty is giving back to our cohort with their expertise and with insights from their lived experience. It is this kind of collective effort that will drive progress and bring equity to an ecosystem that has traditionally overlooked and under appreciated the talented, high potential founders the Tech Equity Hub aims to elevate.
The Project W Team