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Today we start Black History Month, and we want to lend our platform to our Black founders. Today, we hear from Mercy, founder of RENDiet and participant of EndeavorLab Cohort Two. Reflecting on her experience, Mercy shared some light on the racial and gender dynamics and challenges that persist and often go under the radar in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Below is her unedited story, as told by Mercy herself.
As a black female founder, I feel that my journey is a bit more difficult than the typical entrepreneur. I have been lucky to find kind souls and true support from some in the startup ecosystem, but it is 2021 and in the eyes of most, the startup founder to bet on is still white, young and male.
I often find myself as the only person of color, or woman of color at pitch competitions or in tech incubators and accelerators. When in these situations, I am an ‘other,’ and never approached and must do the approaching. I have experienced negativity and polite and not so polite dismissals from other entrepreneurs in these programs and have used it as motivation to win competitions.
I have attended events for entrepreneurs where other attendants take one look at me and assume that 1. I am going to pitch them someone else’s company and they look around and ask me to bring the founder into the discussion, expecting me to point to a white male in the room (it got so bad, I actually hired a white male to be the face of the company, for a short time) 2. I am a founder but my startup is in the hair or beauty industry.
A lot of the time, there is surprise when they learn about my company, which is a health tech company and also that I actually am the founder. Then comes the questions of why? Why that space and why me? After explaining my background, inspiration, motivation and goals, I get another question – don’t I think that maybe I am biting off too much as a first time founder? (pretty sure males do not get this question) As if my gender means my mind can’t be technical or handle challenging pursuits. That’s where I bring up all my wins, and then the questions stop and they finally start listening. It feels as if the fact that I have to prove my right to be present and my competencies, before they are willing to actually hear the details of my startup is the entrance price that I must always pay before I am allowed to participate in the startup ecosystem.
After getting through the questions and finally telling them of my company, the need for it and the size of the problem that we are solving, there is a lot of excitement and interest. I have had males tell me that they wish they can just take my idea, knowledge and experiences from my brain and import it into theirs, or they “volunteer” to head my company so that I can focus on my personal relationships and having babies…’because running a company is hard.’ Women are often viewed as the “weaker sex,” but it wasn’t until I started this journey that I saw that we are often viewed as weaker mentally, as well. Instead of being discouraged or offended, I have learned to be more discerning in what help I accept, due to this. I have become more motivated to show that black women can not only compete and succeed in this space but thrive in it.
I would love to see more effort made to create and allow true and equal space for all women, for different races and for individuals who are dealing with disabilities or diseases in the startup ecosystem. It is too difficult for these founders to gain access to opportunities, resources and tools. When access is gained, especially for those with illnesses, they must work double as hard to fit in to a prototype that they did not come from. There are too many additional hoops, too much scrutiny and steps required before they are shown equal respect and supported as other founders.
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