Before Angelica Ross launched her own tech company and became a fixture on the television series Pose and American Horror Story, the only job that she could get was with an adult entertainment website.
Like many transgender Americans, who are twice as likely as others to be unemployed, Ross at that time had to take any position that would pay for rent, hormone therapy, and transition-related expenses. But her role provided an unlikely opportunity: She went from posing for the website to updating the front page, learning to code as she went.
"I'm the type of person that I see an opportunity and even if it's beyond me, I will recognize what my shortcomings are, and then get about the business of teaching myself whatever it is that I need to know in order to take full advantage of the opportunity," Ross says. Now the founder and CEO of Chicago-based TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator for LGBTQ+ talent in the technology industry, she made her remarks during an Inc. Your Next Move interview with the Honey Pot Company co-founder Beatrice Dixon.
Ross's initial foray into coding paid only about $20 a month. But the training sparked the idea that her experience could be replicated throughout the trans community, with technology serving as a means of harm reduction and economic empowerment. The concept evolved into TransTech, which she founded to bring more trans, queer, and gender nonconforming people into the tech industry. Her company, which includes both a nonprofit and social enterprise arm, provides access to training, mentorship, and job opportunities in the tech sector.
"It's not about a handout," Ross says. "What we can do is create opportunities where you can get experience with us--whether that's on the nonprofit side or the for-profit side--and we can put you in front of other employers who can hire you."
Watch the clips below for stories from Ross's entrepreneurial path and her best advice for other founders.
On launching her company:
On expanding from a nonprofit company to a social enterprise model:
On the importance of seeking out challenges:
On avoiding the trap of diversity clichés: