According to a report by the Center for Women's Business Research, black women are part of the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country, growing at a rate of 191.4% from 1997 to 2007. Yet few are founders of scalable tech-enabled enterprises. The reasons there are few black women tech founders, despite a strong tendency toward entrepreneurship, are numerous: lack of funding, lack of pipeline, geographical location. For every Heather Hiles, the charismatic founder of Pathbrite (which is on its Series C round), or Kelle James, the bright founder of the online agricultural exchange Mercaris (which just closed a Series A round of $2.5 million), there are thousands more at the beginning of the pipeline.
Below are nine awesome early-stage tech startup founders who just happen to be black women. These entrepreneurs have the same strategic vision, technical skills, and experience investors look for in every founder--with additional problem-solving and network-building skills developed through learning how to navigate external challenges like racism, sexism, and other "isms." I know they're awesome, because I worked with each of them through the FOCUS Fellow program, an intensive program for black women who are founders or co-founders of promising, scalable, early-stage tech companies.
Founder & CEO, Mercaris
What makes Mercaris innovative: Mercaris is a market data service, and trading platform for organic, non-GMO and other certified agricultural commodities. It does not cater to the typical Silicon Valley crowd, striving instead to create meaningful impact on the lives of their atypical clients: farmers, grain millers, etc. Mercaris has since raised $2.5M on its latest Series A round. Some of its prominent investors include Joanne Wilson and Kapor Capital.
What makes Kellee awesome: When she was in her 20s, Kellee was appointed by President Barack Obama as a White House Fellow and proceeded to consult for the Secretary of Agriculture. Later she was named by Crain's Chicago Business Magazine '40 under 40' rising leader. Kellee once aspired to become the first African American horse rider to make it to the Olympics, but her path eventually led her to the $31 billion organic food market instead.
What makes Zuvaa innovative: Zuvaa is creating a unique social shopping experience that connects customers all over the globe to African style. Zuvaa offers unique products from around the world as well as a community that embraces and engages the customer through meaningful cultural stories about each designer.
What makes Kelechi awesome: Kelechi is a social media and community engagement expert, having worked on a wide range of projects and clients, from EA Sports to the Microelectromechanical Systems Sensors Trade Association.
What makes Vosmap innovative: Vosmap helps brick-and-mortar businesses leverage the visual elements of search marketing to drive revenue. It is the leading provider for Google Maps Business Street View in New York. Vosmap creates beautiful panoramic walkthroughs and seamless image-stitching that is particularly relevant for retail, entertainment, and hospitality businesses.
What makes Maureen awesome: Maureen is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in People magazine, on Time Warner, and at Glaad. Selected by Google to join its business-mapping initiative, she was the first in New York to achieve Google's Top Performance Recognition for her help in expanding Street View for businesses. Maureen is a winner of the Bronx Women's Business Resource Center's Capital One Business Plan Competition.
Founder and CEO, Gramsly
What makes Gramsly innovative: Gramsly is innovating intergenerational connection by delivering subscription-based custom care packages for seniors. The service provides an ongoing emotional connection between the seniors and the people they love.
What makes Mary awesome: Gramsly is Mary's passion, but she has an exceptional track record as a scientist. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has received several fellowships and awards, including a UNCF/Merck Postdoctoral Fellowship, a postdoctoral grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Harvard Graduate Prize Award for minority graduate students.
Founder and CEO, MentorMe
What makes MentorMe innovative: MentorMe makes it easier for organizations to manage external and internal mentoring programs. Through a cloud-based SaaS platform, MentorMe cuts the time required to manage mentoring programs in half, reducing operational costs by an average of 28%.
What makes Brit awesome: Brit has been named among the Top 50 under 40 social enterprise leaders in the U.S. by the American Express Foundation.
What makes FoodTrace innovative: In a world where food security is a real issue and local sourcing is a competitive advantage, FoodTrace helps consumers trace, eat, and experience truly good food.
What makes Riana awesome: In 2010, Riana partnered to build what is now one of the most highly rated juice bar chains in the country. She has been featured in TheGrio 100 and Entrepreneur Magazine's "Top 30 Young Entrepreneurs to Watch."
Founder, BOLD Guidance
What makes BOLD Guidance innovative: BOLD Guidance helps students navigate the college application process through their mobile devices, while allowing counselors to track their progress online.
What makes Nichelle awesome: A first-generation college student, Nichelle had challenges navigating the college application process--organizing the different applications to the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. Bold Guidance has raised more than $450,000 thus far in Series A funding.
What makes Snapsure innovative: Snapsure makes personal styling accessible to everyone with an iOS mobile app that lets you quickly tap the people you trust for instant feedback on the things you want to buy. In the near future, users will be able to pay an in-app fee to carefully screened experts for their personalized professional advice.
What makes Marlo awesome: Rencher is a business anthropologist, with applied research experience in community creation, ritual practice, and design anthropology. She earned an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a PhD in Anthropology from Wayne State University.
What makes VIXXENN innovative: VIXXENN directly addresses the $10 billion hair industry by disrupting traditional distribution through direct sales and revenue-sharing with stylists. VIXXENN partners with a vetted group of stylists nationwide to help them sell products directly online to their clients without carrying inventory.
What makes Nicole awesome: Nicole was named one of the Stylish Women in Tech by Lucky magazine and "Black, Fresh,