Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Build The Damn Thing

Sep 23, 2021

Calling All Disruptors!

In this episode of Build The Damn Thing, you get to hear how friends, associates and the early attendees of Kathryn Finney’s FOCUS event were positively influenced by the Genius Guild CEO’s visionary thinking as a disrupter in the tech space. Kathryn shares how her “co-conspirators” — such as the founders of BlogHer and her business partner Darlene Gillard Jones — helped her build a powerful company based on her mission of empowering Black and Latina women in technology and helping them raise money through Digital Undivided. She also pioneered the groundbreaking research study, Project Diane, which exposed the disparities in venture capital investing in Black women businesses and went viral.

But while all of this was going on, Kathryn not only had to combat some people misunderstanding her as a Black woman visionary who was often one step ahead, she had to overcome an unexpected health challenge and make some major decisions about her business and her personal life.

Kathryn Finney is known as a pioneer in the fashion blogging community thanks to her blog “The Budget Fashionista” which has helped thousands of women dress chic and cheap. Kathryn not only has built a huge blogging community but also has been featured among "America's Top 50 Women In Tech" by Forbes and is greatly recognized by books like How to Be a Budget Fashionista and The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less. In fact, Kathryn is the living definition of a businesswoman who is always trying to generate new ways to share her knowledge about fashion and entrepreneurship just like she does through her platform the Genius Guild which, apart from having the podcast “Build that Damn Thing”, invests in companies led by Black founders.

Insights from the Podcast:
- How to build your team
- How to leverage relationships
- How to cultivate a work environment that creates a winning  organization
- Women of color often have to face tough decisions in their journey
- How to know when to walk away
- How sharing the data about the disparities in venture capital investing in Black women’s businesses helped change an industry

Quotes from the show:
“One of the hardest things as an entrepreneur is to sell others on your big idea. That’s exactly what I did when I started Digital Undivided.”— Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“They not only gave us the check, [BlogHer] literally gave us the manual for how they run events.” — Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“She asked me if I'd be willing to partner with her on an organization called Digital Undivided, that will…support Black women in technology. and I haven't looked back since." — Darlene Gillard Jones, Guest Speaker, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“Because of that relationship because of the trust and the friendship that we were able to grow and establish, we were able to, create something special and my life personally has changed because of it.”— Darlene Gillard Jones, Guest Speaker, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“But when we realized it was too early, like most things in my life and being a visionary — being a Black woman visionary — that's not necessarily celebrated. I see things many steps ahead.” — Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“Oftentimes, the people who are the strongest and who have it together are the very people that you need to check after.”— Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“Before ProjectDiane was released, the experiences of women in color in entrepreneurship were purely anecdotal—so whether you were a person of color or not, you had some idea that things just weren't the same for people of color in particular women and women of color in the startup space; but it wasn't until Kathryn and Digital Undivided came along to quantify that experience that really blew the lid off of that entire dynamic and conversation.”— Danielle Robinson Bell, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5

“The hope was that Project Diane would be a catalyst. What I did not know was that Project Diane was going to fundamentally change the venture capital space in ways that still vibrate to this day.” —Kathryn Finney, Build the Damn Thing, Episode 5


Stay Connected:

Kathryn Finney
Twitter: @KathrynFinney
Instagram: @hiiamkathryn
Facebook: Kathryn Finney

Genius Guild
Website: Genius Guild
Twitter: @GeniusGuild
Instagram: @geniusguild

Subscribe to our podcast + download each episode on Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.





Produced by Genius Guild Content Studios

Executive Producers: Kathryn Finney and Darlene Gillard Jones

Post-Production Company: Prosper Digital TV

Post-Production Manager: Joanes Prosper

Post-Production Supervisor: Jason Pierre

Post-Production Sound Editor: Evan Joseph

Co-Music Supervisors: Jason Pierre and Darlene Gillard Jones

Show Music: provided by Prosper Digital TV

Main Show Theme Music: "Self Motivated" Written & Performed by Tamara Bubble

Special thanks to Baratunde Thurston, Champions of Change: Tech Inclusion, and The Obama Administration


Full Transcript

Darlene Gillard
I met Kathryn when I was fashion editor at essence magazine and she was the budget fashionista. When I left essence and started a company, Kathryn became one of my clients and she was a great client.

I mean, we made a ton of money together. I brokered a lot of deals on her behalf and we worked on a number of projects and a project that she wanted to do was put together a conference for black women in technology to gather. And she asked me if I would produce it. I agreed. And it was a hit. when it was over. She asked me if I'd be willing to partner with her on an organization called Digital Undivided, that will continue the mission of the conference and support black women in technology. and I haven't looked back since,, because of that relationship because of the trust and the friendship that we were able to grow and establish, we were able to, create something special and my life personally has changed because of it.       My husband is an investor in technology companies because of his proximity to tech. My son graduated from an HBCU as a computer science major because his interest was piqued because of my affiliation with the organization and my daughter works for Tesla. 

And so I'm thankful for that Kathy vortex that everyone speaks about and appreciate being on this journey. And, um, I'm forever grateful

One of the hardest things as an entrepreneur is to sell others on your big idea. That’s exactly what I did when I started Digital Undivided. And while I founded the company, there was a core group of co-conspirators who helped me build it. This episode of Build The Damn Thing focuses on me building teams, leveraging relationships, and cultivating a work environment that creates a winning organization.

It was, while at BlogHer, I was doing a lot of conferences.  So they would send me to speak at like Southwest, Southwest and Web 2.0, all these sort of gatherings of people where I was literally the only black person. Um Sometimes the only woman at these conferences, and these conferences weren't like in Minneapolis or something, they were like in Chicago. I would go in Chicago, which has got a lot of black folks, many related to me, and it would be no black people at this conference. And I was like, "What the hell is going on here?" And it just really stuck with me. And so BlogHer had a conference in San Francisco,And I was there, and it wasn't a lot of black women there.

And I knew Blogger is organization like really were interested in getting women of color. They were before it even became cute, before it became cool, before it became a thing, they were doing it. And so to not see us there I was like, "What's going on?" So, I had an idea to do a conference for black women called Focus 100. So I talked to BlogHer because, like no one ran a conference like BlogHer. And so I turned to them and I said, "Telisa, I have this idea of this conference for black women in business." And they said, Oh wow! We think that's really, really great. I'm asking, I know of black women in startups.

There's a lot of us, but there's no, we're not gathering, we're not getting together.  And so she said, "Wow! That's something that we would love to support." And so they gave me the first check, which was for $5,000. And not only did they give the first check, they did something else that was even more important. ----- They gave us the manual, like literally gave us the manual of how they run events.

Elisa Camahort Page:
When Kathryn came to us, um my co-founders of BlogHer, Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins and I, and had the idea of taking what... She had attended our BlogHer Entrepreneurs Conference, and wanted to replicate something similar for women of color, um she came to us with the idea, and we were immediately like, "We're in, let's help, let's do it, you're the perfect person."

This is Elisa Camahort Page, author and entrepreneur.

We helped her not just financially, but operationally, because if you've never thrown a conference before, which by the way, Lisa, Jory, and I hadn't done when we did the first BlogHer, you have no idea the logistics behind it, so we did things like share contract templates with her, and share other kinds of logistical and operational intelligence from our years of doing conferences, to help her first conference be maybe easier than it was for us in the beginning, and help it have a faster path to success.

Uh ya know our belief was always that we weren't going to try to do everything all the time for everybody, and that sometimes, communities really want to be led and and find um resources that are within their communities, and so we wanted to amplify that movement, and we wanted to help augment um what she did in any way that we could. 

Kathryn Finney
I wasn't an event planner. And I wasn't someone who was used to running major conferences. That's just not wasn't my skillset. But I realized I knew someone who did, and that was Darleen. We had just did this massive $100,000 with the close 25 real people model, amazing crazy fashion show. And she kept calm throughout the whole thing.

And there were moments, Woo! where- where calm was need-ed. 

we got $10,000 from Andreessen Horwitz. And this was again in 2012, this is before everyone was talking about diversity in tech. No one really knew what that even meant. And so I realized that we needed even more money. So, we have the space and the food, and stuff, but there were little things that we needed, like that was costing. And so I spent almost $30,000 of my own money from advertisement to helping people get there. We had a little scholarship um that I gave, and basically paid for people to come. And we had our first Focus Fellow Conference in 2012. And it was amazing. It was every woman you could think of in tech was there and startup space. Uhm And it launched a lot of people.

So I learned about digitalundivided through, um, another friend; she was with a fellow, um, black woman entrepreneur. Um, I was living in Pittsburgh at the time and she just told me about this conference. Um, and I was really excited to hear about it because I was a black woman in tech and didn't really know a lot of other black women in tech. And when I heard about it, I had applied for the scholarship. I mi- I  I received the scholarship and next night I was on the bus from Pittsburgh to New York for the focus 100 conference. And from there it just was a trajectory to a lot of other great things in my entrepreneurship career.

my name is  Kelechi Anyadiegwu. I am the CEO Uju Um, we are a brand development studio for women of color focused brands. I was at the first focus 100 conference as a focus fellow...

...and I've worked for the organization in different capacities over the past last couple of years. 

the conference for me, um, was just, uh introduction into this new ecosystem, around black women entrepreneurs and black women in tech. Iwas in grad school at the time studying user experience design. Um, there weren't a lot of other people who like me. Um, and I always knew that I had this inclination to also wanting to like, just start something. And so, um, being at that room and focus 100 around all of these really visionary women, um, just really inspired me. Um, and then to see what Kathryn was doing, what she was building to see, um, the other focus fellows who, you know, I had, you know, built a really great relationship with. Um, and to just finally feel like I was somewhere where I belonged. It's just, I think something that really set up my career, you know, as an entrepreneur. Um, and, and that's just the feeling that I'll never forget.

Kathryn Finney
in 2014, we kind of saw that things were kind of headed towards another place. It was really, really difficult to get the type of funding we needed to make the Focus Conference, be truly a business at the time Corporate America was looking for employees, not for innovators. And Focus was all about innovators. It was people who were building stuff. 

Kellee James
When I was at Focus, ..Mecaris was more of a concept at that point than a, than an actual company. 

we were incorporated, but, [smooth out] we hadn't raised our first money yet. We didn't have our first customers. It was, it was just, uh, it was all in my head, you know, at that point, I think we did have a landing page, but that's, that's about it.

So - for me, I really liked the, uh, the focus on raising money. Um, that's what attracted me to focus fellows. I think it's an example of why programs need to have specific and can have specific applications for black women. So lots of the critique on venture capital right now, or in general is that it's all about raising money and that's what grabs the headlines and, and, you know, to the detriment of the other sound fundamentals of business. But what I found as a black woman who had not raised money before was that I had an idea of what I needed to do business wise. I had an idea of where to go for, um, industry level expertise. I was working in a field that I had been working in for 10 years prior. What I didn't have, what I didn't have was the experience in raising money before.

And so focus was really a great program for me, um, because that's, that's precisely what I needed at that moment. 

my name is Kellee James, and I am the founder and CEO of Mercaris as a market information service, as well as an online trading platform for organic and non GMO and other what's known as identity preserved agricultural commodities. 

some of the highlights that I found included, oh gosh, there were so many, but, you know, meeting face to face with investors that, uh, folks like Freada Kapor Klein and William Crowder of the catalyst fund, which was a fund run by, uh, Comcast ventures. So some of these folks I had heard about or read about some, I had even, um, maybe corresponded with via email, but this was the first time I got to sit down and ya know have coffee with them, or just sit down around a round table and just, you know, chat. And I think it was just really helpful for developing those relationships.

Now there's a million startup events in every city. Um, but none really at the time were targeted towards black women tech startup founders. So, uh, I took the opportunity to just kind of went up there. I think I learned about the conference only a week before it was happening. Um, but I just made it a point to get up there and it was just a brilliant, brilliant event.

Kathryn Finney
all these people who, before they became with these leaders, they were always innovators. And what we realized is that the innovators that we had corporations did not want to connect with. They didn't even know they needed to connect with these people. And it's interesting now, almost 10 years later to see how connecting with innovators, and influencers are now the language of Corporate America. But when we realized it was too early, like most things in my life and being a visionary, being a black woman visionary, that's not necessarily celebrated. I see things many steps ahead. I've always been able to do that. I think people think sometimes when you're a talker, when you're someone like me, that you're not a good listener and I actually am a really, really good listener. And I pay attention to people and to things. And so with the Focus Conference, we were just several steps, we were about three or four years too early. We really were, we were several steps ahead.

Also at that same time of building focus, especially after the first focus, and before the second focus, I actually became quite sick and a lot of people didn't know that. And so I became sick with stage one Endometrial Cancer. It was a real shock to me.  And so I had this crazy diagnosis, and there's really two courses of treatment. You can take medication or you get surgery. I was trying to like put off getting surgery, um which would have impacted my ability to have children. So, that pushed off and was taking these crazy steroids at the same time as running this sort of organization, at the same time as people triggering, and putting all sorts of ish on me, all their likes sort of stuff.

And so it was really, really hard. Um but there's something about focus that really triggered. And I remember later I decided to have the surgery mostly because I just needed peace of mind. And the day after the surgery, um it's so crazy. Anytime you have major surgery, they make you get up and walk. So I remember walking around because I'm not about ready to stay in the hospital, but I'm on this floor, and I heard this woman who had this amazing suite.

I mean, if you are going to be sick, she had the room you want to be in. I mean, it was beautiful. It was great lighting it had bookcases with books in it, and all this stuff and I'm walking by her room and I hear her like yelling on the phone with somebody. And the nurse who was walking with me was like, "Yeah. She's some big time businesswoman CEO." And I'm like, obviously she had just gone through a certain major surgery. She had obviously went through chemo before because she had a scarf on her head, and she didn't have hair. And she's sitting there yelling at this person and I'm like... It just was such a lesson in life. It was one of those life lessons, a life portal, a life moment of like, "I don't want to be that."

If I'm at the end of my life, the last thing I want to give two Fs about is yelling at someone about something that's just not what I want to do. 

And so the next morning I got up, and I was in the room and of course I checked my email because I actually felt okay after having major abdominal surgery. I thought, "Okay. I did robotics." Because we're tech people. So I was like, I did this robotics, I walked into the surgery. They didn't wheel me in, I saw the machine, I saw the whole apparatus. It was like amazing and stuff. And so afterwards I got this email that said that I got the Champion of Change Award, which was from The White House, and I'm getting a little emotional because I had went through probably the toughest thing I ever went through.

I made a decision about my life, a decision that was that I wasn't going to be able to carry my own children. And I wasn't sure if it was the right decision. I wasn't sure if I had made the right decision. So the morning after, to receive an email that says The White House is honoring you as a champion of change for the work that you do, was incredibly important to me. It was life affirming. It affirmed that I made this tough decision, was the right decision. And I think as women, as people of color, as human beings, we are often met with incredibly tough decisions we have to make in life. And we don't know if they're right or wrong, and we're just asking God for a sign. To just tell me am I doing right? And for me to get that sign, when I say literally in my hospital bed, the very next day after my surgery, I got that email.

It was incredible. And I and I suspect I was nominated by the Kapors, Freada and Mitch Kapor. And I've never told them how important it was to receive that. It wasn't just like, "Oh yeah, I got award from The White House, and I got to go to The White House, and look at me and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." It was, it was life affirming and what they did and by celebrating me they helped me celebrate my life. And so the ceremony was two weeks in DC, two weeks after this major abdominal surgery.

And so I went and my mother, and uhm Tobias, my husband, Darlene, uhm went with me and we went to the White House to get this award.

and I was exhausted and very sick. I don't think anybody knew how tired and unwell I was when I was there.

(AUDIO of panel)   (0:01 - 0:06) (Welcome to Champion of Change) ~ [brief Applause] (50:30 - 50:36) (Kathryn is introduced)  ~ (1:02:41 - 1:07) _ 

….."Your tech aha moment, how that led in some ways to what you’re doing now and by the way what are you doing now?...
Kathryn,  your aha moment.....bucket list..."  [Laughter and extended applause fades out]

Kathryn Finney (addt’l)
“Good afternoon everyone…jazz hands...”

Kathryn Finney
And I think to everybody who saw me in the panel was probably like, "Oh my gosh, she's funny, she's fabulous, she's engaging, she's great." Inside, I was like dying. Like I was hurting.

And one of the things that Iiiii that taught me was humility and also empathy. You don't know what other people are going through, including the people who you may think are the strongest, and who have it together. Oftentimes, the people who are the strongest and who have it together are the very people that you need to check after. (PAUSE) And at that time, there was so much expectations placed on me by people who frankly didn't deserve to place any expectations on me. And here I am sick, going through this major surgery, I had cancer and yet, uhm I was able to come out of it.

So in 2014, when we were doing the final focus, I realized I couldn't do that anymore. I didn't want to leave this life where I wasn't winning, and I felt like I wasn't winning. And I didn't feel like anyone could win. Like we weren't getting the support that we needed. It wasn't going to come anyway soon. Uhm What we wanted to do and what corporations wanted, which were like engineers or something that we couldn't produce. It wasn't like there was a batch of like a big brownstone in Harlem full of engineers, like hidin’ out and chillin’ and not telling anybody, there just really wasn't very many black engineers. There actually needed to be a lot more groundwork that happen in order to create the pipeline that was needed.

And what we realized, the expectation was that we were going to somehow find things that couldn't be found, and that we would somehow make it so they didn't have to do the real work that they needed to do, which was really investing in our community. And I remember getting up on stage, and uhm saying that this is the last focus. What I didn't expect was there to be almost a discussion, church service, a testimonial, people got up and gave testimonials about how much FOCUS meant to them, and how much I meant to them.

Jeanne Sullivan
The actual focus meetings, so vibrant, so exciting, so interesting. And so that's why attending those conferences so important to me. And I remember I declared myself as president of the Kathryn Finney fan club, because I believe in her and her team and her mission,

I am Jean Sullivan. I'm a long time investor in tech.  ...for many years, I attended each of the digital undivided sessions that fabulous Katherine Finney created and curated.

I wouldn't have missed one. Why not? Because I am inspired by her inspiration, showing people, especially women of color, how to take a blank piece of paper and build a business. That's pretty exciting. That's one of the many things I love and loved about digital and divided. 

Kathryn Finney
Now, the irony of it is, is that that last FOCUS conference would have been a great thing to end on. Right? What else did I have to leave behind? But I wanted to document the problem that we were having in raising money. I want to document how hard it was to be a black woman in the startup space.yourself?"

And so I did what was called Project Diane, the very first Project Diane 

Danielle Robinson Bell
So ProjectDiane essentially was the first time that the challenges of women of color in entrepreneurship were quantified and it was this wonderfully but yet shocking report about what women of color were experiencing in the startup space as it relates to funding, networks and training.

My name is Danielle Robinson Bell and I handled all things communications both internally and externally for digitalundivided.

Before ProjectDiane was released, the experiences of women in color in entrepreneurship were purely anecdotal so   whether you were a person of color or not, you    had some idea that things just weren't the same for people of color in particular women and women of color in the startup space, but it wasn't until Kathryn and digitalundivided came along to quantify that experience that really blew the lid off of that entire uhm dynamic and conversation.

Kathryn Finney
the results were just like startling. Like we check, double check, triple check, quadruple check the results of that first Project Diane. Uhm And it was startling. There was only 84 black women startups using the Steve Blanks definition of startups which is a temporary organization that is going to be scaled, and then, possibly exit. And that was just startling to me.

Geri Stengel
The importance of research such as ProjectDiane is that it focuses media on inequities uhh in the ecosystem, or just in the world in general. And uhm there's a lot of research showing uhmm uhh the small percentage of funding that goes to women entrepreneurs. Uhm And that's done primarily through PitchBook, but PitchBook doesn't track uhh race and ethnicity. Um And it was really critical to have some measurement showing um really the minuscule percentage of funding that is going to black and latinx female founders. So, uhm if you take a look at the entire uhm uhh ecosystem, and the percentages uhm  of funding female founded teams, It could be as high as, 13% last year. It actually dropped uh from uh 2017. 

Okay. I'm Geri Stengel, and I'm President of Ventureneer.

and I'm best known for writing in Forbes, about the success factors of uh women entrepreneurs.

….What is really uh the importance of ProjectDiane, is showing that of all the funding going to female founders, which is small. It is minuscule going to black and uh latinx women. Uh It is less than 1%. And um uh when the research, the first ProjectDiane came out, I watched in um amazement the amount of attention that that research uh-uh  got.

So, I do research, and honestly I was a little bit jealous of the attention that that research um study got. It went viral. Uhm I uhm track a lot of feeds, news feeds. And everywhere I looked, everybody was um uh talking about uh ProjectDiane and the numbers, because it highlighted really um horrific inequity in funding going to uh black and brown uh women.

Kathryn Finney:
And so, when we found this data, I was like, "Oh, shit. This is like crazy." I didn't really believe it myself. Like I actually questioned it myself. And I realized that we couldn't keep it to ourselves. It had to be released. We had no money to release it. Um All the money was coming from myself. 

And so, went to a friend. Uhm Again, blogHer connection. Lisa Stone's partner worked at GoDaddy at that time. And she shared with him what I was doing with Project Diane. And he was like, "You know what? I think I have some support for you." And he gave us $5,000, 

Chris Carfi
What made me invest in project Diane in 2015 and 2016, having already been around the startup ecosystem for a number of years. I was seeing the same types of companies and the same types of people that were all getting the investment... 

My name is Christopher Carfi. I'm an angel investor advisor and marketing executive working with entrepreneurs, startups, and growth stage companies. 

...It was disproportionately male, disproportionately white. And I was convinced that if the research was done and the data was out there, there was a path to making entrepreneurship more inclusive and accessible for all.

Kathryn Finney
I mean, it went everywhere. It was from Forbes to Fortune, to all these different communities, Essence to People Magazine. I mean, everyone was talking about Project Diane...

...the hope was that it would be a catalyst. What I did not know was that Project Diane was going to fundamentally change the venture capital space in ways that still uhm vibrate to this day. 

A friend of mine saw the report. It was somebody I went to college with, and he had gotten the report, and he was a officer at a foundation called Surdna. And he had, for many years, been thinking of different ways in which we could address economic insecurity and instability, uhm and really, economic terrorism in the black community. And he was looking for new ways. He thought that traditional ways of just even CDFIs which are community development financial institutions, uhm these sort of savings and loans, like all of these sort of traditional ways he thought were like antiquated. And that there weren't going to really have any impact. So, he was looking for ideas.

Shawn Escoffrey
So I first learned about digital undivided, um, sort of through an article I'm forgetting, I'm forgetting what publication, um, but, uh, the article focused on, um, black women and women entrepreneurs in the tech space. Um, and it was something that, uh, sort of, I was interested in because I was managing and sort of a economic development portfolio portfolio. And that was really focusing on economic inclusion and looking at, uh, people of color in a very different way than philanthropy, philanthropy traditionally looks at people's color. So Um, my thesis was, you know, just stating the fact that we are assets um to the economy that we create jobs. We create businesses. Um, we are leaders, um, and I was looking for organizations that believe the same thing.

My name is Shawn Escoffrey  previously our resi program director for the strong local economies program at the certainty foundation. I am now the executive director of the Rory and Patricia Disney family foundation. 

Um, and not just in the sense of, of micro businesses, but, um, tech enabled businesses, uh, businesses that can  grow to hundreds, if not thousands of employees and businesses that could um disrupt the status quo as well. Um, so I first, um, you know, sort of read the article and saw, um, what digital undivided was doing and sort of waving the flag around women entrepreneurs. Um, and I was intrigued, so I sort of put a pin in, okay, I need to, I need to talk to them eventually, as I'm building out my portfolio 

Kathryn Finney
So, he called me and I said, "Well, the most successful part of the FOCUS conference was this incubator accelerator program we had. It was really hard to do it, but it was also the place where we saw the most impact. And he said, "Well, you know have you guys thought about becoming a nonprofit? I can help you if you become a non-profit. I'm a little bit tied, if you don't." And we'd already been thinking about, through Project Diane just making, DiD a nonprofit And so, we had already started the process, and had just gotten our designation. So, I said to him, "Sure." He was like, "Well, I'm going to give you $100,000. Is that enough for you to test um this concept?" And I was like, "Well, you know what, we'll make it work."

Around the same time, my husband got a job, a new position with Microsoft for Startups. And that position was based in Atlanta. Digital Undivided had done a number of things in Atlanta before. Often, in between the conferences, Darlene and I would go across the country. I mean, we went everywhere. We were from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Houston, Texas to Los Angeles, to Portland, Oregon, you name it, Minneapolis, Chicago, we were there. In fact, people would call the Thelma & Louise of tech. And so, we did a lot of things in Atlanta, and we had relationships in Atlanta and people wanted us to come to Atlanta. This was in 2014 and '15. 

Shawn Escoffrey
Yea- so so with Digital undivi-um Undivided being, you know, sort of new and the conversation around women in tech and entrepreneurship being new or unheard of in in the sort of philanthropic circles. I think there was a little skepticism but I had a very supportive president at the time, Phil Henderson, um, who believed in my vision uh for the program and you know, I started the program, uh, the strong local economies program during the height of the recession. Uh, you know, the country was hemorrhaging jobs. Um,  we were trying to figure out what's next. How do you, how do you reimagine cities? Um, how do you create new jobs? And I was looking at, um, these new job creators and the leaders of the, the next economy as people of color and women. Um, and I was, you know, sort of determined to identify those organizations that were lifting up those approaches. 

So for me, I'm black, I'm black as hell. Um, and I, I, I take my with me wherever I go, whatever in any spaces that I'm in, and I have an agenda and a narrative that I'm pushing and that starts with people that look like me. Right. And that also starts with, um, people who've always been ignored, um,disinvested or, um, unappreciated. And, um, I used the ability to, to move resources, um, to show that I appreciate these minds and to show that, um, everyone else should appreciate them as well.