FOLLOWING ITS huge success in the US, Black Women Talk Tech (BWTT) has expanded to support female black tech founders in the UK.
The network, established by three black female founders – Lauren Washington, Regina Gwynn and Esosa Ighodaro – in the US in 2017, has grown to become the largest membership conference for black women who own tech businesses. In the US, the organisation has 10 chapters across the country and selected London as the location as its first international chapter.
Its mission to educate, promote and secure funding for black women in the tech industry will be lead by Rene Germain and Ebi Ajayi, founders of Driverse, a tech company described as the world’s first workplace review site for under-represented communities.
Speaking at the chapter launch held at JP Morgan, Washington, told The Voice why London was chosen.
“I think outside of The States at least, we view London as one of the big tech hubs and there’s so many incredible companies that are building and growing here and we know there’s also a large black population here as well that we wanted to come and nourish,” said Washington.
She added: “As an organisation, we have actually seen a lot of people come over from London to our conference each year. We have been in contact with some of the founders here, some of the different groups and some of the people who are really trying to build up the ecosystem so it made a lot of sense for us that this would be the first place for us.”
One of the biggest challenges black women founders face is securing funding and investment. Figures show that around just two per cent of venture capitalist funding in the US is awarded to black women building their own businesses.
“Our content is made for black women without a doubt”Lauren Washington, co-founder of Black Women Talk Tech
Turning the tide on this issue and helping black women navigate this process is a key element of BWTT’s work.
“Something that we are really focused on right now is making sure that we’re giving access to people. I think funding, some of it is about the education, knowing how to pitch, knowing how to build a company, knowing how to market it, but a lot of it is really just about access,” said Washington.
Sometimes the secret to success is as simple as getting in front of the right people.
“What we see with our founders is that they already have strong companies, they are already moving some of them millions of dollars in revenue and they’re still having trouble raising funds and for us, what we tend to do is put the people in the room who are funding those and who need to be funded and sometimes when you just have those moments where you come across each other and you network and you meet in a safe space, that alone opens up opportunities for people,” Washington said.
One woman who can attest to the effectiveness of BWTT’s events is Shoobs.com founder Louise Broni-Mensah.
The British entrepreneur, who spoke on the panel at the BWTT London launch earlier this month, secured investment for her online event ticketing business through a BWTT conference.
“Any kind of barriers or friction that you may feel at a traditional networking event are removed”Louise Broni-Mensah, founder of Shoobs.com
“I actually went to this event in New York…in New York I actually got two investors from going to those events. So I was at the event just networking, I met some investors, we then arranged to have a coffee afterwards and they actually invested in the company. So I know [from] first-hand experience that these types of events are really, really important. It gets founders and investors in the room together,” she said.
The tech founder’s positive BWTT experience is not an anomaly. Washington said that the organisation has given out $100,000 in grant money and funding to founders and dozens of women have secured funding directly from their events.
Broni-Mensah told The Voice about the necessity of networks and events that are specifically focused on uplifting black women business owners and providing an environment for them to pitch to interested investors.
“Often what’s hard is, as a black founder, when you’re going to some of these events you might be just one of a few in that room but the fact that there’s now events that are specifically targeted at black founders, you’re already in a room where you feel comfortable, right.
“There’s other black founders that are going through the same things that you are, that look like you and also the investors that are coming there want to talk to you because they know this event is about reaching out, connecting, perhaps investing in black founders. So any kind of barriers or friction that you may feel normally at a traditional networking event are removed when it’s specifically targeted at people that look like you.”
A considerable amount of Broni-Mensah’s investment has come from the US. She cites the country’s advanced tech industry as one of the reasons for this. While London has lacked behind, Broni-Mensah is encouraged by new initiatives, such as BWTT London, that are recognising that underrepresented groups need tailored support.
BWTT content has a founder focus but its events are open to all. Investors, those working in tech or those thinking about starting a business all attend to gain an understanding of what the industry, discover opportunities and find companies to invest in.
“We’re open to everyone joining. Our content is made for black women without a doubt but you’re definitely welcome to join the events otherwise,” said Washington.
To find out more about BWTT London and join the network, visit www.blackwomentalktech.com