Samsung NEXT Intersections: a conversation on the convergence of identity, tech, and entrepreneurship
At Samsung NEXT, we are committed to making interactions with our ecosystem system people-centric and relatable, but still topical to an audience comprised of founders and other members of the local tech community.
With this in mind, we decided to create an open space for dialogue that intersects all of these concepts – identity, tech, and entrepreneurship. In partnership with Derrick Reyes, founder of Queerly Health (a guest company of Samsung NEXT NY), Samsung NEXT Intersections was conceptualized and piloted as a new series to engage with the community around the convergence of personal identity, technology, and entrepreneurship.
For our first event, Derrick hosted an event on the intersections of Latinx identity, gender identity, and entrepreneurship, joined by a powerhouse panel of women entrepreneurs and operators.
The challenges of identity
A recent Fast Company article “As a Latina in tech I’m part of the 1%, just not the right 1%” delves into the intricacies that Latinas in tech generally face, as well as the importance of considering intersectionality in how individuals are perceived and treated.
Shila Nieves-Burney, managing and founding partner of Zane Venture Fund and moderator for the evening, opened up about the trials she has faced in the industry as a Black-Latina. “I’ve been a Black-Latina all my life,” Nieves-Burney said. “It’s very rare to be asked to come up here and represent the Latinx side, it’s always the Black side.” She shared how being multiracial often results in making choices about what “side” one should or want to represent as a person and founder.
For Sophia Dominguez, founder and CEO of SVRF, it has been a point her American mother has encouraged her to hone in on. Dominguez explained that she needs to lean into her Latinx identity, because she doesn’t do it enough and because it has the potential to open up a larger community of supporters and resources.
Why building a diverse team matters
Coming from a bevy of backgrounds and experiences, all of the panelists had a unique perspective on identity. Something that came up as a major synergy among the group is ensuring that when it comes to hiring, they consistently and actively make sure there is a diverse pool of candidates to choose from.
Building a diverse team is both good for business and it promotes innovative thinking. A Harvard Business Review article on “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter” suggests that greater diversity may also change the way entire teams digest the information needed to make the best decisions.
Tiasia O’Brien, founder of Synergize Insights (powered by Seam Social Labs) explained that her team hires for culture fit and work experience over technical experience. Her company focuses on using intelligent data to build equitable communities so they try to ask the right questions to ensure candidates understand housing patterns like gentrification and displacement.
O’Brien went on to further explain a part of their process. “We’ll make a list of social problems and communities and ask candidates to build a solution with Legos in 10 minutes, and this is not about coding, it’s not about understanding data, it’s about having a commitment to what we’re doing,” said O’Brien. “That keeps a very open window for someone who just graduated from a coding boot camp and feels like they have no experience, they can still apply and talk to us.”
Ultimately, she said, it’s important to prioritize the core of the roles and what the company actually needs to hire for. Top-of-the-funnel candidates will always be there when you fine-tune the quality of the qualifications and company desires.
The myths of starting a company
Not all companies or businesses are the same, but there are certainly common misconceptions around what it takes to begin the journey. Lisa Guerrera, founder and CEO of SeeThru, started her company as a student and the number one mistake she made in the beginning is assuming that it would be easy.
As a bright, young, student, she was under the impression that the world was her oyster. One of her biggest challenges was when she realized was how difficult it is to actually recruit people when you’re a student coming from an underprivileged background and college. “I went to a CUNY. I wasn’t at a Harvard or Columbia where I can just plug any software engineer from a class and suddenly we have a billion-dollar business,” she said.
The concept for failure as a ‘bad thing’ also appeared to be a largely agreed upon misconception when starting a company. Failure is a big reason why each panelist thrived in the end. However, it can be particularly difficult depending on your upbringing.
O’Brien said, “I’m sure many can identify as people of color, you take failure, and you’re like ‘I can’t do this, I don’t have enough room to risk things’ But a startup is basically another word for a business experiment so it’s really hard and you just have to learn how to fail and then take that failure and synthesize a good answer from it to push forward.”
Many successful entrepreneurs would agree that failure presents an opportunity to iterate and grow.
Traditional vs. non-traditional funding methods
A fully fleshed-out business plan isn’t necessary to start a new venture. If you have a good story and have thought about how you want to build a business that’s a point of takeoff.
How you raise the money comes out by how you tell the story, Dominguez explained. Guerrera went on to say that not all startups need to raise capital to be successful. Traditional venture capital funding is often the route that startups take, but it’s also important to make sure that it is the right move for the people involved. Dominguez went on to say that “the first money raised is typically the easiest money you will ever raise, even though it will be really hard.”
Mariana R. Chambers, founder of Cut+Clarity, had a different, but very humanizing take. She referenced a podcast she listened to, which explained that a VC is like a hitchhiker and that you can continue driving them around as long as they’re happy, but the minute you head into a different direction, they want to hi-jack your car and go wherever they wanted to go. She went on to clarify that while not all money is created equal, it’s crucial to realize what is considered smart money for your particular venture.
Building social capital
How you build your network is incredibly important to how you progress. Blanca Marsh-Bienstock, an associate broker at alpaca, explained that it is important to tap into underdeveloped and underserved communities.
“We need to actually make a difference and explore communities to meet people we wouldn’t normally meet who have potential to build and are change agents,” she said.
Putting yourself out there, being uncomfortable, and building your network super early will help you later. Guerrera mentioned that her network has been the “number zero” reason why she was able to make it as far as she is now. The network that she built continues to support her immensely.
Building healthy relationships with key players in the ecosystem certainly makes a difference. Whether it be through meetup groups, tech or VC-related non-profits such as AllRaise or Techqueria, or just a general referral by industry colleagues, they are relationships that are crucial to maintain and ones that are some of the easiest to benefit from.
The guest program at Samsung NEXT is a community practice that supports startups at the earliest stage (pre-seed), introduces them to our SNEXT family of portfolio companies, and helps them harness the resources of Samsung NEXT. Each guest company works out of our NY office space for one quarter.
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