Law student Korkor shares the top ten lessons she picked up from WCAN’s Women in Innovation at Google.
Often when we think of key innovators in the tech field, the same names spring to mind: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, for example. While all of the above have shaped the industry (and ultimately the wider world) in different ways, they seem to fit the same profile – namely white and male. Diversity (or the lack of it) in tech companies and on the start-up scene is a hot topic so, in response, WCAN decided to host their first tech event at Google’s London offices to highlight the successes of incredible black women in the field and inspire the next generation. Drawing from the wealth of wisdom shared by the speakers, here are the top ten lessons I took home from the day:
1. Don’t be limited by the mainstream – Ruth Yimika Awogbade, Founder & Editor @ MAGNIFY
New businesses have a habit of latching onto what’s popular and trying to recreate it instead of forging their own path. Ruth implored that you find your own lane as she did when creating her magazine. MAGNIFY brings together faith, feminism and fashion – a concept that may have appeared foreign to many, but made perfect sense to her. Finding her own space in the market instead of capitalising on trends is part of what’s made Ruth’s magazine such a great success.
With so much competition in the industry, it was expected that Florence would encounter hurdles when trying to establish her cosmetics brand. However, her unique selling point (bold and bright pigments that looked good on all skin tones) differentiated her products from others on the market. Ultimately, Florence knew there was a demand for her brand, which encouraged her to stay committed to it.
3. Know your market – Princess Onitilo, Founder @ Tress Free
Building a business with potential to expand is imperative. Princess recognised a gap in the market when a hairdresser fell through on an appointment and, realising the Afro-Caribbean hair industry needed more security, she created Tress Free – an app/website that brings together the stylist and consumer into one aggregated space. Naturally, with so many black women in the world using hair services, the market she can potentially cater to is huge.
4. Consult expert knowledge – Ade Hassan, Founder & CEO @ Nubian Skin
Sometimes, business ideas arise from our own pet peeves or inconveniences. Ade mentioned that her idea for Nubian Skin came about because she couldn’t find nude underwear that matched her skin tone. However, once she had the idea, she found that her more corporate background meant she didn’t have all the necessary expertise to go about marketing her product. According to Ade, one of her best business decisions she made was finding a consultant who had expert knowledge in the fashion industry and could help her navigate her product to market.
5. Make your business investor-friendly – Yvonne Haizel, Investment Professional @ MITSUI & Co
For those looking for backing from investors, Yvonne listed the four key attributes that investment companies like MITSUI & CO look for when deciding to invest in new businesses:A scalable market – how many people does it cater to?Momentum – at what pace is the business growing?Monetisation – how will the investor see a return?A great team – do the existing workers believe in the product/service?
6. Build relationships – Simon Thorpe, Angel Investor @ Delta 2020
You may have heard the phrase ‘Your network is net worth’. Simon explained how creating a diverse network is imperative to the success of any business. Having healthy relationships with all the stakeholders in your business, from manufacturers to PR to finance, and then building as many contacts as possible is essential if you want your product or service to have the widest possible reach.
7. Develop your skills – Mariéme Jamme, Founder @ #iamtheCODE
Whether you’re hoping to work in the tech field or not, digital literary is crucial in the 21st century. Coding in particular is an invaluable, highly sought-after skill to have, even if you’re not looking for a career in development and fortunately, there a wealth of online resources to help you!
Head Stemette Anne-Marie explained that, while often used interchangeably, there’s actually a big difference between a mentor and a sponsor: while a mentor is there to support and advise you, a sponsor is someone who goes one step further and essentially advocates for you when you’re not in the room. Having the two is a great way to help accelerate your success.
9. Know your worth – Teju Ajani, Partnerships @ YouTube
When dealing with employers or employees, it’s important to know the value you bring to a business. Teju mentioned a situation whereby she asked a former employer why one of her colleagues in the same role was making more money and subsequently, was given a raise. It’s important to note that sometimes your value as a business or a person won’t always be recognised by those who don’t believe in your vision so be sure to reassert it.
10. Work hard – Everyone
Whatever your field, you must work diligently: set goals with deadlines, remain focused, seek guidance and most importantly, trust in yourself. Almost every speaker mentioned that the keys to a great business were vision and the people behind it all. When people invest in or buy your product, they simultaneously buy into you, so keep a positive attitude and don’t be stunted by limitations. There will be trials, errors, sleepless nights and early mornings, but a resolute belief in your business will ultimately pay off.