Kathryn Finney is the founder and managing director of digitalundivided (DID), an organization that invests in the success of black and Latina women tech founders by providing them with the network, coaching, and funding to build, scale, and exit their high growth companies. DID runs the BIG Innovation Center, home to the BIG Accelerator Program, a 16 week program for high potential startups led by black and Latina founders. Kathryn Finney is also a general partner in the Harriet Fund, the first pre-seed venture fund that invests the potential of high potential black and Latina women led startups. In 2014 Kathryn sold her site, The Budget Fashionista, to a midwest media company and later was the editor at large at BlogHer. Kathryn Finney is an honors graduate of Yale University and Rutgers University. She received the Champion of Change Award from the White House in 2013 for her work increasing inclusion in the tech industry and is an Eisenhower Fellow. She’s also featured in Marie Claire’s 10 Women to Watch in 2016, Entrepreneurs Magazine’s Woman to Watch in 2016, New York Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award, SXSW Black Innovator Award, The Grio 100, Ebony Power 100, Black Enterprise 40 under 40 list, and was inducted into Spelman College’s Game Changers Academy. On February 26, 2015 she was honored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer with the “Kathryn Finney Appreciation Day.” I feel so fortunate to be able to share her advice and career path with you today.
Kathryn Finney, Founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided
What inspired you to start digitalundivided?
In 2006, I joined one of New York’s first tech incubators, where I learned first-hand the challenges that people of color, especially women, face if they want to break into the tech space. They had lesser expectations and impressions of me solely because of my race and gender. For instance, I had white male colleagues tell me that I couldn’t relate to other black women because “I had an accountant.”
That experience stuck with me, and I knew I wanted to do something about it. So I formed digitalundivided in 2012 and we held our first project, FOCUS100, in October 2012.
What advice do you have for people who want to get into STEM fields?
Show up, no permission needed. As people of color, we often want people to “invite” us into spaces, but bear in mind that this won’t always come. Success comes to those who show up, with or without, an invite. (If digitalundivided waited for permission, we might never have gotten our plan off the ground!)
Seek out networks by joining relevant interest groups and meetups, work on passion projects that show off your mad STEM skills and include them on your portfolio, or find a great mentor and or places to intern. Tip: We’re opening the BIG Developer Internship Program soon, which is a paid internship program for Atlanta-area black and latino students with an aptitude for computer programming.
What has been your proudest moment from your career so far?
Our programs have built 48 companies and have helped to raise over $13 million dollars in venture and angel funding since 2012. Several of our program alumnae have gone on to leadership positions at companies as diverse as Uber, Facebook, and Chicago Infrastructure Trust.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting digitalundivided?
Like most startups, our biggest challenge is related to funding. Many are happy to talk about diversity in the press, but few are willing to put their money where their mouths are. If only more people actually translated their good words into concrete action, then we could have made even more progress in solving our problems in tech inclusion.
The biggest reward is knowing that in less than five years of operation, we have already been able to impact over 2000 people and helped numerous high-potential startup founders raise money for their companies.
What is the most important characteristic for entrepreneurs to have?
Perseverance. An incredible amount of it. For entrepreneurs, it’s always going to be a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t rest on your laurels: In an industry as fast-paced and dynamic as tech, you should always be ready to change and thrive with it. Failure will always be a matter of when, and not a matter of if.
You keynoted the Women in Innovation Forum in NY in April 21st , why do you think it is important to share your experience?
While there is growing support for women as innovators in the tech space, there are still major hurdles and pushbacks from the industry. I’m hoping that by sharing my experience in founding DID and dealing with challenges that come with working in a white and male-dominated industry, I can encourage these women to continue doing what they do, in hopes that they are equally important contributors to the tech space.
You were previously the founder of The Budget Fashionista and editor at large of BlogHer. What are your three top blogging tips?
- Be original. For example, read other blogs in your chosen niche and do the exact opposite. At this point in the game, the only way to be a successful blogger in terms of financial success is to be an original.
- Write everyday, twice a day if you can. Write posts that people can use and that people want to link to—limit the personal chatter and focus on providing real information.
- Read blogs about blogs. Read blogs like Problogger.com, Dailyblogtips.com, and Techcrunch.com to learn about the tech side of building a professional blog.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
The biggest mistake I’ve made has been when I’ve ignored my gut. Black women have crazy instincts. There is no other group of people who I’ve met who’ve had intuition like we do. So that’s one thing I wish I knew back when I was starting out.
What is on your desk right now?
A photo of my grandmother at 18 and a photo of my dad and I. My laptop. A pacifier or two. (I have an infant.)
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Always be true to yourself.” At the end of the day, you have to go home to yourself. You have to be with yourself. So make sure what you do is representative of who you are and that you feel comfortable to stand behind your work.
What are you reading right now?
I mostly read long form articles on my cell phone that my husband and I send to each other via our pocket app. I wish I had more time to read books because I truly love reading.
What is your career advice for other young professional women?
Learn the language of “ask” — whether it be for career advancement, pay raise, advice, or something else. Remember to put your need in an active and global context. After all, closed mouths don’t get fed.
Image via Kathryn Finney