High up in the historic Hurt Building in downtown Atlanta lives digitalundivided and its high-potential Black and Latina women entrepreneur incubator, BIG. The incubator and workshop space are the brainchild of Kathryn Finney, managing director and founder of social enterprise organization, digitalundivided, which focuses on supporting urban tech entrepreneurs.
Winner of the Small Business Administration’s 2015-16 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, BIG aims to provide growth hacking resources to participating entrepreneurs through a 12-week incubator. Their end goal? Raise $1M and master the skills necessary to scale their company after demo day.
“As an entrepreneur of color or a woman entrepreneur, you just don’t have time to be drove down into the weeds because it’s going to affect your ability to build your company,” says Finney about the challenges minority entrepreneurs encounter when seeking funding. “You’re not going to be able to move as quickly as everyone else, because you’re too busy trying to explain to this VC why you’re even in their office.”
Here, Finney and her team give Hypepotamus a tour of their fancy new digs as they share more about the BIG incubator, the lessons they want to impart on its current cohort, and that awesome Oprah wallpaper.
What sets BIG apart from other spaces in town?
The space definitely integrates a great deal of our culture along with the tech aspect. It’s women-centered down to who our icons are on the wall. In terms of our accelerator program, some of the things that we’re doing differently is we’re the first accelerator program to offer reimbursement for childcare. We also reimbursement for healthcare as well. We cut back on the alcohol budget because we realized what was important to our accelerator participants wasn’t beer, but childcare.
We have a chaplain who has been amazing who focuses on the emotional health of our entrepreneurs. A lot are going through some really tough things. Hearing negative feedback, some for the first time anyone’s given them real feedback. The chaplain helps them process that.
We’re obviously different, and our approach is different. I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve built. It’s been very hard. It’s been very much a sacrifice. Another thing that makes us different than others is that we’re attached to a fund. So all the companies who are accelerated get twenty thousand dollars from the Harriet Angels.
How is BIG propelling all of these women entrepreneurs of color to be better business women?
One of the things that we focus on is not being patronizing, and also bringing in others who also aren’t going to be patronizing too. At the end of the day, [the goal is] to build amazing, high-growth companies led by Black and Latina women.We want you to get the real money. The money that we can really use to grow and scale your company.
We’re very tough on what you have to do. Right now, we have a whole BIG 4-week session on customer discovery and growth hacking. Even though many of the companies already have an MVP and an idea of who their customer is, we’re doing a laser focus session. If you were to talk to them, to clearly explain who their customer is, and also have data and information to back up the fact that that’s really the customer.
What kind of investment opportunities are these entrepreneurs exposed to?
We don’t focus just on Atlanta investors. We had our mentor madness where we had eighteen mentors and investors, a lot of them came from out of town. That’s the beauty of what we do, it’s because there isn’t a large pool of Black and Latina companies that are high growth. People who are looking for those markets come to us, so we’re very lucky in that sense. We’re not bound by just Atlanta. That’s one of the things that we’ve found.
As a company that’s going to pitch to one of these investors from here or otherwise, what are some things that they should focus on?
It comes from defining the problem, defining why it’s a problem, why you’re the person to solve it, what your solution is, and the market growth opportunity. If you can already show that there is a market growth opportunity there, such as real data, that is a very compelling argument. What we say to the entrepreneurs is that they’re going to get to the second meeting, they will kill it in the pitch. We know that they are charismatic, amazing women. What we care about is the second, third, and fourth meeting, which is the meeting where the investment decision is made.
That’s when you can explain what your growth metrics are, how you’re going to scale, the quality of your team, all of those things is what we focus on at digitalundivided and BIG. How are you going to explain when people ask about your growth metrics — in detail? How are you going to explain the stack that you’re developing? How are you going to be able to scale that stack?
What are your hopes for this cohort after demo day?
I hope they take scaling and growth to heart and focus on that. That is where the investment opportunities and partnership opportunities come in. That’s really what I hope they gain. I also hope they gain some strategies for dealing with some of the BS that they’re going to get —how they’re going to deal with that and navigate in those spaces, I think that’s really important. I hope they learn how to process feedback — to take it and then decide what you will do with it.
Photos provided by BIG/digitalundivided.