Recently, I flew to D.C. to meet the current cohort of an organization that is hell-bent on helping black female tech founders succeed. After sharing my story as a tech founder with the ladies and learning more about their stories, I felt that it was very necessary that all Black Female Founders were looped in on this org’s mission so that the road to entrepreneurship is just a little less rocky. With that said, let’s jump into it.
Why did you decide to start the Black Female Founders organization?
McKinney: As a tech founder, tech community leader, and tech researcher, I decided to start Black Female Founders (#BFF) more than two years ago because I noticed that an organized community to support black women-led startups and black women tech leaders was missing from the overall tech community and no one was addressing the issue from a sisterhood perspective. As I discussed this issue with other #BFFs within the global tech community, I found that when there were discussions, events, or articles about women-led startups or female tech leaders, black women were often completely left out of the conversation. Similarly, when the focus was on “Blacks in Tech,” those that participated or were highlighted were black men with black women largely ignored. I shared these over-arching concerns and the concept of an organization with Sibyl, Melissa, and Xina, and we decided it was time to get #BFFs into formation and address this issue with something that was FUBU—”for us by us.”
Edwards: I have been involved in the tech space since the early 2000s. I have witnessed exponential growth in tech in such a short time. Unfortunately, despite all the amazing companies created over the last 10-15 years, diverse entrepreneurs were being left behind in the new tech economy. Black women tech startups were virtually unheard of and the ones that existed struggled to gain ground and get funding. So when the idea for #BFF came up, we saw it as an opportunity to bring awareness to the issue and make a direct impact in the space.
Who are all of the founders and what are your backgrounds?
Erin Horne McKinney, Co-founder and Managing Partner of BFF
Passionate about emerging technology, entrepreneurship, and social justice, Erin Horne McKinney is the co-founder and managing partner of Black Female Founders (#BFF) and CEO of the mobile app, KissIntel. She previously served as senior advisor on Innovation and Entrepreneurship to Washington, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, the Mayor of Washington, D.C.’s Tech and Innovation sector manager, and as the founding executive director of the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs. Erin is a serial entrepreneur and intrapreneur with nearly two decades of tech policy, economic and business development, and marketing communications experience.
Melissa Bradley, Co-founder and Managing Director of the #BFF Fund
Melissa L. Bradley is a tri-sector leader with more than 20 years of entrepreneurship, investment, and leadership experience. She is a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University where she serves as an expert lecturer on Impact Investing, Social Entrepreneurship, Peer-to-Peer Economics and Innovation. She served as a presidential appointee under President Obama and is currently co-chair of the Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a member of the Mayor of Washington, D.C.’s Innovation and Technology Inclusion Council.
Sibyl Edwards, Co-founder and Managing Director of #BFF Labs
Sibyl Edwards is a brand manager, strategist, designer, and an advocate for tech inclusion and women in technology. For more than two decades, she has created successful digital campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit associations, NGOs and startups. She has served as executive director for DC Innovates, a non-profit organization with the mission of fostering and supporting a diverse tech innovation economy in the District of Columbia. And she also volunteers her time to support and advocate for women and girls in internet and tech-related industries.
Xina Eiland, Co-founder and Managing Director of Memberships
Xina Eiland is an entrepreneur, consultant, and leader in multicultural communications and digital media. As an expert on social media brand engagement, she has worked with numerous and diverse clients on national marketing campaigns, developing online communities that celebrate diversity in digital media, and community outreach service programs. She is also a founding board member of BEACON, a Washington, D.C. initiative to make D.C. the No. 1 ecosystem for women entrepreneurs.
#BFF Co-founders (l-r): Sibyl Edwards, Xina Eiland, Erin Horne McKinney, and Melissa Bradley (photo: Brandon Luong)
What type of businesses do you all look at?
Edwards: Black Female Founders looks at businesses at every stage, industry, and sector. Our only requirement is that the businesses are “tech driven” or “tech enabled,” which means that the company’s products or services are run or distributed via a web app/mobile app based platform.
McKinney: Black Female Founders exists to help all black women-led, tech startups and female tech leaders from all stages of business—from “aspiration to investment.”
What can women expect from being a part of the organization?
McKinney: We are a global membership-based organization that offers education and information to help and support entrepreneurs and leaders build their business skills [and] provide direct resources and mentorship for every stage of a tech business. As a #BFF member, women can expect a unique and positive community to help them thrive in the tech industry.
Edwards: When Erin first came to us (the other co-founders) about the idea for #BFF, she was very clear that #BFF had to be first and foremost a community. That has always been the foundation for everything we do from fireside chats, workshops, and seminars. It was also the basis of #BFFLabs, our first large-scale initiative.
#BFFLabs is an immersive, 8-week period pre-accelerator program for aspiring early-stage entrepreneurs. We cover issues important to fledgling entrepreneurs such as idea validation, product-market fit, financial modeling, pitching partners and investors, marketing/branding, finding a co-founder, hiring staff and contractors, and more.
#BFFLabs graduation (l-r): Sequoia Blodgett, Jotaka Eaddy, Erin Horne McKinney (photo: Ayanna Smith)
How many women graduated from the current cohort?
McKinney: Ten total.
#BFFLabs graduation (photo: Danard Grays)
How many will you be accepting for the next session?
Edwards: We are rolling out #BFFLabs in different markets across the country and will determine size based on demand. Our current cities are:
- Washington, DC
- New York
- New Orleans
Where are you scaling the organization to?
McKinney: With a full year under our belt, we are excited to be scaling our organization with the onboarding of #BFF Community Leaders in markets around the world and the expansion of #BFFLabs to cities around the U.S. Additionally, we have some major announcements coming soon … so stay tuned!
If women are interested in being part of the next cohort, how do they apply?
McKinney: We would love to have any interested applicants visit www.blackfemalefounders.org/bff-labs to learn more and to apply.