Welcome back! Ready for another profile in the longest running series on African-American women in tech? Let’s get to it!
Since we’re on the topic of business incubators, this profile will focus on Tamar-Melissa Huggins. I actually don’t know too many African-American women running incubators in the tech space. Do you? Huggins is founder and CEO of Driven Accelerator Group, managing business development initiatives and oversees day-to-day activities for the organization. Here we go….
Occupation: Founder, Creative Visionary Officer, DRIVEN Accelerator Group/CEO of knexxion communication group
Favorite website: StartupNorth.ca
Favorite read: Radical Careering by Sally Hogshead
Recent read: Fascinate, Sally Hogshead
2012′s ultimate goal: Successful first year with DRIVEN (execute program, graduate the first class, encourage more women and minorities to think of entrepreneurship as a career)
Quote Governing Your Mission: “Congratulating an entrepreneur for raising money is like congratulating a chef for buying ingredients.” You are expected to achieve certain milestones as an entrepreneur. Don’t look for people to pat you on the back for doing what you are supposed to do. You should get recognition for doing the risky things many people wouldn’t do.
Twitter handle: @DrivenAccel @TamarMelissa @KnexxionPR
LdC: You are our first Canadian profile subject! I think many of our readers would like to know what it was like attending college in Canada and how you chose the subjects you did to study?
TMH: I took creative advertising at Centennial College, with a major in media planning. I knew I wanted to be in advertising when I was in grade 10. College was just like high school to me, just a higher level. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA because I loved what I was doing.
LdC: And from there you started your own PR firm. What led you to jump out on your own?
TMH: It was during the recession in 2009. The ad firm I worked for lost all their major clients. One of my clients was one of them, so I was out of a job. It was a great opportunity for me. It didn’t look like it at the very beginning, but now that I look back, I know God was shaping the way my life would look over the next few years. I took the opportunity to sharpen my skills, and did a few courses at Humber College in their PR program. I learned a lot working with some of the most coveted brands in Canada, namely Nike and H&M. I am a go-getter by nature, so utilizing my skills in a new and creative way was the obvious choice for me.
LdC: What was it like working on the digital strategies for those companies?
TMH: My manager pretty much gave me the reigns on the accounts I worked on. I executed tasks and projects as an assistant, that traditionally only supervisors and managers did. When mobile advertising began to emerge, I led the first mobile campaign for H&M, which was a pretty big deal considering how conservative they were. I will always remember the Nike Airforce 25 campaign. That was my first project, I led the digital component for that campaign which won awards. It was a lot of hard work, that eventually paid off. I gained a lot of transferable skills working on those accounts.
LdC: From there, what led you to start Driven Accelerator Group? What is the vibe like for incubators in Canada?
TMH: I found a lot of my clients (PR) asked a lot of questions outside of marketing. So, I constantly found myself stepping into business development roles, and really enjoying it. I figured it was God’s way of telling me that I need to explore new career options. I tried various career planning options, but nothing settled with me.
I launched DRIVEN as an online training platform for young entrepreneurs. It was a new form of TEDx, but specifically for young entrepreneurs. The plan was to interview high-profile entrepreneurs and share their insight with budding entrepreneurs. The first entrepreneur I interviewed was Al Nelson of EzVIP. I saw him on Shark Tank, and figured he was perfect. The interview was successful, as we had over 75 people watching and commenting. However, I still felt something was missing, and that I didn’t hit the “sweet spot” just yet.
It was very early in the beginning of this year that I became familiar with the accelerator model. There are a few accelerators in the USA that really stood out to me, namely TechStars. So I chose to follow their model, with a few twists of my own. There is an accelerator bubble in Toronto, and very few are providing real value to startup founders. When I started to develop the program, I reached out to several entrepreneurs, some attended incubators/accelerators. The ones that did, always felt there was a disconnect when it came to understanding how to run a real business. So my goal was to provide valuable content, and to ensure our founders learned from proven mentors.
LdC: What’s your main mission for this organization?
TMH: I researched all the existing models in Canada, and realized there was something missing. Research proves that women and minorities consume A LOT of digital media, yet we aren’t the ones creating it. I think there are several reasons for that. The main one being women and people of color do not see enough of themselves in tech, and subconsciously believe they don’t belong.
One of our female startup founders, Theresa Laurico, felt the same way when she attended Lean Startup Machine, a popular tech event in Toronto. She came to the event with an idea, and almost left when she realized she was one of very few women among highly technical men. If it wasn’t for another female mentor who encouraged her to stay, she would have left. Who knows where SociaCal would be today, if it wasn’t for that bit of encouragement.
We accelerate innovative tech startups led by women and people of color. We give the underrepresented market a platform to showcase their talents, grow their business, and receive access to funding. We teach our founders everything from go-to-market strategy, to financial planning in just 12 weeks. We get them ready for everything from seed to series A funding. Investors want to know the companies they invest in are led by intelligent and passionate entrepreneurs. I am happy to say our first cohort is a perfect example of that.