All Articles Tagged "newme"
Rachel Brooks worked in fashion and advertising before coming up with the idea for Citizen Made, a product customization tool. Working with her co-founder Bryn McCoy, Brooks graduated from the NewME accelerator program in early 2012 and the duo plans to re-release the product in early 2013.
“Citizen Made is B2B software designed to help brands that make custom products sell them effectively and painlessly online,” Brooks explained to Madame Noire. “You can think of it most easily as something like Nike ID, where you can design your own shoes. It’s that style technology, opened up to any product category, and affordably so.”
Having recently moved to New York, Brooks and Citizen Made have partnerships in the works with Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, and L’Oreal.
Madame Noire: What was your background before Citizen Made? You were in the fashion world?
Rachel Brooks: I’ve worked in design houses for product design here in New York and after fashion hit some hard times, a few years back, I moved to Chicago and got involved in advertising.
I left advertising to design a clothing line of women’s wear and men’s accessories that was focused on this idea of modular production, so people would be able to pick a shape or silhouette and also pick a textile that we had in inventory, and people could mix and match with clothing or accessories and design a version of the product that they would want to wear. We did pretty well. Within a year, we were wholesaling in three different countries and as far as Japan.
After that, I wanted to provide that experience of mix-and-match and design-it-yourself idea but I couldn’t create that experience online, where most of my customers are. I was introduced to my Citizen Made co-founder, Bryn McCoy, and she’s built configurators like this before and we just hit it off. We were both very much involved in the maker community in Chicago. And some of our maker friends heard about what we were doing and working on and wanted to get involved. So we thought, maybe we should make this available for anybody who wants it. And there, a product was born.
MN: You were a graduate of NewME Accelerator. What was your experience with NewME and how did that impact your growth?
RB: NewME was really important at an early stage for us because, coming from Chicago and coming from more of a physical product background, a very different background than computer science people, it became very apparent that we needed to develop a network that would be able to help us grow and scale and do the types of things that technology companies do.
That’s how we got on TechCrunch for the first time and on NPR Morning Edition. That’s how we got our first mentors; people like Eric Ries had dinner with us.
That’s how I met Brad Feld, who introduced us to some of our advisors. We started to spend time at Singularity University, which is an institute that is housed at NASA at San Jose and it is the most brilliant people in the world, who are brought together, to work on what they call exponential technologies to change the world, like artificial intelligence, 3D printing, nanotechnology, all these things to solve the world’s grand challenges. So now we’re working with some amazing companies and every day, it feels bigger.
We’re working closely with Shapeways, which is the largest commercial 3D print company in the world. We recently pitched, this past month, at Women 2.0, which is the largest women’s tech event, and we actually won the L’Oreal Women in Digital Prize, which was a cash prize and one year commitment to work with L’Oreal as a venture partner and some business partners.
MN: NewME is specifically minority- and women-focused. How important is that for the technology industry right now?
RB: I get that question a lot. It’s tough. I recognize the importance of providing access to folks who otherwise don’t match patterns that typically happen in some of the larger incubators and accelerators. My background does not match Mark Zuckerberg’s. My background and my experience doesn’t reflect what you typically see, however, that doesn’t negate the fact that myself and the team that surrounds me and Citizen Made is capable of changing the world. It’s a different lens.
I think it’s important that things like Women 2.0 and NewME accelerator and a lot of other things that are cropping up right now are really giving access and voice to people who typically don’t match what is seen as success in the Valley: getting coverage in the mainstream tech press and things of that nature.
It’s not always about race or gender, but it’s more about getting people who have different backgrounds and experiences—whatever that means—and getting them get into the tech industry. It’s good for innovation!
MN: What can be done to attract minorities and women to the technology industry?
RB: That’s the question du jour lately and there are a few things that can be done, but I don’t think there’s one easy fix. There’s a lot of this idea of encouraging STEM education or creating access to STEM education. People talk of this whole idea of a pipeline, with education and internships and all of that, to really provide exposure. I think that’s fantastic, but it also has to work in conjunction with money. People can have great ideas and work really hard toward other people’s projects. But when it comes to founders of color or women founders, there’s a fundamental difference in the funding that women or people of color receive. And it’s very difficult to grow a company without initial capital.
There are people like Tristan Walker, who is and entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz and is doing Code 2040, and essentially he’s creating a network of internships available to computer science students of color across the country at places like Facebook, so they have access to these more high-profile companies and jobs. Otherwise, they may not be recruiting or may be recruiting based on their personal network. So some kid from Chicago is completely off their radar. There are a lot of different things that can happen and that have to happen to make change happen.
Women in the tech industry are few and far between. Although more women than ever are entering the work world, only 25 percent of them find their way to Silicon Valley. Of that 25 percent, African American women make up a mere 1.5 percent. This is the problem that startup accelerator NewME is striving to fix and Mashable.com reports that the San-Francisco program based is working.
Tech extraordinaire Angela Benton, who is also a black woman, knows first-hand how tough it is to break into the tech scene and observed the few African Americans she met along the way. While Benton believes that the education system’s lack of exposure to tech careers to minorities puts them at an initial disadvantage, there are other factors that contribute to small minority and women numbers in the tech field.
“We have to factor in other things, like access to mentors and role models, and even very simple things, like explaining to individuals how to even start to enter the field is huge,” she told Mashable.
Her startup accelerator is a 12-week program that helps to support and nurture the big ideas of aspiring minority tech entrepreneurs. NewMe provides mentorship, discussion and networking opportunities. At the end of each program is a “demo day,” which allows participants the chance to present their ideas and products to well-connected attendees. The accelerator has two programs each year, with an average of about eight participants each session spending the entire spring or fall living and working in San Francisco while they get their ideas started.
“NewME participants’ stories about their experiences in the tech industry are so varied,” Benton said. “I get to talk to the founders that we have in the accelerator, and I get to hear what people have experienced nationally, via the nearly 1,000 people we have in NewME community.”
More on Madame Noire Business!
- About Their Business: 7 Black Female Politicians Who Made History
- How She Made It: Alia Jones-Harvey, Producer of A Streetcar Named Desire
- The Career Freshman Part II: Getting To The Next Level in Your Career
- Crisis Management Lessons: Handle Scandal Like Your Name Is Kerry Washington
- Behind the Click: Susan Nicholas, Founder & CEO of DocPons Inc.
- Entrepreneur Spotlight: A Sister-Run Business Brings High-End Tea Stateside
In Silicon Valley, black faces can be hard to spot in the pool of entrepreneurs. And the African-Americans that do make attempts at starting innovative business often encounter lack of funding. It’s what entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Mitch Kapor calls “mirror-toracy.” He tells The Bay Citizen that business professionals tend to finance people who look and act like them as they fit their image of success. African American aspiring entrepreneurs are left out, and desperately need the resources and financial backing to get them started. That’s one reason why Angela Benton founded the New Media Entrepreneurship Accelerator, (NewME).
Benton, previously based in Charlotte, NC, realized the disparity in African American entrepreneurs when she took a visit to the Google Headquarters. She held a mixer for black entrepreneurs and was amazed when 100 people showed up, excited to meet other like-minded individuals. Although a report from CB Insights, a venture capital information database, observed that less than one percent of the venture capital-backed tech companies in California were started by blacks, the desire and the people were there.
Benton realized that there was a need for a community to support black entrepreneurs, but no one had thought to create it. These future business leaders simply needed an incubator and a community to nurture their business ventures.
Similar to other incubator programs, NewME provides resources and networking opportunities to potential business owners. In its first workshop held last summer, NewMe had eight participants, three of which are now starting up business in Silicon Valley. Two others are looking to start their business elsewhere.
“We need 10 NewMEs,” Chad Womack, a co-founder of the America 21 Project, said to an audience of black professionals in San Francisco. “We need to clone Angela and spread her around the country, if we can.”
America 21 works to encourage African Americans to take on technology business as a way to earn wealth. The non-profit groups plans to create opportunities for inner city youth with the help of the White House and hopefully initiaitves such as NewME.
Benton said she is now planning to hold a 12-week follow-up program in the spring. This time, the requirements for participants will be a bit stiffer and more in line with other incubator programs. All must commit to giving NewME four percent of the company’s equity.
There’s no argument that there are a lack of minority entrepreneurs that are engaging in the “startup culture” Even if the above argument can be debated, you can’t deny the fact that while there may be a number of successful minority entrepreneurs that are engaging in the “startup culture”, you may never know it due to the lack of funding and/or publicity they receive from the mainstream startup community.
Angela Benton, Wayne Sutton, and Toby Morning have teamed up to tackle both issues (opportunity and visibility) for minority startups with their joint venture, the NewMe Accelerator program: A nine-week “startup camp” that gives participants assistance with ideas and development, access to leaders and possible mentors, and exposure to the Silicon Valley startup culture.
Over the previous several weeks, NewMe put out a request for minority startups to submit their ideas (regardless of whether or not it was just an idea, in development, or an actual product). As a result, 12 startups were selected and the invitation was extended to spend nine weeks in Silicon Valley (lodging, local transportation, and other accommodations provided by the program) to attend small workshops and sessions, and to network with leaders in the technology startup industry.
In addition to gaining insight into the industry and “rubbing elbows”, the participants are encouraged to fine-tune their ideas/products and find-tune their “pitch” as they move towards “Demo Day” – an opportunity to present their startup in front of an even larger group of technology companies, venture capitalists, and influential members in the tech industry. A very possible outcome could be that one or several of these startups may raise enough eyebrows to receive additional mentoring, or even funding from some of the guests and sponsors invited by NewMe to witness the drive, ingenuity, and talent that minority entrepreneurs have to offer the startup community.
Speaking of which, the clout that the three founders have in their own professions have enabled them to round up a nice list of guests that will support, and cheer on, and possibly sponsor and fund the participants. Some of the leaders, speakers, guests, and sponsors include: Google, Justin.tv, Kapor Capital, Tristan Walker, Business Development lead at Foursquare, MC Hammer (yeah, you heard me correctly), and other venture capitalist looking to invest in the future. Several media outlets will also be in attendance to cover NewMe in hopes to further shine the light on minority talent looking to turn their ideals into a viable, and profitable product.
For more information and updates, visit the NewMe Accelerator website or follow the Twitter handle @NewMeAccel.