Dawn Dickson has been an innovator since she was in the single digits. When she was in the fourth grade, she created her first invention: a self-cleaning diaper. The rest was a herstory full of firsts, business ventures and millions of dollars.
Since 2001, the Columbus, Ohio native has founded four businesses. When there was no such thing as social media, she created UrbanStarr, a website of curated content of social and community events, networking opportunities and entertainment in the Columbus metro area.Think Eventbrite mixed with Yelp. In 2005, she founded D1 Consulting Group, which focuses on event management, marketing, consulting and fundraising. It was in 2011 when she became an inventor and created Flat Out Of Heels, LLC, a rollable, stylish and compact ballet flat that is sold out of a kiosk to women who are eager to get their achy feet out of their five-inch heels. The kiosk was strategically placed in venues where women need comfort the most like nightclubs, retail centers, convention centers, nightclubs and conference facilities.
Dickson, 41, is also the founder and CEO of PopCom, an automated retail company that builds software for vending machines and kiosks so the retail transactions can be human-less, frictionless and contact-less. The software for her Flat Out of Heels kiosk was supplied by her PopCom company.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused losses for many business owners this year, Dickson didn’t have any setbacks. In fact, she told me that 2020 was “one of the best years ever.” For Dickson, the pandemic was “an accelerator” for her businesses.
“Right now I have multiple businesses that continue to do well because they meet needs that the pandemic accelerated.”
Through her marketing and consulting companies, she was able to raise almost $2 million this year in crowdfunding for her businesses. She credits the pandemic making the virtual space more favorable and people being forced to quarantine as a catalyst for her money moves.
“With people being home from work or getting money from stimulus checks they are looking for more ways to educate themselves and engage in virtual learning as a tool,” she said. “I thought it might be affected by the pandemic but people have been more deliberate about investing and thinking about the future. A lot of my money came from speaking at conferences in person but now I make way more money speaking virtually. The pandemic helped that because now people have to do things virtually so it created great opportunities.”
Since PopCom creates contactless and frictionless software for machines people use, her services are crucial during a time of social distancing.
“COVID made that more important than ever,” she said about PopCom.
During the time of national crisis, Dickson was able to accomplish a major milestone as an inventor. She received her first patent for the design of her PopShop kiosk, which the rollable flats are sold out of. She described the machine as a “digital pop-up shop” in her celebratory Instagram post.
Dickson also invests her money in different businesses, like she did last year with Lifestyle Cafe, a plant-based restaurant in Columbus, Ohio that offers vegan and vegetarian dishes. She said as an investor, she puts money into a business to help it grow and once she sees a return on her investment, she moves on to the next endeavor.
Dickson is business-savvy but doesn’t have a business degree. After achieving a journalism degree from Ohio State University and an information technology degree from Devry University, she learned the business world on her own terms.
“I learned as I go,” she said. “It’s really the only way. It’s like saying you’re going to read a book about being a parent. There’s no book really…Nothing prepares you for having a kid or starting a business. Everything you have to learn as you go. The real knowledge is real world experience.”
Besides having the entrepreneurial spirit passed on from her parents who were business owners and investors, she wasn’t afraid to learn through trial and error. When I called her self-made, she said being self-made was “impossible” and acknowledged her mentors and advisors for their guidance.
“I don’t look at myself as being self-made because everybody has to have someone to support them or give them opportunities. There is no one on the planet that didn’t get opportunities from someone else that’s successful. Now, what you do with the opportunity, that’s where the self-motivation comes in.”
When it comes to balancing her family life and raising her 16-year-old daughter, Dickson said she is very intentional with how she spends her time and has even created a formula to help her determine what she is going to devote her time to.
“There is never a true balance in anything because there is never a time you can give equal mount of attention and time to everything you have,” she said. “You have to know how to delegate and build teams. At this point I just manage teams. I work on the business, not in the business. I manage the strategy and the operations of my businesses. I have an actual formula that helps me determine what I spend my time on. That calculation is based on my goal of personal income for the year divided by how much a hour of my life is worth. If something is not worth an hour of my time I don’t do it. I delegate it to someone else.”
Being a Black woman in tech for almost two decades, Dickson said it’s becoming less frequent where she is the only Black woman in the room, noting that she has “seen a shift in the past five years.” When she was (or is) the only Black women in the room though, she said she used the experience to her advantage.
“I look at it like I’m representing everyone that looks like me,” she said. “If they have an exceptional experience with me then they will remember that they had it with a Black woman and then it’ll affect their bias in their head about Black women. I just do my best to represent to the best of my ability so the opportunities to be in the room will be continued to be offered to people that look like me.”
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