Faces of Innovation

by Dara Klatt

For a city at the political epicenter, the technology and start-up sectors all too often get snubbed. That’s mistake number one. The tech community is mightier and more ambitious than many realize. Its energy pulsates from NoVa and Amazon HQ2’s future “National Landing” to downtown Washington, D.C., Bethesda, The Dulles corridor and beyond. Mistake number two is imagining that the faces behind innovation here are cut from the same metal, so to speak. Innovators of what could be world-changing products and services are strikingly diverse. In this issue, we profile this creative tech motley crew. There’s …

Girls in Tech, Black Professionals in Tech and Moms in Tech

A Combination or All of the Above in Tech
Non-Technologists in Tech (for real)

Lawyers in Tech

Lawyers in Tech trying to teach Congress about Tech (Slowly) (Really Slowly)

Soldiers in Tech
Former Felons in Tech
Former Addicts in Tech

Tech people who only speak Tech (Hmm, can you repeat that?)

Cyber Tech, Crypto Tech, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Tech, Predictive Analytics Tech, Virtual Reality Tech

The list goes on …

Such are the disparate visionaries with the drive, relentless passion and sheer guts required to carve the future of technology. Some scrape, claw and fight inch by inch, year by year, in their quest to approach titan level. Others hit the summit and slipped, but steadily climbed back. Others are still winding up. Mistake number three? Doubting their moxie. These people are real, their goals are admirable and they mean business.

Kavita Shukla, The FreshGlow Co; R. David Edelman, MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI); Angel Rich, WealthyLife and Black Tech Matters; Joshua Haecker, Predata; and Elizabeth Lindsey, Byte Back

Yossuf Albanawi And Gautam Sai Chebrolu
Co-founder and CEO; and Co-founder and CTO, Pilleve
After struggling with substance abuse at a young age and then recovering after an early intervention from a loved one, Albanawi has been working on the front lines of the addiction crisis. Pilleve, which he founded with Sai Chebrolu, is an integrated pill bottle that monitors and screens for signs of opioid abuse and addiction using real-time data and sensory technology. The firm, which launched last year, counts The Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as partners, among others.

A Needed Change: “The way we take and consume medication has not changed for decades. The process of haphazardly opening up a pill bottle, dumping several in your palm as a few drop out, and then consuming them as if they were gumdrops, can lead to unintended consequences.”

Yossuf Albanawi and Gautam Sai Chebrolu

Sharmi Albrechtsen

Founder and CEO, SmartGurlz

When Albrechtsen couldn’t find a fun toy to help teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to her doll-loving daughter Nina, an impassioned labor of love evolved into creating the fi rst self-balancing coding robot for girls. After a chance conversation with a producer from “Shark Tank,” Albrechtsen found herself accepted onto the popular ABC series, having bested nearly 40,000 other budding entrepreneurs. She pitched to Richard Branson, closed a deal with Daymond John and now has $2 million in revenue with partners that include BlackGirlsCode, Girls Scouts of America and DigitalGirl Inc. According to Albrechtsen, more than 30,000 girls have been educated with the product.

Fan Favorite: The Maria Doll, a “wizard with
numbers, popular, an outgoing artist and loves

Consumer reaction: “Many are so surprised
that coding can be so engaging and fun.”

Kari Clark and Sharmi Albrechtsen

Baan Alsinawi
Founder and President, TalaTek; Managing Director, Girls in Tech, D.C. Chapter

She’s been called one of the “100 Fascinating Females Fighting Cybercrime” in the just released book “Women Know Cyber.” Alsinawi founded her company 13 years ago and brings more than two decades of information technology
experience and a desire to create “state-of-the-art solutions” to the table. More than that, she is taking a leading role in mentoring and inspiring other girls in tech. “I want young aspiring innovative girls to know the opportunities in the tech field are limitless,” Alsinawi says. “It’s imperative for women to participate in the data revolution taking place to help shape the future.”

On Mentoring: “The role of a mentor is someone who walks the talk … We, as women, need to be supportive of one another.”

Rob Lake, Five Network; Randy Altschuler, Xometry; and Perianne Boring, Chamber of Digital Commerce

Randy Altshuler
Founder and CEO, Xometry
It takes grit to be a serial entrepreneur and Altschuler may just eat it for breakfast. Xometry, an on-demand industrial parts marketplace he launched in 2014, is his third business go-round, following his successful founding and running of CloudBlue (it was acquired in 2013); and Offi ceTiger, (acquired in 2006). Now the resilient Princeton and Harvard Business M.B.A. grad is eyeing a $100 billion manufacturing market in desperate need of efficiency. “We are taking what has been a very manual process and we’re digitizing it,” he says of the platform he’s developed to connect buyers to manufacturers instantly. Xometry has raised $118 million from investors including BMW, Dell, Bosch and GE and expects to bring in revenue this year of more than $80 million.

On Taking Risks: “It’s got to be ethical, it’s got to be legal … but otherwise, I’m willing to try new ideas.”

Dr. Sujuan Ba
President and CEO, National Foundation for Cancer Research; Founding President and CEO, AIM-HI Accelerator Fund

Dr. Ba’s four-page, single-spaced bio might not do her career justice. Not only is she spearheading a research organization that supports some of the world’s most accomplished scientists in their quest to develop new cancer therapies and cures, but Ba has now—with her two co-founders Charlie Weatherspoon and Franklin Salisbury, Jr. —established an accelerator fund to back oncology startups. The idea is to advance more pioneering ideas from labs to clinics, because, she says, “realistically, cancer cures will only be commercialized by for-profi t pharmaceutical and biotech companies.” With the Fund, Ba is able to “take more risk to invest in early stage companies which other investors are too hesitant” to touch.

What It Takes: “Curing cancer requires people working collaboratively.”

Dr. Sujuan Ba with Charlie Weatherspoon (front) and Franklin Salisburg, Jr.

Brian Ballard and Jeff Jenkins
Co-Founder and CEO; and Co-Founder and CTO, Upskill

While challenges still exist for augmented reality (AR) on the consumer side, Upskill (formerly APX Labs) has been thrusting ahead since 2011 to help enterprise companies implement AR technology, and presumably enable a more
produtive workforce. Their software platform runs on smart glasses and other wearable devices to give workers instant, viewable access to data. GE is a client and the company has been named a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. Earlier this year, Upskill announced that their Skylight platform is expanding to Android, iOS smartphones and tablets.

Biggest Achievement: “The size and scope of customers we’re working with.”

Favorite Tech Device: “Wearable augmented reality … it’s really game changing.”

Least Favorite Buzz Word: Jenkins: “leverage.” Ballard: “synergy. It gets under my skin the most except … I totally use it all the time.”

Perianne Boring
Founder, Chamber of Digital Commerce

Once a news anchor covering crypto-currencies and the blockchain economy, Boring recognized the need to create a member-driven trade association to promote the acceptance and use of the technologies. Now, the Chamber of
Digital Commerce that she founded represents the industry and Boring is considered one of the most influential people in blockchain. “There is no Bitcoin headquarters and very few regulators and policymakers have tech backgrounds. That’s why Congress comes to us to learn about this industry,” she says. But there is still, “a long way to
go before reaching a critical mass of policymakers and regulators who truly understand our industry.”

A Woman in Tech: “I do feel like I have had to work harder and smarter than my male peers to achieve various goals and business objectives.”

Brian Ballard and Jeff Jenkins

Marcus Bullock
Founder, Flikshop

At age 15, Bullock and a friend approached a sleeping man in a car in a parking lot, tapped on his window with a firearm, demanded the keys, then jumped in and sped off. The impulsive, teenage mistake landed him in prison for eight years, but it also inspired his work for justice reform and his creation of software that helps incarcerated people stay connected to their families. The mobile app Flikshop allows users to send personalized, Instagram-type postcards to anyone in a U.S. cell (there are 2.3 million criminals housed) with the mission of using these social connections to decrease recidivism. Users now number 140,000 across all 50 states. Bullock also founded a program that teaches returning citizens life skills and entrepreneurship via coding and software development.

Overview: “I’m a black man with a felony on his chest who wants to build a technology that none of the people even understand is important.”

Celeb Backer: John Legend, a Flikshop user and investor.

Knowing His Market: “There’s no way that someone who graduated number one out of their class from Stanford would have been able to understand the kind of solution we are building. They would never come up with it because they typically haven’t been in that environment.”

Building An App: “I Googled ‘how to build a mobile app.’ And that’s a true story.”

Kari Clark and Sharmi Albrechtsen

Kari Clark
Founder and CEO, Uplift

Having a baby is life changing. For Clark, it meant deciding to rewrite the script on what being a working mom means. After eight years at Google and inventing their Live Case product (for which she holds a patent), Clark launched her online coaching platform, Uplift, that, she says increases working moms’ productivity and overall well-being. More than 150 moms at their career heights contributed to the program, including those in the C-suite of some Fortune 500 companies.

What’s Needed: “Moms need support not just on the logistics of returning to work, but on the longer-term issues—struggles around work-life balance, maternal bias, and being too hard on themselves.”

As a Working Mom: “I became more productive, leaned into work that challenged me, and stopped caring about the bullshit.”

Alexander Cohen
Founder and CEO, TwentyTables

For a decade, Cohen had a seat at the table for billion-dollar deals as an attorney with the global law firm Skadden. But social consciousness was always at his core. He launched TwentyTables to provide access to affordable food for those who can’t afford it from area restaurants. For every meal purchased on the app at local restaurants,
TwentyTables donates another one (i.e. you get a meal, restaurants get business, the hungry get fed). He’s teamed up with food charities like the Capital Area Food Bank and DC Central Kitchen; integrated with George Washington
University’s student dining program; and is eyeing an expansion into other cities. For his efforts, Cohen was awarded the “Best Bootstrap” Award at SXSW.

Early Inspiration: In the early 1990s, Cohen served as a student ambassador with the Children of Chernobyl Project, which President Bill Clinton recognized at the time as an example of “unselfish service in the spirit of generosity.”

R. David Edelman
Director of the Project on Technology, the Economy, & National Security (TENS), part of the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI)

At the White House until 2017, Edelman led the team managing the digital economy and spearheaded the Administration’s approach to emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and AI. Now at MIT, and commuting
weekly from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, Mass., Edelman leads artifi cial intelligence policy research, with special interest in cyber security and national security. His forthcoming book to be published in 2020, explores whether we have to accept cyber attacks as the new normal in our lives.

The Responsibility: “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a movement around responsible use of a transformational technology— AI. We’re at the top of the first inning in the development of AI, and we have the chance to build into those early systems some of our core values like fairness, equality of opportunity, and

Understand This: “Machine learning systems still have a lot to learn from us. There’s a lot to be impressed by in the world of AI, but the more one studies these systems, the more one sees how very primitive and flawed they still are. The systems that we have built to help us don’t know how to avoid hurting or dividing us; we have to teach them.”

Tech Heroes: “We’ve spent a lot of time as a society worshipping tech founders, but to be honest, some of my heroes are neither rich nor famous: they’re the dedicated public servants from my early bosses, to teammates at State and the White House, to the thousands more I never met who chose to serve their country. Some of them were tech-y, some less so, but what defined them all was a commitment to public integrity—and willingness to take a fraction of the paycheck so they could serve citizens they’ll never meet. In times like these, it’s a story that isn’t told often enough.”

Alternative Profession: “I had an offer after college to become a restaurant reviewer in San Francisco. I would have spent my life eating, documenting it and sharing my opinion with complete strangers.”

R. David Edelman
Elizabeth Lindsey

Alexandra Reeve Givens
Executive Director, Institute for Technology Law & Policy, Georgetown University Law Center; Co-Founder and Board Member, BEACON

The next generation of lawyers and lawmakers may come to thank Reeve Givens who is helping to reshape how future policy makers are taught technology. With her oversight, the Institute for Technology Law and Policy has been operating at Georgetown Law like a radical think tank, researching questions on “algorithmic fairness” and civil rights or, in other words, grappling with how tech affects society. Not stopping there, Givens (whose father was “Superman” star Christopher Reeve) also launched the umbrella initiative BEACON, which pulls together resources for women entrepreneurs in the D.C. area and now advises Mayor Muriel Bowser on the city’s Innovation & Technology Inclusion

A Tech-Lash: “More people need a seat at the table to make decisions about how major technologies are governed.”

Joshua Haecker
Founding Member and Vice President of Product and Analysis, Predata

Right out of high school, Haecker enlisted in the military, where he learned about life and death matters and “being part of a global organization with an incredibly diverse workforce.” He transitioned from soldier to civilian (as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Department of Defense) and then to the private sector, and thrived. The company he helped found, Predata, a predictive analytics startup that uses machine learning to uncover behavior in web traffic data, has raised over $8 million to-date and expects to triple its user base (again) by the end of 2020. The mission: “to help people think more proactively about risk in a way that could ultimately help keep them safe.”

I Help Clients … “Explore the frontiers of what is possible with technology for a problem they have always wanted to solve—what happens next?”

Tiffany Olson Kleemann

Aaron Higbee
Co-Founder and CTO, Cofense (formerly PhishMe)

Leading the vision of a cyber security company is a “fun, high wire act,” according to Higbee. But no matter what, it’s always about keeping his “threat intel skills sharp.” Cofense works with enterprise companies to help train their staffs
to spot fraudulent emails. And it’s big business. Over the last 12 months, the firm has accelerated its efforts to bring phishing defense solutions globally, has produced two of its most successful revenue quarters, and now claims close to 2,000 clients in 150 countries.

I feel my best, most powerful self when … “I’m wearing one of my many Mexican ponchos and reverse engineering malware to protect our customers.”

Favorite Tech Word: IOC—Indicator of Compromise.

Election Predictions: There will be another [John] Podesta-like hack. It’s not a question of if—only when.

Tiffany Olson Kleemann
Vice President of Bot Management, Imperva

In the last few years, Kleemann says the biggest change she’s seen in the cyber security industry is how advanced bot attacks, or internet threats, have gotten. A 20-year information technology industry veteran, with experience at the White House and U.S. Military, Kleemann spearheads the effort to stop bot attacks and saves her clients“millions of dollars a year.” In the last few months, Imperva was acquired by a private equity firm, named a “Best Database Security Provider” (SC Magazine) and one of the “coolest email, web and application security vendors” (CRN Magazine).

The Coast Guard: “Taught me so many things that I have applied over the years. I am applying important leadership, coaching, project management, communication and prioritization skills in my current role,” Kleemann says of her
four years as a U.S. Coast Guard Officer

Motto: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

Aaron Higbee

Rob Lake
Co-founder and President, Five Network
Lake’s idea is simple: mentor young, talented individuals in some of the toughest areas of the country in the most  efficient way possible. Utilizing digital software, mentoring as a whole through the Five Network is amplified: companies get in the “business” of mentoring; bright students have mentors and broaden their network; and adults get meaning out of possibly unearthing the next Mark Zuckerberg (well, that and hiring them, versus having them recruited by the competition).

Multi-pronged Background: English, History, Literature, Artifi cial Intelligence, Advertising and Finance.

Goal: “Put people in the position to expose their superpowers, identify issues and solve problems that they aren’t even envisioning now.”

To Unplug: “I meditate … I exercise every single day. I try to read each evening and keep my phone far away.”

Elizabeth Lindsey
Executive Director, Byte Back
When Lindsey was in her 20s, she thought of herself as practical, or more of an implementer. But now, approaching 40, she sees herself as both a visionary and someone who gets things done. It’s fortunate for Byte Back, a non-profit group she directs that focuses on inclusive tech training leading to living-wage careers. Students are 97 percent black and 59 percent women. An adult without any computer knowledge can move up a free training pathway to earn offi cial certifications and go on to earn an average of $28,000 more per year than before their course of study. Because of Lindsey’s leadership, attention to digital equality and support have followed.

Working in Tech … “doesn’t mean you have to code.”

To Do Better: “We need more women and we need more African Americans [in tech], but we also need people who are in their 40s who are launching a second career, and people who didn’t go to college, and single mothers.”

Felix Brandon Lloyd and Jordan Lloyd Bookey
Co-Founder and CEO; Co-Founder and Chief Client Success Officer, Zoobean
Appearing on “Shark Tank”—and receiving an initial $250,000 investment from investor Mark Cuban—didn’t mean overnight success, at least for married co-founders Lloyd and Bookey. They pitched their children’s book discovery
platform on the hit show in 2016 and … nothing. After a slight switch of direction, they created the Beanstack app, which tracks reading goals, and only then were able to hit the ground running. Now it’s the cornerstone of the ed-tech company (rated 4.7 out of 5 on Apple apps, based on 3,214 reviews). To date, their software is licensed by over 5,000 libraries and schools across the country and has been used by over three million readers.

“Not-So-Secret” Secret to Success: “Hard work. Every day, we experience ups and downs. The trick is to keep moving forward and do the work. One of our favorite mantras is, ‘Just do what’s next.’”

Samier Mansur
Founder and CEO, No Limit Generation; Co-Founder, LiveSafe

A self-described “social entrepreneur, innovator and purpose-driven leadership coach,” Mansur is in the business of building a more peaceful and just world. He launched No Limit Generation, a global child well-being platform that equips aid-workers and caregivers with training to support displaced children. He also created LiveSafe, now a
nationally recognized mobile app used at universities across the country, as well as companies, government agencies and school districts, that connects users and their safety officials through discrete (or anonymous) two-way communications. It can be used to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and abuse as well as ascertain the safety of employees during emergency events. LiveSafe was recently adopted by the D.C. Mayor’s Office and rolled out to 20 area public schools.

For A More Peaceful World: “It begins with how well we care for our children. There is a direct link between the quality of a child’s care and well-being, and the outcomes in their life.”

Core Characteristic: “I am deeply empathetic.”

Tobin Moore

Tobin Moore
Co-Founder and CEO, Optoro

Every year, an estimated $400 billion worth of retail goods are returned in the U.S., and nearly an equal amount of goods, don’t sell. When products end up in a landfi ll, retailers and the environment lose. Moore’s company works to make retail more sustainable by eliminating waste from returns with a technology platform that routes goods to
their next best home from their initial point of origin. And retailers can still make money off of unpurchased or returned goods. Moore, a District native and St. Alban’s grad, has raised over $200 million from investors and counts Best Buy, Target, Staples and Under Armour as retail partners.

Environmental Concerns: “The current trajectory that our planet is on is unsustainable. If we continue on the path we are on, by 2050 the U.N. projects that we’ll need three planets worth of resources to sustain our lifestyles. As
a business owner, I am passionate about using technology and private sector innovation to help solve this problem.”

Christopher “Chip” Paucek

Christopher “Chip” Paucek
Co-founder and CEO, 2U

It’s been a rough few months for Paucek. In July, his global education technology company’s stock tanked after he
announced a business shift. That was followed by staff slashing and a commitment to transparency. Even so, Paucek is charging ahead with 2U – the company that he founded in 2008, grew and went public with in 2014 (Nasdaq:TWOU) and continues to run more than a decade later. That’s impressive. Rarely do entrepreneurs have the skills and stamina to successfully launch a company and persevere as long as Paucek has. Today the company claims to serve more than 150,000 students, support more than 250 digital and in-person educational offerings and partner with universities including Georgetown, Harvard and Oxford. For those innovators still at the early start-up stage, Paucek— who has been awarded Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2012, the Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs Award in 2013 and multiple Highest Rated CEO awards from Glassdoor — has veteran advice. In sum, “You are not as dumb as they think you are on your worst day, and you are not as smart as they think you are on your best.”

Weathering the Ups and Downs: You have to always be learning. The day I stop learning is the day I shouldn’t be CEO anymore. Every day is different at this stage, I’m not saying I have seen everything in the world but I’ve seen a fair amount. I still love it more than I don’t.”

To Stay on Course: “All companies have to continue to evolve. If they don’t, the biggest and brightest will die. As a leader, I would say my job is fundamentally different than it was 12 years ago. It’s not even close. It’s vastly different than five years ago when we rang the bell [for the IPO]. Looking in the rear view mirror is important to understand how you got here and what you did, but if you rest on that too much, the world will pass you by real fast.”

Leading U: “Part of the reason why I am still the right person for 2U is that I know very much that it’s not about me. It’s about this collective group of people who are trying to change the world.”

Advice to Entrepreneurs: “People underestimate the power of focus. You’re unique if you can pull off having multiple business models. Startups are hard. They’re pretty lonely, most fail, and they fail often. If you do too much, you fail. I try to keep [entrepreneurs] really focused on the business model.”

Personnel Stategy: “Hire people that brighten the room.
Life’s short.”

Vijay Ravindran with son Manoj

Vijay Ravindran
Co-Founder and CEO, Floreo

Ravindran has always been an innovator: he was part of the team that launched the original Amazon prime, led data mining technology for a company that worked with the Clinton and Obama 2007/2008 campaigns and became chief digital officer at the Washington Post. But it was when Ravindran’s autistic son Manoj became captivated with a virtual reality (VR) headset, that a new idea ruminated: could this digital world help people who have trouble engaging in the physical world? The concept led to Floreo, which develops VR programs to complement therapy for kids and teenagers on the autism spectrum. The program has now been put to use as a learning tool in schools such as KIPP DC, autism programs and hospitals including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Autism Research (CAR) and can be downloaded from the App Store.

The 9-year-old Critique: “He’s been able to influence the curriculum, give early feedback on beta content and he very much considers himself an employee,” Ravindran says of son Manoj.

Angel Rich

Angel Rich

Founder and CEO, WealthyLife and Founder, Black Tech Matters

She’s stealth in business, but not silent about racism and sexism

Her résumé goes something like this: created an algorithm for the stock market to win Goldman Sachs Portfolio Challenge; sold her first marketing plan to Prudential; became a founding employee of FINRA; authored the first ever African American Financial Experience study; invented the top fi nancial literacy product in the world; and was named the “Next Steve Jobs” by Fortune before age 30. Determined, candid, confident and relentless —doubters can’t stop her if she has a goal in mind. Think you or anyone else can repeatedly deny her and her cohorts funding because of the color of their skin? Fine, she’ll start a PAC and film a documentary about the challenges of the black tech community. Don’t think a black woman knows tech or has the chops to fully lead an idea through? Fine, she’ll bring a white man along on a pitch if you feel more comfortable that way and want to deal with him like he’s the mastermind. But let’s be clear: she knows who’s who. You’d better, too.

What are your qualities that make you a successful innovator? My nickname in certain places is “The Ninja.” I move extremely swiftly and silently and by the time you know I am working on something I have already produced it and laid it out.

What issues do you face the most? Not believing that you are the person who invented whatever you invented. Surely [people say] there’s some white or Asian male that helped you with this, there is no way that you did this on your own. That’s the number one thing that drives you crazy.

Why are you the one leading the charge against discrimination? I feel like I’ve been put in a position with the titles [accolades] and things that I have, where I’m one of the few people that can almost sacrifice myself for the greater good of the community.

What gives you piece? When I have all of these entrepreneurs who thank me for the path that I was able to provide for them—and even the little ones who have no clue what I have done for them— and they walk around all cocky with their companies, it makes me smile.

Baan Alsinawi, Tala Tek; Kezia Williams, The Black upStart; and Samier Mansur, No Limit Generation and LiveSafe

Kavita Shukla
Founder and CEO, The FreshGlow Co

Shukla is taking on global challenge of food waste with biodegradable paper sheets that keep food fresh. Her simple product, FreshPaper, was once a middle school science project that she developed and sold years later at a local farmer’s market. Now she’s landed on Forbes’ “30 under 30,” Fast Company’s “7 Entrepreneurs Changing the World” and TIME’s “Five Most Innovative Women in Food.” FreshPaper is used by farmers and families across the globe, and Shukla’s company has partnered with some of the largest retailers in the world, including Whole Foods, Amazon, Walmart and QVC.

Lessons learned: “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

As a Young, Female “Outsider”: “You have the freedom to approach challenges in unique ways, you are not bound by expectations of what your company or idea should look like, and so many will rise up to support you because you are different!”

When Home: “It’s the little things that help me to slow down and get some perspective—visiting the amazing farmer’s markets in this region, walking in the woods with my puppy and spending time with my family and friends.”

Felix Lloyd and Jordan Lloyd Bookey (front), Zoobean; Alexandra Reeve Givens, Institute for Technology Law & Policy, Georgetown University Law Center; Marcus Bullock, Flikshop (far back); and Alexander Cohen, Twenty Tables

Kezia Williams
Founder and CEO, The Black upStart

The Black upStart philosophy is four-fold: “Think Black,” “Build Black,” “Plan Black” and “Test Black.” In this school training program that Williams leads, aspiring Black entrepreneurs learn to (1) brainstorm a profitable business idea; (2) build a prototype; (3) craft a business model canvas; and (4) validate a business idea. Since 2016, nearly 455 individuals have been trained, some of whom have received investments from venture capitalists and opened brick and mortar spaces. For Williams, the important part is not just starting a business, it’s job creation: “It’s imperative that black entrepreneurs realize the importance of becoming employers.”

The Approach: “Teaching business is not novel; however, teaching black people unapologetically how to start a business by turning the obstacle of race into profitable economic opportunities, is not only innovative, but necessary.”

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