©Peña: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau.
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Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, getting your feet wet networking in the industry, or already have years of experience building your venture, there are a lot of lessons to learn and people to meet when building an idea that serves the masses from the ground up — especially for those who are individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.
The NYU Entrepreneurial Institute’s 2023 Inclusive Founders Forum, powered by Blackstone LaunchPad, was held in the name of both providing a solid ground for future leaders from underrepresented groups and fostering community within our spaces. Hosted on Friday, Sept. 8 at the NYU Production Lab, the Forum included two panels and a keynote discussion stocked with entrepreneurs of various industries and disciplines.
The first roundtable of the day was the Founder Panel. Ugochi Obidiegwu (Wagner '24), founder of The Safety Chic, moderated a discussion with entrepreneurs Adriana Teresa Letorney (GSAS '21), founder of Visura; Kobi Wu (Stern '14), founder of Cache AI; Andrea M. Inokon (Law '03), co-founder & COO of Cadence Cash; and Busayo Ogunsanya, co-founder & president of Muse Tax.
The founder panelists gathered to discuss topics such as their backgrounds and challenges, NYU’s role as a vital lifeline for resources for the development of their startups, ways to stimulate the growth of underrepresented entrepreneurs in their respective fields, and the best/worst advice each of them received as they built their enterprises.
Letorney, who co-founded Visura, a global creator platform for visual storytellers, said she knew there were additional obstacles she faced in her founder journey due to her background and work experiences as both a woman and a person of color: “The very systems that power that opportunity are filled with biases,” she said.
But as Letorney came to recognize this reality, she said she found support through the resources provided by the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute.
“The access to the resources and tools, such as how to effectively communicate our ideas, helped us to understand the value of those tools and the customer,” Letorney said. “That framework I got through the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute.”
Next, the Resources Panel was moderated by Erika Boll (Wagner ‘14), executive director of The David Prize, in conversation with Fernando Montejo, assistant VP for Emerging Tech Initiatives at NYCEDC; Winsie Lau, venture investor (formerly Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Lab); Parvathy Menon, engagement manager at McKinsey InNYC Inclusive Innovation; and Yulkendy Valdez, product manager at Visible Hands.
Together, they spoke about liquidity in venture markets, the services each of their businesses provide, what tools they wished their clients would utilize more of, and at what stage a potential founder/client should come to them for services.
When it comes down to the critical decision of choosing which VC to turn to when it’s time to raise capital for your venture, Valdez said it all comes down to “finding your biggest fan.”
“You have to interview the investor to find out what they want from you,” she said.
Finally, the Forum keynote discussion was led by NYU SPS Dean Angie Kamath, who interviewed keynote speaker Laura Moreno Lucas, general partner at L’ATTITUDE Ventures and founder & CEO of Pandocap, about her beginnings as an entrepreneur and how she found success with her venture.
From 2012-2015, Lucas served as the co-founder & CEO of Ladada, a monthly personalized fashion subscription service. The company leveraged data about each customer's lifestyle to personalize a subscription box filled with styles from up-and-coming designers while utilizing a recommendation engine to style and fit.
Recalling her early days as a startup founder, Lucas said: "At the beginning, I took no risks. I had a 9-5. I had plans A, B, [and] C if things went awry. You have to hustle. That helped me to support the beginning of Ladada.”
Lucas went on to share her experience and tips on networking, being authentic, researching VCs as a founder, and creating more access for women in the VC industry.
Since community acts as an important aspect of a founder’s venture and the overall ecosystem of the industry, we spoke with some audience members at the Forum about their work through their ventures.
Maelys Monga, a senior at NYU Steinhardt studying education, said she was interested in attending the Forum due to her interest in creative entrepreneurship. Her biggest takeaway from the event was to maintain strong roots in the team that you have and build. Follow Monga’s creative work under the IG handle @lovetransmissions.
Ann Andrews (Stern ‘23), an NYU Female Founders Fellow, said she found the Forum to be resourceful in its messaging that there are many options outside of just VC funding for founders to look at. In particular, she found the keynote panel to be helpful after having faced difficulty while trying to fundraise for her EdTech venture Techfunic (IG /@techfunic) in the past.
“We are building an ML product, which creates optimal cohorts of students on the neurodiverse spectrum, specifically with ADHD, learning together. So [we are] maximizing engagement and attention to increase learning outcomes," Andrews said. "The Institute has been a tremendous support. In our early days, we got a $10K grant, which helped us to incorporate as well as build our first prototypes.”
Andrews said her main takeaway from the event was that she should get herself prepared by looking into differentiated forms of VC funding after deciding against fundraising last year due to the poor environment.
Also in the Forum audience was Sebastian Peralta, an NYU Gallatin junior studying business and economics through the lens of social justice and the environment. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Peralta said he recognizes the discrepancy between the reality of life his home country versus the tourist hot spot of Punta Cana. With this in mind, he said he is interested in entrepreneurship to provide a travel service to organize trips that immerse tourists within the Dominican Republic's culture and help them to get to know the country.
From the Forum, Peralta said his biggest reflection is the importance of knowing your story and the best way to connect with people who might want to invest in your company. Follow Peralta’s business under the IG handle @arkexplorations.
Thank you to our generous event sponsor, Blackstone LaunchPad, for helping us bring the 2023 Inclusive Founders Forum to life.
Are you interested in getting involved with our future Inclusive Entrepreneurship events? We want to hear from you! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.