Monday Motivation from Barika Edwards, Co-Founder at OweYaa

Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.

We sat down with Barika Edwards, Co-Founder at OweYaa, a platform that prepares veterans and military spouses for meaningful civilian careers within tech by connecting them to startups, private and public sector companies/organizations to hire them. Barika discusses the implications of employment discrimination from a personal place, the importance of solving this glaring issue for veterans, and the life-changing effects meaningful employment has on a family.

What inspired you to start your business?
I’ve experienced a lot of employment discrimination, so I know the struggle and the long-term implications of discrimination. When I learned really how pervasive veteran employment discrimination was, it was a needed area of D&I that I wanted to tackle. I thought, how can we solve employment discrimination of skilled and qualified people that are ignored because of superficial reasons such as skin color and names we attribute to race if we discriminate against veterans who are also diverse and they have skills and qualifications to do the jobs and are people who are committed to service? How are we ever going to solve the superficial discrimination of someone’s skin color, their gender, their religion? It’s superficial because they are unfounded biases. I often hear the reservations about hiring veterans: they doubt they can do the job, or they question if they will fit in their company, or concerns about mental health. These are identical reasons people give for not hiring POC. We often push veteran employment as a responsibility of the large corporations to hire and not the responsibility of the growing companies that are the “winning Davids to the Goliaths”. Tech companies are replacing the corporates in the market and they are not hiring diversely. This is going to adversely affect our country’s economic stability in the long run.

I believe if we can tackle veteran employment, we can tackle other liminal populations transitioning into 21st Century careers. But we have to wake up and create a just future of work tech platforms that benefit all or else the problem is going to get bigger and continue to change future generation’s abilities to thrive.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
It’s very hard to fundraise as a new startup in which the founders don’t look like the typical vet-tech founders. I think our perspectives and experiences actually add to our unique approach to tackling veteran unemployment. Add to that, we are a social enterprise and it’s not always fashionable to fund domestic social issues and the stigmas associated with military politics when other international social issues get more exposure on a daily basis and are more fashionable to get behind right now. We’ve been bootstrapping solely on our savings for over two years, it’s a huge challenge.

What’s been the greatest reward?
Helping our candidates explore their career options in a new way and get hired. In the last two weeks, we hosted two veteran career events.These vets have heard all the tactics to get hired but when we started to go through with our process their eyes lit up. Veterans and military spouses know they have a partner in their career journey with us. We are giving them strategies they aren’t hearing in the vacuum funnel, our process is relevant to today. We are so ready to scale OweYaa for veterans and military spouses across the country.

What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
I’d like the industry to start consciously funding people who haven’t gotten a chance yet and don’t fit the mold of previous successful unicorns. There are savvy, smart entrepreneurs who did not go to Ivy league schools and don’t have resources and networks to raise a friends and family fund, but they are tackling important societal issues to make their communities and the world a fair and better place, and they are doing it successfully. Often resources go to folks that already have the financial means or they are at a more advanced stage to be successful and scale faster while others have to continue to putty together little means and grow at a slower rate. I think there needs to be more transparency as well regarding diversity talk versus diversity action in the tech sector.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Meaningful employment is directly linked to a successful transition into civilian life. It impacts a family’s social and mental well-being and it improves economic stability. Employment is incredibly critical in reducing the stressors for vets and their spouses. We know that what we have created is a necessity, OweYaa works, and OweYaa mends the broken bridge to employment thus OweYaa saves veteran lives. And that’s what keeps me going.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Pick a day that is a non-tech night and stick to it. We are always in front of our computers and we work crazy hours sometimes with 2-3 hours sleep because we are working nonstop (which has been my case the last two weeks). For example, after 6 pm you turn off the computer, put aside the phone and let your eyes and your mind rest from work. It’s only an evening and if you stick with it, make it a habit. You can find little ways to bring work-life balance even as a startup and this is mine.

What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
I have a bullet journal that I keep with me all the time. It’s a great system to manage the ever ending to-do list. We also have weekly founder calls with my team on Sunday nights and we do a check-in on our lives and the work that we are doing. It’s important to support each other in our individual achievements and our collaborative achievements. I LOVE my CO-FOUNDERS and they inspire and keep me motivated. I don’t want to let them down.

For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Regina Gwynn, Co-Founder and CEO at TresseNoire, an on-location beauty booking app designed for women of color in New York City & Philadelphia. Regina discusses her determination to fledge an easier path to daily beauty solutions for women of color.