Wednesday Wisdom with Hadiyah Mujhid, Co-Founder of Black Founders and HBCU.vc
We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom blog series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.
Hadiyah Mujhid is an engineer and Co-Founder of Black Founders, an organization whose mission is to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in technology. She is also the Co-Founder of HBCU.vc, a not-for-profit organization that teaches students enrolled at Historically Black Colleges and Universities about venture capital and connects and equips the next generation of black and brown tech innovators and investors. Hadiyah spoke with Project Entrepreneur about what drives her to create opportunities for underrepresented tech founders and the work that still needs to be done.
1) You’ve founded not one, but two organizations dedicated to supporting black and brown tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. What made you decide to use your experience as an engineer to create opportunities for underrepresented tech founders and investors?
My motivation for creating opportunities for underrepresented tech founders stems more from my personal background as a person of color more than it does my experience as an engineer. I can’t pinpoint a specific instance that led me to found Black Founders and HBCU.vc, but I’m a natural problem solver, and my experience as an engineer has allowed me an inside perspective of some of the challenges facing tech founders, particularly female tech founders and tech founders of color.
I’m a Black woman from Philadelphia who didn’t come from any wealth at all; I didn’t understand that I was poor, but I understood that the response to any requests that required money was ‘no’. I came to Silicon Valley in 2010 at the age of 31, and it was the first time I actually could conceptualize super wealth. I’d never been able to fathom what it was like to have a lot of money, let alone live alongside people who were actually quite wealthy. Living and working in Silicon Valley led me to the realization that the wealth being created isn’t being distributed to or necessarily creating opportunities for people who look like me. I started Black Founders and HBCU.vc because I wanted to create wealth through tech entrepreneurship. I wanted to create access points for other people of color; most people are community-minded, so when we don’t see our communities represented, we want to help our communities get involved in some way, and that was my aim with launching my organizations.
2) What’s been the most rewarding thing about your work at Black Founders? What has you most excited about Black Founders’ role in increasing diversity in tech?
Black Founders is a community of entrepreneurs my co-founders and I have met through mentoring and events. Black Founders isn’t a formal accelerator, but for me it’s always been interesting to meet people in the early stages of starting their company. Seeing the tenacity and consistency of early stage founders has been very inspirational to me; watching people start with little to no traction in the beginning start to scale and see real success two or three years later is especially rewarding.
An example is my co-founder Chris Bennett. When we first started Black Founders, he was also working on a tech startup, which was just an idea at the time. Over the past 7 years, he’s created two companies that have raised millions of dollars. That is so inspirational! There are points where I’ve seen founders, including Chris, hit brick walls and land on really tough times, but they just keep pushing through. That tenacity and focus is exciting and inspires me to push through difficult times too.
3) There are several programs on college campuses that train students to become entrepreneurs. HBCU.vc is unique in that it is training the next generation of venture capitalists. Why do you believe it’s important to get college students interested in venture capital?
HBCU.vc is the only program in the country that’s raising awareness about (and aiming to improve) the diversity in the venture capital industry. Our biggest accomplishment was launching the pilot program—we’re in three universities and looking to expand. We also want to have our own HBCU.vc venture fund so that we can give students hands-on experience investing in companies.
I chose to focus on college students because venture capital isn’t an industry that college students are really aware of yet. The tech sector is “sexy” right now—most of my students know that there’s an opportunity for them to work for Uber or Facebook or Google. The next step is teaching students that there’s a whole other industry backing these companies and facilitating opportunities for these companies to get to the next stage.
What motivates students is learning more about the business side of tech. Venture capital is a really opaque industry—students don’t know that most venture capitalists are essentially fund managers and aren’t even investing their own money into companies. We’re teaching students that they don’t have to have their own money to get involved in venture capital. We’re teaching them how to spot qualified founders, anticipate potential business opportunities, develop a lens for viewing trends in technology, and support the next generation of entrepreneurs. We’re teaching black and brown college students that if they make really good decisions early on in their careers as venture capitalists, they can start investing their own money to double-down on their returns and experience real wealth.
4) What’s one thing you believe the startup ecosystem has yet to learn regarding diversity and how it’s accomplished?
One thing that the ecosystem has yet to learn or believe is that diversity improves financial performance. Tech startups also need to gain a better understanding of how diversity is accomplished—it is a real investment that takes money, time, and experiential knowledge.
5) What advice do you have for black and brown female founders who are currently fundraising and find it difficult to connect with investors and secure funding?
My advice for black and brown female founders currently fundraising is do not give up. Keep trying and remain creative and authentic. Being creative and determining alternative methods of meeting goals on limited resources is important while fundraising. And develop relationships with investors while remaining true to who you are. Being authentic is the trait which is going to widen the trail for other black and brown female founders.