Students from Penn State Berks, Abington and Lehigh Valley learned lessons in entrepreneurship during the Black and Brown Founders Project Conference, Oct. 9 to 10, at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia. The organization’s founder, Aniyia Williams, also gave a talk about the issues that entrepreneurs of color face at Penn State Berks on Oct. 11.
Williams is former student of Penn State Berks and University Park and a 2007 Penn State Schreyer Honors College graduate. She is the founder of Tinsel, a wearable technology company based in San Francisco that manufactures headphones housed in a stylish anodized aluminum pendant, suspended from stainless steel chains plated with gold or gun metal. The inspiration came from Williams’ background as a music major, her experience working with startup companies and Silicone Valley, and her love of fashion.
While the product has received positive reviews in fashion magazines, Williams ran into more than a few roadblocks when trying to get funding for Tinsel. As a result of her struggles as a female entrepreneur of color, she went on to create the Black & Brown Founders Project, a national nonprofit organization that “provides Black and Latinx founders with resources and community to build successful companies without relying on venture capital.”
According to Williams, black and Latino women get less than one percent of all venture funding.
The group, made up of 14 students -- nine from Berks, three from Abington, and two from Lehigh Valley campus, were very enthusiastic about the conference and took away many pieces of helpful advice that they can apply to their future careers. Some plan to become entrepreneurs, but all appreciated the guidance aimed at students of color.
Brothers Tristan and Tahj Morales attended the conference. Tristan, a sophomore with a dual major in information sciences and technology and security and risk analysis at Berks, is the chief technology officer of a startup tech company named Traduki Technologies, which provides real-time language translation services for health care professionals and businesses.
He stated, “I wanted to attend this conference to gain valuable advice on my current business start-up. At the conclusion of the conference I walked away with insight on how to correctly run and build ones' business in the technological society that we are currently living in, which included various financial, marketing, and business strategies.”
Meanwhile Tahj, a first-year student who plans to major in biochemistry and molecular biology major with a business minor at Berks, commented. "I wanted to gain more insight on how to enter the tech and entrepreneurship industries without large sources of preexisting funding. The two days were filled with one-on-one engagements and interactive discussions with professionals of color in different fields. While I don't plan on launching any businesses just yet, I know the first steps I must take in order to do so, and I have the assurance that skin color and accent do not limit one's potential to better the world."
In addition to Tristan and Tahj Morales, other Berks student attendees included Symone Corbin, Tyrone Free, Gabriela Gonzales-Magana, Miguel Hingada, Nathan Sylvain, Jovan Tate and Jocelyn Vargas. They shared the Morales brothers’ enthusiasm and appreciation of the opportunity to attend this unique event.
“I wanted to attend the conference because I wanted to learn new things that would help my development as an entrepreneur,” added Symone Corbin, a senior communication arts and sciences major at Berks. “I wanted insight and advice in hopes of understanding the challenges I may face when trying to start a nonprofit in the future,”
The mission of the Black & Brown Founders Project is twofold: Give Black and Latinx founders the knowledge, tools and cutting-edge tactics to build successful companies without relying on venture capital; and build a community of Black and Latinx founders to network and share resources with each other.”
Gabriela Gonzalez-Magana, a sophomore computer engineering major at Berks stated, “This conference made me realize that your skin color and your ethnicity do not reflect the person you are; what really defines you is the desire you have to be successful in life. The most important lesson I learned from this conference was to never give up when you see yourself being the only person of color or female in a group.”
“The information and the experience that I took home with me was phenomenal,” comments Jocelyn Vargas, a senior criminal justice major with a minor in Spanish at Berks.
“There was a lot of black and brown excellence in that room. I felt like it was a safe haven for me and my peers. We oftentimes do not receive the opportunity to empathize with people who are just like us, and every speaker allowed us to see their true personalities and thought processes as far as being a successful entrepreneur. Even more, they talked about what it’s like to live in a society where black and brown people receive the short end of the stick (especially on the entrepreneur side).”
Tyrone Free, a junior majoring in psychology at Berks, added, “It was an opportunity to connect and meet people of my color who started their own businesses and became entrepreneurs. I learned a lot about how to form a team, finance your company, and manage your time. It was exciting to see people get together and learn and listen to each other.”
The lessons learned at the Black and Brown Founders Conference have immediate benefits for Vargas. “My mother has a cake business, so I was able to bring back some productive feedback for her so that we can enhance her business.”
Tristan Morales summarized by saying, “This conference was a great opportunity, one that I am grateful to have been invited to and been apart of. I hope many others that come from various ethnic backgrounds such as myself also have the chance to experience such a welcoming and inspiring conference.”