Mayor Marty Walsh

Moon Selfie lights up MIN #99 in Roxbury

BIG WINS AT MIN: The top teams from the MIN #99 showcase celebrate their pitches Wednesday night. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO


By JARIANA OLUKOGA

BOSTON—Four companies shone bright Wednesday night as they emerged winners of Mass Innovation Nights #99—but one was especially over the Moon.

Moon Selfie, Donii, Black Girls Nutrition and CEDE won audience votes to take the top four spots over a full slate of African and African-American founded tech startups.

Moon Selfie, “the world’s most advanced selfie light,” won the night as the “top fave,” with a product designed to fit any smartphone or tablet for better illuminated selfies. Moon Selfie products, created by Edward Madongorere and Dishen “Dixon” Yang, retail for around $49.

Founders took the stage at the Thelma D. Burns Building in Roxbury, hosted by MIN in collaboration with the Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, showcasing African and African-American founders of tech companies.

“We are very excited to support diversity in tech and bring visibility to startups looking to be heard in the noisy tech space,” said MIN founder Bobbie Carlton. “I love to see the community come out and support each other. But my favorite part was when someone would say ‘Oh my gosh, this is just down the street from me so I had to come,’ ” she said.

In addition to featured experts, networking and presentations from winners of online voting, companies represented included BeautyLynk, Dolume, Kids in Tech, dot Teach, FABLabs for America, IncluDe, Pulse24/7, Quality Interactions and UZURI Health and Beauty. There was also a student startup from Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate program, Occ Youth Unleashed, the Roxbury-based, youth-led nonprofit startup that aggregates community program information to keep kids engaged.

Kyle Colon, co-founder of Occ Youth Unleashed, said his team started with initial funding of $1,000 from United Way. After proof of concept, they returned to pitch United Way in June 2016, winning an additional $10,000. Now they are currently competing in the 2017 MassChallenge accelerator program.

“This has been an amazing experience—and we’re young, only 18 years old. Everyone else is double or triple our age,” Colon said. “All we really want to do is keep teens off the street. We don’t get paid for this at all. We do this on our own and with the money in our pockets.”

Final four competitor Black Girls Nutrition launched when the founder felt ready to make a big change in her life.

“It started 12 years ago because I weighed 350 pounds,” said CEO Katia Powell. “I went to the grocery store down the street and got honey buns, hot pockets, cheesecakes and came back home. I was about to watch Love Jones and I caught my reflection in the mirror. I felt like time actually stopped. I needed to make a decision to save my life.”

“We are a company centered on helping women of color connect and find healthy ways to live their lives through nutrition, fitness, mindfulness and stress awareness,” said Tangela Kindell, digital marketing strategist for Black Girls Nutrition. “We are also working on an app that makes all that easier and can fit in the palm of your hand.” BGN, according to Powell, is “the first nutrition company that specifically focused on black women.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the group, sharing his thoughts on the crucial problem-solving entrepreneurs must do to be successful. “Focus on one issue at a time and try not to let outside influencers bother you,” he said.

He also encouraged the founders to ask for help and to take criticism freely, without fear. “I think people often take criticism as a bad thing, criticism is not a bad thing. Sometimes criticism is a good thing and you can learn from it.”

“I think there are a lot of people who could be great entrepreneurs that are just a little worried about going for it and asking for help,” he said.


The next MIN, a milestone evening at number 100, is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12, at the Museum of Science. The theme will be space technology. Find out more and RSVP HERE.

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Latino group powers up community for electoral ‘path to victory’

Latina Circle co-founders Eneida Roman and Betty Francisco, with moderator Marcela García at yesterday’s event. FoundersWire Photos by Charlotte Emslie

By CHARLOTTE EMSLIE

BOSTON—This presidential campaign, with its rhetoric swirling around immigrants and minorities, is “awakening the sleeping giant of 56 million voices,” say Boston Latinos who gathered yesterday to discuss the importance of the Latino electorate.

The Latina Circle and Latino Victory Project co-sponsored an event at Mintz Levin, inviting members of the community to learn about the current state of Latino voting power and how it may affect this election.

“The silver lining of this horrible election is the shining of the spotlight on the Latino vote,” says event moderator Marcela García. “The Latino vote needs our help, they need champions. That’s true not only in elected government, but in municipal appointed positions as well.”

America’s Latino population at 56 million is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. It’s also one of the most politically potent. Pew Research says this electorate will be the most diverse in U.S. history. Latinos are projected to make up an astounding voting bloc of 27 million out of 219 million eligible voters nationwide in the 2016 presidential election. In Boston, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Latino community comprises 17 percent of city dwellers—just below the U.S. average—and growing every year.

Now more than ever, the Latino electoral voice is gaining volume, however, as Latina Circle founding partner Eneida Roman puts it, the problem Latinos face is “increasing numbers without increasing representation.”

Increasing that representation is reliant upon organizations that give voice to and empower the Latino community. One of these organizations is the Latina Circle, a career network that champions and cultivates Latinas in leadership positions within industries of all kinds—politics, entrepreneurship, education, medicine—through mentorship and promotion.

Another is the Latino Victory Project, a political organization founded by actress Eva Longoria and businessman and activist Henry R. Muñoz III. The group empowers Latino presence in politics by supporting and electing Latino candidates running for office, mobilizing Latino voters in elections, and developing Latino investment into politics. A key subcomponent is the Latino Talent Initiative, which collaborated with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda to create a talent database to draw upon and promote potential candidates.

The two central topics of discussion were: What makes the current political climate so critical for Latinos, and how can we improve Latino political representation? “The political landscape is frustrating,” says Latina Circle CEO and founder Betty Francisco. “The question is, how do we use our collective voices to assert influence?”

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César Blanco (above left), state representative for Texas House District 76 and Latino Victory Project interim director, breaks down the determinants that make the Latino vote so powerful. “The presidential nominee needs 46 percent of the Latino vote,” he says. “After the Mitt Romney loss and subsequent campaign autopsy in 2012, we know that Latinos are the path to victory. That’s why there’s so much invested in Latino outreach in battleground states—Nevada, Colorado, Arizona. Pretty small states. The thing is, we need outreach everywhere, and at the smaller levels of government as well.”

Despite being such a large segment of the population, Latinos are currently grossly underrepresented in federal, state and local government. For example, only 28 of the 535 congressmen are Latino. On the state legislature scale, the National Conference of State Legislature reports that only 4 percent of state legislature seats belong to Latinos. The disparities are perhaps most glaring on the local scale, where Latino representation is lacking not only for elected representatives, but for government-appointed positions—cabinets, heads of departments, boards and commissions. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, co-founder of the Greater Boston Latino Network, breaks down the depressing findings of the “Silent Crisis” research study commissioned by the GBLN in 2014. “It found that despite approximately 20 percent of Boston’s residents being Latino, the amount of executive positions appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh to Latinos was a mere 7 percent. Similarly, the heavily Latino city of Chelsea, Mass., has only 10 percent of Latino elected representatives, despite being 62 percent Latino.”

This representation deficit at the local level is arguably the most damaging. Both elected representatives and appointed officials wield significant power. As Calderón-Rosado points out, these are the people making critical decisions on policy and budgets that affect the day-to-day lives of their constituents. “If Latinos don’t have adequate representation, people in their own communities fighting for their interests, they’re not going to see equality in terms of policies that affect them,” she says.

This frustration with the lack of representation is what pushed Blanco to run for state representative in the first place. “Often the state governments aren’t providing what they’re promising. I watched Texas spend a billion dollars on border security. What if that money was invested toward education? I just felt there was poor representation of Latino interests, and no investment into our community.”

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Current Latino and Latina representatives understand firsthand the inherent challenges facing them. Massachusetts Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Suffolk’s Second District, shares her own difficulties of getting her foot in the door of state legislation. “My first run, I remember people telling me, ‘Oh, we’re not with you this time, but you should run again.’” Not to mention the skewed voter perception. “What makes the campaign trail so stressful is that you only get two minutes of voters’ attention, max, and so much of their judgment is based on appearance. There’s lots of, ‘Oh, well, I don’t know, you don’t look senatorial.’”

Another crucial reason we need better Latino representation: As Blanco points out, Latino millennials are one of the largest growing electorate demographics. “Every year, 800,000 Latinos become eligible to vote. Those are so many voices that need to be heard.”

Interestingly, more millennials are considering running for office than ever. Chelsea City Councillor Judith Garcia describes her experience. “I was 23 when I decided to run for City Council. I had never been interested in being an elected official, but after returning to my home community of Chelsea, I felt that I was needed.” As a member of not only the Latina community but the ever-growing millennial generation, Garcia’s representation is imperative. “Millennials are not only an incredibly strong economic force, they’re the new generation of leaders who should be at the table,” she says. “New politics should be representative of people. We need to spur those conversations.”

What are some methods of increasing Latino representation? Calderón-Rosado points to the solutions prescribed by the GBLN study. “First, name it. Give it a statement,” she says.

“Drawing attention to the problem—underrepresentation—is the first step to change,” she says. Second, consider a formal strategy for Latino recruitment into these positions. Third, draw the support of people already in the pipeline to grow in power, for example, supporting Latino members of Mayor Walsh’s administration to thrive and move up the ladder. The GBLN has been working with Walsh on improving these numbers, not only within his cabinet but in the rest of Boston’s municipal officials. Lastly, the building of coalitions with other groups of color is immensely important.

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Chang-Diaz points to the work of the Black and Latino Caucus in the Massachusetts legislature. “We currently have 10 members, and while that’s not enough to really break down the door, we’ve been able to make some important strides.” One of these crucial strides has been tackling police violence targeting minority communities. “People become numb to the steady drumbeat of police violence,” Chang-Diaz says. “The Black and Latino Caucus proposes reform bills and keeps pressure on the governor, the House speaker, the rest of the state legislature. We call them out, saying, ‘Hey, you haven’t moved this bill forward and you need to.’ It’s not enough to just be sympathetic and talk about these shootings, we need the legislation.”

Garcia underscores the importance of connecting with voters on a personal level. “When I was running for City Council, the way I garnered support was first to ‘doorknock,’ to  go around my community and listen to people’s needs. Then, I ran on those issues. I made them my message.” It’s important to maintain perspective with elections. “This isn’t Latin America, where voting is mandatory,” she says. “Voting here is emotional. People are only going to vote for you if they really care, if they’re interested in you. Otherwise they’re going to stay home.”

What’s even more critical, Garcia emphasizes, is the encouragement of youth in politics. “Teaching and instilling in little kids that they can run for office, that they can succeed there, is how we can affect change.” Agrees Blanco, “Latinos are inspired when they see fellow Latinos on ballots and in legislature.”

Blanco stresses the importance of taking initiative and being assertive. “As Latinos, we work against the machine,” he says. “You have to take power. No one’s going to give it to you. When I was running for state rep, I didn’t have labor money, I didn’t have SuperPAC money. I couldn’t be shy about asking. I went out and said, ‘I need money.’ ”

Blanco emphasizes the importance of, above all, passion. “I hit a point where I was frustrated with my state and the lack of community investment. If you care about changing your community, everything else will come. Passion and drive are everything.”

WeBOS shines the spotlight on female founder growth

By SHELAGH BRALEY

BOSTON—When women help other women, you get success on par with this week’s second annual WeBOS Week.

Women exemplifying Boston’s entrepreneurial spirit turned out to develop their skills and connect with seasoned experts at programming held all over the city. WeBOS (Women Entrepreneurs Boston) is a city-run program led by Kara Miller that provides training and networking in support of economic growth from the nearly 20,000 women-run businesses that have proliferated here.

High-profile speaker events, skill-building workshops, round-table discussions and networking opportunities all materialized, at the direction of the women who have been behind the scenes, driving the growth and recognition of this ecosystem.

Bobbie Carlton, PR expert and founder of Innovation Women, says based on positive reception from the inaugural WeBOS Week, “shining a spotlight on the great women-led companies and initiatives in Boston,” she couldn’t wait to get involved again.

“We’re very much focused on driving visibility—women are doing great things, running great companies—sometimes we just don’t see it,” Carlton says. “We want women to recognize that their visibility brings even more opportunity—customers, partners and investments.”

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Women make up more than half of Boston’s residents, yet only $1 of every $23 in conventional bank loans and less than 3 percent of venture capital funding is distributed to women-owned businesses, according to city reports. That’s a cold reality for the female founders pumping more than $7.6 billion into the local economy. These businesses also provide more than $208 million in tax revenue, according to city of Boston data.

By partnering with such groups as Boston Business Women, Innovation Women, SheStarts, Women In MassChallenge, BREAD, the Babson WIN Lab and more, Mayor Walsh’s office supports growth in funding, scaling and networking, the three priorities identified for the weeklong program.

“It’s really important to get involved in programming that supports women entrepreneurs because if one succeeds, then we all succeed,” says Meaghan Corson, founder of Flash22 Productions. “Most women tend to shy away from sharing their success. I know I’m still learning to get better about sharing the value I have to offer people. We need to encourage women to brag a little more because we do have a lot to offer and if we don’t share it, then no one will know about it.”

After attending Wednesday’s event hosted at ImpactHub Boston, she says having this supportive community focused on women in business will make it that much easier for everyone to own their successes and be proud to share what they’re working on.

“I made some great connections that I believe will develop into relationships where we refer business to each other,” says Corson. “I loved sharing what I’ve learned thus far and hearing other women’s experiences speaking. It’s great to know that people are on the same journey as you and still trying to grow themselves. The biggest thing for me was getting confirmation that I’m heading in the right direction.”

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The “Own It” panel, moderated by Innovation Women’s Carlton, revealed the intricacies of speaking as a means for amplifying expertise and accelerating growth. Experts Ann Brainard, founder of MOJO cold-brewed coffee; Jenny Mirken, founder of Jet.me, an ad-free, secure chat platform for children younger than 13; and Samantha Stone, author of Unleash Possible: A Marketing Playbook That Drives Sales, walked the audience through their most practical tips and shared their own moments of uncertainty as they’ve scaled their businesses.

“We focused more on leveraging and capitalizing on speaking engagements,” Carlton says. “Women get such a small share of the funding pie because they are just not visible. We get on stage and we have instant credibility and expert status.”

“We had such good response from the attendees,” Carlton says. “The “Get It” and “Work It” panels did more to cater to those just getting started. So many felt they got good starting-out pointers. Many wanted to know what topics to talk about and there was a good discussion about brainstorming on those topics and finding what you are passionate about.”

The “Get It” panel included moderator and Innovation Women co-founder Betsy Dupre;   Maura Kolkmeyer, founder of Sitterly; Angela Lussier, from Speaking School for Women; and Linda Plano, coach and principal with Plano & Simple.

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The “Work It” panel included moderator  Colleen Bradley-MacArthur from Carlton PR & MarketingAmanda Hennessey from Boston Public Speaking; Catherine Storing, founder of Styling Faith; and Rita B. Allen, author of Personal Branding and Marketing Yourself as well as president of national career management firm Rita B. Allen Associates.

Corson says she found a diverse group of women from all backgrounds and experience levels in attendance—all with the singular goal of growing their businesses. “Boston is full of motivated people and gives a great environment for entrepreneurship,” she says. “We are all coming from a place of support and giving to each other.”

That sense of giving creates a bridge across age, culture—even language barriers—to unite female founders in tech, nonprofit, service-providing and consumer sectors, all in the name of parity, to take positions of leadership across the city.

“We want a larger group of women to … think about how they can contribute to events and conferences from the front of the room,” Carlton says. “No more all-male, all-pale panels.”