Raising money is humbling, draining and can pull time away from you growing your startup. There is much more I could say, but will leave with this, stay resilient. Your breakthrough is on the other side of setbacks, disappointments and maybe even fear. - Sevetri Wilson
Afrotech. The 3rd annual convening of over 3500 of the best black entrepreneurial, engineering and venture talent descended upon the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to support a movement that snarks in the face of the tech “pipeline problem.” I wrote about my experience last year around this time and it was amazing to see the level of growth and expansion at the conference this year. The folks over at Blavity, who just raised a $6.5M Series A led by GV, are a directed media company committed to providing an outlet for the black millennial voice and amplifying it for the world to hear. Afro Tech is digital to real-world manifestation of that.
Needless to say, I was absolutely honored to be asked to conduct a fireside chat with the amazing founder of Exempt Me Now, Sevetri Wilson, on the Startup Stage. The focus of the talk was entrepreneurship and raising venture capital at the seed stage. Perfect! Sevetri, a native of Louisiana and LSU grad (Roll Tide!), started her first professional services company at the age of 22. I made a very real a joke about still putting my shirts on backward when I was 22. I was a mess, but Sevetri was focused. And in a world of white faces that aren’t used to a black woman entrepreneur, she had to be. She mentions how difficult it was to raise money. Connections and warm intro were hard to come by as Louisiana is a far hop from Silicon Valley. Still, she was committed and in her own words “demanded a seat at the table.”
By the time she caught the entrepreneurial bug again, she was ready. Sevetri’s second and current company, Exempt Me Now, is a “Turbo Tax for nonprofits.” The platform helps manage the creation and compliance of nonprofit entities and has raised over $2M in venture capital— more than any other woman of color in Louisiana. Now that is something to clap for. She walked us through, step-by-step, how her investors introduced her to others, how she thought about dividing her time between building and fundraising, and what her plans are for the next 6 months of growth
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve grabbed Sevetri’s notes of her key points from the talk. Enjoy!
1. Who you know is critical. Not knowing really anyone in the VC space I had to network and get introductions which wasn’t the easiest being based outside of the Bay Area/NY. With the exception of a few investors who reached out to me, I was directly introduced to my investors by someone they respected or trusted.
2. When you’re a black woman there is no playbook or blueprint. There are certain things that you can do to be prepared to raise capital, but let’s be 💯 as a black woman raising capital you’re starting down several points from the start.
3. Yea, you might get your dream investor but in reality the people you thought would support you won’t, and the people who do might surprise you. Just know some people are for what you are for, but are not for you.
4. I learned how to be even more resilient than I already was. I build things. That’s what I do, that’s what I’m good at and have spent the last 10 years doing. But my degrees, the fact I had built a profitable company prior and had helped others do the same really didn’t matter.
You can follow Sevetri on Instagram at @SevetriWilson
AND check out Blavity and the amazing work they do @ www.blavity.com