Newark-based digitalundivided, a social startup that mentors and runs an incubator program for black and Latinx female entrepreneurs, is supporting those entrepreneurs through the COVID-19 financial crisis, according to Kathryn Finney, its founder.
The company, which is a 501(c)(3) organization, announced two initiatives to help female founders of color. NJTechWeekly.com covered the company’s most recent cohort in a two-part series, which appeared in ROI-NJ’s April 27 and May 11 issues.
Finney, who recently stepped down as the organization’s CEO, and her team explained how the initiatives work.
The BIG Alumni Emergency Fund
The first initiative, the BIG Alumni Emergency Fund, is aimed at helping digitalundivided’s alumni by providing a $1,000 grant to those who meet certain criteria.
Female founders with companies currently in operation, who work full-time on their ventures and who have graduated from digitalundivided’s incubator, were eligible to apply. After just two days, the organization awarded nearly 30% of its alumni pool with funding for their ventures, according to a release.
“At digitalundivided, the success of our alumni community is extremely important to catalyzing economic growth in the communities we serve,” said Jasmine Edwards, digitalundivided’s program manager and a BIG Alumni recipient.
Carolyn Pitt, founder and CEO of Film Connx, in Atlanta, is another alumna who has benefited from the grant program.
“The (digitalundivided) network has helped (me) maintain the sense of community, resources, support and advocacy that are absolutely critical during this unprecedented time — particularly for underrepresented founders,” she said.
The Doonie Fund
Another initiative, called the “Doonie Fund,” after Finney’s grandmother, aids black women entrepreneurs impacted by COVID-19 by providing them with an immediate payment of $100. The Doonie Fund was inspired by Finney’s grandmother, Kathryn “Doonie” Hale, who was both a thriving local entrepreneur and a single mother.
Finney provided the backing for the Doonie Fund when the pandemic struck, but, since then, it has been supplemented by additional donors, including Pivotal Ventures; the Surdna Foundation; UBS; Barbara Clarke and the company she co-founded, The Impact Seat; Microsoft; and the Awesome Foundation; as well as individual donors. Since its inception April 5, the fund has invested in over 500 black women entrepreneurs, a spokesman said.
We asked Finney how far the $100 would go, and she answered: “We acknowledge that $100 might look like a small amount of money for many people, especially if you are in a privileged socioeconomic position. However, it’s a frictionless $100, and we give it quickly.”
She added: “We don’t tell the entrepreneurs how to spend their money, because we believe that black women, and all women, know what’s best to do with their money, and know how to best support themselves and their businesses.
“We’ve seen entrepreneurs who were able to, with the Doonie Fund microinvestment, pivot their businesses to adapt to these challenging times. Some used it to gain new customers and increase revenue, and others simply needed it to buy groceries or pay for utility bills to sustain their livelihood, so that they can focus on pivoting their businesses during this time.”
She said the belief was even more important than the money: “We also found was that, along with the $100, this idea of us saying: ‘We want you to stay in business, and we believe in you. We see you. We see the work that you’re doing, and we understand the challenges of building a company, especially right now. We’re giving you this as a symbol of support,’ (was revolutionary).”