Tanya Morris’ organization for women founders is called Mom Your Business (MYB) — that is, nurture it, help it grow, but always challenge it to be better. It’s how she approaches her business coaching and mentorship work, too.
With her 2017-founded MYB, the North Philadelphia native — who is, yes, a mom herself — is creating a community for woman founders to thrive. An alumna of DC-based Black Girl Ventures, Morris is also one of the local founders of that business-boosting, pitch competition-driven nonprofit’s recently launched Philly chapter. And she’s a founder-in-residence of University City Science Center’s OnRamp program connecting aspiring entrepreneurs with bizdev programming.
This year, she added another title by launching Founders to Funders, an accelerator for early-stage companies that connects Black and brown women entrepreneurs to funding resources such as CDFIs, angel investors, crowdfunding and pitch competitions — intentionally, not just VC. Of the first cohort, founders have collectively raised $30,000, according to Morris.
There’s a through line in these recent experiences: expanding access to capital. During an OnRamp kickoff in February 2020, “I was listening to women in the room [and] already knew Black women founders were the fastest-growing and least-funded group,” she told Technical.ly.
Morris believed creating an accelerator could solve that problem and reached out to Black Girl Ventures founder Shelly Bell for perspective. Bell was supportive and asked her a guiding question, Morris remembers: Where do you want to accelerate the founders to? Where are you helping them go?
By focusing her accelerator on access to capital, she thought, Black women wouldn’t be stuck bootstrapping businesses and instead could grow their companies to be worthy of investment — especially important given that a tiny percentage of venture capital goes to Black women founders. With a growth plan and strategy, those women could become job creators, too.
“I have talked to friends that have become entrepreneurs, and everybody is not going to be Rihanna or a unicorn, or a million-dollar or billion-dollar company,” Morris said. “But if success for me is to leave my full-time job to run my business permanently, or to have my business be solvent and work everyday?” That’s success, she thinks.
Morris’ long-term goal is to create a fund of non-dilutive capital and low-interest business loans for woman entrepreneurs of color that would foster a funnel of new businesses. She also plans to launch pop-up programs, a speed mentoring program and a think tank. While she supports the pursuit of venture capital for founders who consider that their best financial option, she is cautious when discussing the strategy.
“If they want to go to a VC, we’ll support them in navigating those relationships,” she said. “We are a venture catalyst. In a lot of ways, we have romanticized the VC world and made it sound so great, getting the seed funding and raising the Series A only to end up losing 10, 20 or 30%” of equity to an investor, she said. It happens on “Shark Tank” all the time. In those cases, “you’re slowly losing control of your company.”
With more woman business owners, Morris believes Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will grow to include more Black-owned businesses and decrease the city’s high poverty rate in turn. During the pandemic, Black-owned businesses closed at a faster rate than white-owned businesses, and many are still struggling.
“That is startling and these businesses need the support to begin, get propped up, become solvent and continue to grow,” Morris said. “We took time to really invest a part of our curriculum in self care. [The majority] of Black women are heads of household and are the breadwinner. We wanted to ensure strategies to ensure that people could find community.”
With a mom’s touch, these small businesses could have a better chance to thrive.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-