Nnena Ukuku, Black Founders: Diversity is Not Just About Gender & Race

Video interview with Nnena Ukuku, CoFounder Black Founders

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Nnena Ukuku is one of 4 CoFounders of Black Founders.  Black Founders exists to equip and connect African American Technology Entrepreneurs.  BF started at the end of March 2011 and has gained a following across the nation. The Founders of Black Founders are Monique Woodward, Chris Bennett, Hadiyah Mujhad and Nnena Ukuku. Nnena Ukuku is a local attorney who works with early stage start up companies. She is passionate about her clients and also seeing entrepreneurs thrive.  You can find Nnena on Twitter @nukuku & Black Founders @blackfounders

Transcript follows & video above

  • I believe you are a cofounder of the Black Founders?

I am.  I am one of 4 CoFounders for Black Founders.

Fantastic.  Could you tell me a bit about the organization & why it was formed?

Black Founders exists to equip & connect black entrepreneurs.  What a lot of us found was that when we went to different parties or different organizations, we would look around & we didn’t see anyone who looked like us. We would meet somebody who was black & involved in technology & we’d ask do you know this person? Do you know that person? We slowly started realizing that there was a lack of connection between the different black entrepreneurs that are here in San Francisco. What that can sometimes do, it can sort of creates a bit of (not just disconnect) but that people become a little less sure that perhaps they can succeed in Silicon Valley?  Or is there anyone else out there that looks like me? Is there any sort of support for me?  Based on a lot of our interactions we decided to form Black Founders because we not only wanted to connect black entrepreneurs with each other.  But we also wanted to equip them so that they could create successful businesses that thrived.  We didn’t want to just increase the number of black technology companies.  That’s of no use.  But black technology companies that are solid, that are strong & add benefit to society that’s what we wanted to create.

  • So making them much more functional & supported?  That’s brilliant, isn’t it.  And could you tell me, obviously my interest is toward investment & venture & I have noticed that there’s only one or two that I know of anyway of black venture capitalists or angels.  So I just wondered are you linked to the investment community in any way?  Are there any investors that are supporting your organization?

Actually there are a few investors that are supporting our organization. One of them is Charles Hudson A wonderful, wonderful man.  He is a fabulous man.  We met with him one early morning before he decided to head off to work.  He just sat us down & talked about well here are the connectors in Silicon Valley.  Here are the other people of color who are also venture capitalists who you might not be aware of, things of that nature.  What we’ve also found is that there are some older venture capitalists who are not located in San Francisco but are located in Southern California & some people on the East Coast. We’ve had some of them express a little bit of interest & try to connect with us as well too.

  • So would part of your remit be in supporting black founders in getting invested?

Yes supporting black founders in getting invested & supporting black entrepreneurs who maybe want to basically start more speaking engagements.  We view the black entrepreneur not just as someone who is actually starting a company but we want to provide a support to where people can even get to a point where they are an angel that are highly sought for some of the different competitions that are going on around town.  It’s not enough to just have a company unfortunately in this space.  We need more faces everywhere.

Yes exactly, I found the same thing with women.

Exactly the exact same thing with women!  Where are the women that understand the value that a woman brings to a company?

So really you need to increase the number of women entrepreneurs but you also need to increase the numbers of women venture capitalists & angels.

Exactly, exactly.  And what they do is they help to provide perspective for some of the other companies that they might invest in that they might not have had otherwise.  So later on this year we’re going to have a speaking event where we want to have a panel of people that are diverse.  But diversity is not just race or gender. We also want to have people who are maybe an older white male that has a family that is also in a startup.

Or an older white female?

Or an older white female. Exactly, do you want to be on the panel? We can talk about that. What we want to focus is not the idea of diversity for diversitys sake. Are you losing profits because you have a narrow vision of the world.  That’s the benefit that a female vc & a female entrepreneur or a black or fill in the blank person has. They get a broader picture of what’s out there.

  • I so support your cause, it’s fantastic. I think that I did mention that every vcs office I’ve gone into, the only women that I see are the ones on the admin side of things.  And I never see black men or black women unfortunately. So your cause is great & I just think that this is really going to bridge the connections for everyone so that people are aware of the potential in the black community along with the female community.

Absolutely agree.

  • Wonderful stuff!  Would you have any advice for a black founder, a black female founder who is thinking of jumping in & swimming in the entrepreneurial sea/ocean?

It is very hard to succeed on your own. So my biggest piece of advice for a black female entrepreneur is 1) get plugged into the community.  Meet women, meet people who look like you. Meet people who do not look like you. But start connecting with the community because those people will be able to make introductions for you later on as your product grows. Those are the people that will invest in your product because they believe in you. And those are the people that will pick you up when you have the really low days & you will wonder will your product actually find a market. If you want to be able to avoid some of those pitfalls you need to become connected with the community.

So building community & gaining support from that?

Gaining support because that community can not only give you education but they can also carry you when you need it.

  • Great & I would imagine that you would have some great services?  They should plug into you obviously, your organization?

Yes definitely plug into Black Founders.

  • Do you have meetups or anything like that?

We do, we do, we have meetups We have some that are purely social so that people can connect with each other: happy hours.  We’re going to have a couple of parties later on this summer, things of that nature. But then we have other programs where we want to equip you. So we’re starting to work on what we call Founder Labs or Founder Talks which allows you as a founder to start working on your speaking skills.  And to start working on how to pitch & not only working on how to pitch, but say someone picks up the phone & they want us to connect them with someone who is maybe knowledgeable in a subject? Now we can refer you & you’ve had the experience of speaking. We also have a couple of other events that will also protect you in dealing with some of your legal matters & also help you as far as learning how to strengthen your coding skills things of that nature. We want to make sure that you’re a strong entrepreneur overall.

Fabulous & also at the meetups you meet some fabulous people I would imagine?


Yes you definitely meet fabulous people. Of course you know you will!

Thank you so much for your time today & I’m looking forward to participating in some of the events.

You’ll be on our panel.

Definitely, I’ll be the older white female!

There you go!

Written by
Pemo Theodore

Pemo Theodore is a Media Publisher and a great people connector. She was Founder Silicon Valley TV which served the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years! She has produced Silicon Valley Events for Investors & Startups for 10 years. Pemo loves to video interview venture capitalists & founders to engage the human behind the success stories.. She has been Executive Producer of FinTech Silicon Valley for 6 years, organizing twice monthly FinTech talks & panels in San Francisco & Palo Alto and audio podcasts. She believes in learning through a great discussion with experts in the domains. Pemo has a talent to bring the right people together and is an incredible networker. Pemo's events have been seen as supporting Venture Capitalists & Angels in sourcing great deal flow from startups who attend her events. Many founders have received funding through meeting investors at her events. Her favored medium is audio & visual media and she has built up a great body of work of videos of panels & interviews and podcasts in Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. She has lived & worked in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, London, Northern Ireland & Silicon Valley. Bio https://pemo.one

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Written by Pemo Theodore