Finding Mentors…at the White House

RobertOpportunity is best shared through networking and being open to the ideas of others. It is through this shared interest of delving into another person’s passions that ventures are created, ideas are pushed forward, and life experiences are discovered. My trip to the White House was conceived from that very notion, that, in being open to other people and experiences within the Black entrepreneurial community, allowed me to meet people like the former Vice President of the NASDAQ, the inventor of the “Super Soaker,” and an up and coming innovator straight out of TechStars attempting to replace Bluetooth technology with data-intelligent sound.

Attending the event was the culmination of a few relationships that formed the year before. Particularly, my co-founder, Julian Turley, took the initiative to network with other ambitious Black founders at Yale University’s Black Solidarity Conference in 2015. The Black Solidarity Conference at Yale seeks to bring undergraduates of all colors together to discuss issues pertaining to the African diaspora. Through discussions, panels, networking, and social gatherings, over 700 students from across the country analyze issues affecting our community and explore solutions to undertake at their respective college campuses. Julian is quite good at networking, as he is our CMO, so meeting people came quite easy to him. One of those people happened to be Amina Yamusah, the future founder of Bloc, a professional network connecting Black millennials to opportunities in innovation. She connected us to the CEO and founder of Student Dream, and my new mentor, Nena Ugwuomo, who has gotten her organization to the point at which it is routinely invited to the White House every year.

But enough about how the opportunity came to be. My experience at the White House was quite impressionable. There were many people that I had no business even speaking to given their accomplishments and status, and all that I could think about was, “I need to get these people to become my mentors!” The willingness to learn from others, particularly from those who share my own cultural struggles in the very non-diverse world of startups in America, was of great significance to me. My goal there was to find mentors, learn from them, present my challenges with Nomsy, and brainstorm better ways to develop a company – a Black owned company. The first thing that I did once passing through the multiple levels of Secret Service security, was listen in on who was also attending. Connecting your needs to who your mentors should be is very important, but also thinking about what you can do for them in return is of equal significance. For many of these individuals, there wasn’t much that I could do – at least not superficially (or materialistically), but I could invest my time in hearing their visions. People love when you listen to their vision of what they want in business and life in general, so it is always a good starting point when you have nothing.

As the program progressed, we were introduced to different sets of panelists leading an active discussion on how to approach different realms of being an entrepreneur. Such categories included fundraising, growth, building. and networking. The whole basis of the program was to be action-oriented. Each discussion was ended with a feasible solution that each person could take home the next day and work on, whether it was receiving a contact of a potential mentor/investor or creating an outline of a new idea. Of course, there was also a sense of entrepreneurial elitism in the room, but not too much (many of these leaders were quite humble, which, I believe, is the best form of success). Through these discussions, I became better acquainted with Nena, Noah (who was one of President Obama’s select mentees), David (the former VP of NASDAQ), and many more impact investors – all to hear their ideas, perspectives on certain realms of entrepreneurship and how to best become prepared, and how we can continue these relationships beyond the summit.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and it motivated Julian and I to return to the White House again on our own merit, and maybe even meet the President in the process.  Ultimately, our belief in Nomsy took us to an GAN accelerator, PowerMoves NOLA in New Orleans, and the White House – so it says a lot when you don’t give up, even if people don’t believe in your dream.

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