It all started with my mother, Thelma Bataille, who spent 30 years in Silicon Valley. To me, she was one of those Hidden Figures. I grew up seeing women working in technology, science and computers. They were the women in our kitchen, chatting, laughing and complaining about things at work. Over the years, I have heard the stories of innovative black women in technology.
How did you start dealing with finance?
After graduating from university at the University of Michigan and spending time in Israel and Singapore, I moved to Wall Street. I wanted to get into the game and be a part of that world.
I was at work in my office [at JPMorgan Chase & Company] when I got the news that I had cancer, and I thought, “I can’t die in this chair and this desk without really having an influence like my predecessors and these women like my mother.”
After overcoming my fear of death, I gained this courage to live. And at that moment, I became brave and fearless to become a champion for the women I knew – women who looked like me.
You have worked in mergers and acquisitions at JPMorgan. How useful was that?
So many investments are not only choosing companies and doing the proper scrutiny, but also helping them build so that we can secure revenue and return the capital to investors.
I am now a middle-aged black woman and have achieved a lot in my career. I am now at an age where I can authentically give this to startups.
Where are things now?
I do not live in fear of where my next salary comes from, how my mortgage will be paid. I am at a time in my life when I can take everything I have done and direct it to those I believe are worth investing in. It became my why.
My sisterhood and I don’t always have a place at the table and we’re not always invited into the room, but I was really comfortable being a partygoer.
And just a little secret … the party is always better when we show up with my sister.
What is the economic background that stimulates the demand for venture capital by women color founders, and what can be done to improve it?
The basics have not changed: People love winners. Markets love winners. The money follows the winners.
People need to put money where their mouth is. What is happening these days is that there are too many press releases from people and large corporations proclaiming their financial commitment to black business or racial capital, but the dollars are portrayed as marketing, sponsorship dollars, or loans.
We need more scrutiny of black companies and the new black venture capitalists who invest in blacks run by women, different companies, and fewer headlines about people’s intentions.
What advice do you give to other women color entrepreneurs?
I always tell them to be brave, to be brave and to double their numbers. Whatever you want, double it. You have a choice, so look for investors who will work with you.
Be a crucial problem. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Build things that are great ideas that will change the way we work and the way we live and consume.
What was the biggest challenge of your career?
I get no every day. What’s worse is the silence or the pleasant “let’s keep in touch” and the pat on the head. These cut deeper than the nose. At least not, you know where you stand. My mother always said, “Go ask. No one has ever died from the word “no.”
And really, don’t tell my mother, but I stopped asking. Now I invite and invite only those who really receive it. Women and women of color are breaking it into the tech world, and too many people will fail to share our success.
What are your biggest prizes?
My biggest reward is the people who have been gathering around the fund since we started. I’m not alone in this. The fund is a network of allies and mentors. I like how we raised the money. JPMorgan contributed to the initial funding of the current WOCstar fund.
Two of our initial investors were Caucasian men who live in my New York neighborhood. It is reasonable to know that I can see them in the grocery store or in the gym and they have no shared experience like me or do not look like me, but believe me I will know the best investments of colorful people.
Finally, these are the conversations with the founders. This is mentoring. This is difficult love. From there I draw my joy and energy.
What else are you interested in?
I love movies and the media and I get more women and colorful people in the media.
For many years I was involved in building the next generation of diverse storytellers and directors. In the past, I have been on the advisory board of the Ghetto Film School, and I am still involved with them and the Bronx-based creative content house of its alumni, called Digital Bodega. And now, I’m very lucky to have creative sites like Southbox Entertainment, a film and TV studio that combines creativity and capital, and I work on the board of the Nantucket Project Academy, which is a community of change makers and powerful storytellers.
This conversation has been edited and shortened.