Meet the Startup Founders Overcoming Adversity

Meet the Startup Founders Overcoming Adversity

Sep 21st 2021

The last year has been hard for so many—and for business owners, the challenges have been both personal and professional. We’re no strangers to the obstacles that startup businesses face, which is part of why we’re so committed to making sure other founders get a leg up, too!

This year, we donated $10,000 to Startout, an organization dedicated to increasing the number, diversity, and impact of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. Startout also focuses on amplifying their stories to drive economic empowerment. We loved working with Startout and we wondered: What advice would some of their members offer to other budding entrepreneurs in our community?

Below, we chat with three Startout members about the many challenges of being LGBTQ+ founders, BIPOC founders, and female founders. Whether you're launching your own startup business or simply want to find out how you can support diverse small businesses in your area, we hope you’ll read their stories!

Meet the female founders overcoming adversity

Cindy Lamar, Founder, Magneto Consulting

Lora DiCarlo: Can you explain what inspired you to start a business? When did you know you wanted to found your current company?

Cindy: Two things inspired my desire to start a business. One: Before my mother was born my grandfather had opened a tea shop in Virginia. Eventually, he closed the business and worked as a longshoreman, but his story sparked my interest in entrepreneurship. Two: After becoming a certified coach, I wanted to bring coaching into the organization I was working for, but I couldn’t get buy-in for the program. So, when I left the company a few years later, I decided to launch a coaching and consulting business.

LD: What were some of the challenges you faced as a founder? Being an underrepresented founder, were things harder?

Cindy: As a beginning founder you are building everything from scratch, largely alone. I felt isolated and missed the community that you get from having teammates. Being "underrepresented" means you work harder to see yourself as a founder because the media has portrayed start-up founders in a particular way: male, straight, jean-and-tee shirt wearing handsome nerd.

Your vision of what is possible for you and your business must be extra potent! There are more and more examples of female, BIPOC, and LGBTQ founders—but the representation in mainstream media and entertainment lags behind this new reality.

LD: What do you wish you had known about getting funding or starting a new business in the beginning?

Cindy: I still have much to learn about funding. I wish I had been more intentional and disciplined about nurturing the connections I've made. It's not too late, but I've lost touch with some cool people I met at the beginning.

Tracy Candido, Founder, Peer Pressure

Lora DiCarlo: Can you explain what inspired you to start a business? When did you know you wanted to found your current company?

Tracy: I've been "entrepreneurial" my entire life. But I didn't start my company until 2021, partly out of necessity (I was laid off from my job in 2020), and partly from finally feeling ready.

My company delivers peer coaching programs to companies. More importantly, we give employees the support they need to reconnect to their purpose, make an impact at work, feel less alone, and manage their well-being. I have been an eager employee for as long as I can remember, but I was ahead of the pack and often felt unsatisfied with the company culture.

My background is in building community experiences and peer learning programs, which is what I think everyone could benefit from right now.

LD: What were some of the challenges you faced as a founder? Being an underrepresented founder, were things harder?

Tracy: Even though I'm naturally "entrepreneurial" I'm not naturally business-minded. I'm community-minded and know how to create meaningful experiences for folks. I can package ideas that are attractive to people. So I had a lot to learn—and I'm still learning.

I try to join communities or courses that are going to be engaging and interactive. However, I'm often the only non-binary founder or queer person, and I get misgendered a lot or people use language that is not inclusive. It can be painful. I have to do a lot of translating. Often I just take what I need from the experience and leave the rest.

LD: What do you wish you had known about getting funding or starting a new business in the beginning?

Tracy: That everyone is just making it up as they go along.

You get better as time goes by and you learn the style that works for you. You follow your instincts. Each stage is different and requires learning and experiencing new things. And it requires a supportive community.

Jessica Bussert, Founder, Wave Therapeutics

Lora DiCarlo: Can you explain what inspired you to start a business? When did you know you wanted to found your current company?

Jessica: I've been an entrepreneur since I was 15. That was during the early days of personal computers and I would go door-to-door to local small businesses and offer my services. I later started a formal IT consulting company. I eventually sold that business and took a job with a Fortune 100 company. I lost that job and my entire tech career some years later when I came out as transgender.

After moving back to the US, I spent a few years working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. I was working in a small town ER when a disabled vet came into my unit, septic and near death due to the worst bed sores I had ever seen. That chance meeting motivated me to use my tech skills and healthcare knowledge to come up with a better solution to the problem that would be affordable to anyone who needed it. Wave Therapeutics was born from that experience.

LD: What were some of the challenges you faced as a founder? Being an underrepresented founder, were things harder?

Jessica: When the world saw me as a straight white male business leader in the tech industry I could do no wrong. Doors were opened for me at every turn and I was blessed with an abundance of opportunities.

I lost all that when I came out as transgender. I sometimes joke that I fell through the glass ceiling when I transitioned! Even though I had exactly the same skills and abilities I couldn't get a job in tech to save my life. Even today, walking into a meeting with 99% of all venture capitalists just seems like a waste of time. Most of those folks just take one look at me and then disregard anything I have to say.

Were things harder after I came out as trans? Oh hell yes, they were harder.

LD: What kinds of funding did you receive, if any?

Jessica: I started Wave Therapeutics with the last of my personal savings. Later we raised a $500k pre-seed round from a single angel investor who comes from an underrepresented population himself. I don't believe that was a coincidence.

Wave is currently raising a $2M seed round. We're still seeking our lead investor. Because this process has been such a difficult journey, we are now seriously considering launching an equity crowdfunding campaign and forgoing conventional venture capital funding.

All three founders said they found Startout’s community very helpful and mentioned the need for founders to find like-minded, welcoming spaces for success. We can’t say how much we agree.

If you’re thinking of starting a business, get out there! Everyone deserves to follow their passions regardless of age, gender, orientation, disability status or any other challenge we might face. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.