Founder Gym and Oakland Startup Network Partner to Give Four Female Founders A Crash Course in Venture Capital

Founder Gym is making a difference by teaching underrepresented founders how to raise venture capital.

Less than 10% of VC-backed startups are led by female founders, less than 2% are led by Black founders, and less than 1% are led by Latinx founders.

This is one reason why Oakland Startup Network (OSN) decided to re-up their support of Founder Gym’s mission by offering scholarships to four select founders based in Oakland and East Bay, California. (Read about the first FG x OSN partnership here).

OSN is housed at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, a go-to place for diverse entrepreneurs in Oakland. They aim to close the access gap and widen economic opportunity for entrepreneurs with diverse lived experiences who aim to make a positive impact on society.

Oakland Startup Network pioneered TechxOak, a two-day summit for East Bay innovators of color. Pictured from Left to Right: Aniyia Williams, Lili Gangas, Liane Dutton, Chris McLemore

Four women of color founders were awarded the OSN Scholarship for FG Cohort 3: The Fundraising Basics, giving them the opportunity to participate in our intense six-week training program, free of charge. From June 6th to July 13th, the scholarship recipients worked alongside 42 other underrepresented founders across 28 different cities in the U.S. They learned the secrets of fundraising from experienced trainers, comprised of Silicon Valley investors and venture-backed founders.

Here were the results of the scholarship recipients from FG Cohort 3:

  • 100% were women of color
  • 50% of their companies are in market
  • 50% of their companies are in private beta
  • 100% graduated from the cohort (FG has strict graduation requirements, including 100% participation and the completion of key deliverables)
  • 100% said they would recommend FG to other founders

Rebecca Story

  • Company: The Bloomi, the first e-marketplace for healthy intimate care products.
  • Founder Flex: I helped develop a sexual health product, Fiera, that helps increase arousal and was acquired in 2017.
  • Company Flex: Despite not being able to leverage mass digital and social marketing channels (sexual wellness companies are automatically blocked on most networks), we’ve driven organic growth with over 20k visitors to the site thanks to word of mouth sharing. In addition, we have also experienced an international market demand, seeing requests from women across 15+ countries asking when we will begin shipping to their country.
  • Biggest “aha” moment during FG Cohort: My biggest ‘aha moment’ was when our last guest speaker, Freada Kapor Klein, talked to us about being selective about who we take on as investors. She shared that as founders, we should be picky about WHO we want to invest in our company just as much as investors are picky about who they want to invest in.
  • Your best fundraising advice: Be as prepared as you can be before you start reaching out to people for money. You have to know your numbers and practice your pitch hundreds of times first.
  • Your advice to founders admitted into future FG Cohorts: Try your best to keep up with the assignments and ask for feedback from your peers.
  • Where were you when the idea for your company popped into your head? I was in a doctor’s office with my mom who was undergoing chemo. The oncologist was talking to her about using products with less harsh chemicals. I immediately thought about all the products I used at home, and how the ingredients were pretty awful, especially in my intimate care products. I was determined to detox my bath products that night and buy healthy items for me and my mom. Later that night, an episode of Shark Tank came on where two women were pitching the idea of a curated shopping site for hard-to-find products. I spent 3 hours that night looking for ‘clean’ intimate care products and only found a handful. I knew there was something there.
  • If you never had to work again, what would you be doing and why? I’d want to travel the world with my family for a few months and then come back and start a foundation that helps underserved girls become entrepreneurs. More women of color need to be elevated and given access to the resources that instill confidence at a younger age.
  • Favorite thing about Oakland: The diversity. I love experiencing diverse communities and ways of thinking. There is no place quite like Oakland.
  • Favorite spot to work in Oakland: Farley’s at Lake Merritt — it’s my favorite coffee and the breakfast food is delicious.
  • First thing you’re going to buy when your company sells or IPOs: A dream home for my parents. Then, my dream home :)
  • If only one sport existed on the planet which should it be and why? Swimming, it’s so healthy for us and easy on our joints. I would want heated pools. I hate cold pools!
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn and Twitter

By the way, are you following Founder Gym on Twitter?

Markita Staples

  • Company: Niblings, creating themed gift boxes for non-parents to seamlessly give to the kids in their lives.
  • Founder Flex: I went to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business on a full fellowship. I was one of the youngest people in my class. Only 23 years old.
  • Company Flex: We are still in private beta, but with the first 10 customers we’ve served, we’ve received amazing feedback and several preorders for when we launch.
  • Biggest “aha” moment during FG Cohort: The value of a co-founder. It’s a signal to investors that you and your business are strong enough that you have someone else on board.
  • Your best fundraising advice: Connect with the people in your cohort. I wish I did more of this. Make a copy of the directory, add a column, and jot down how you will connect with other cohort members. Then, go through and add everyone on Twitter and Linkedin.
  • Where were you when the idea for your company popped into your head? In my apartment, on Christmas Eve, thinking about how there’s no way I’m going to get gifts to my nieces in time for Christmas!
  • If you never had to work again, what would you be doing and why? Every year would be different! A year of travel, a year or two of performing my flute. A few years starting a brand new business and a year of being a full time mom. I love variety, so I would do it all.
  • Favorite thing about Oakland: I love the diversity. Whether you’re in Old Oakland, Lake Merritt, or a weekend event, so many different cultures are represented and everyone is having a great time.
  • Favorite spot to work in Oakland: In a Lyft during a long commute. My favorite life hack.
  • First thing you’re going to buy when your company sells or IPOs: A beach house in Jamaica.
  • If only one sport existed on the planet which should it be and why? Tennis. It’s such a mental game and an amazing display of athleticism. Plus, Serena Williams is the G.O.A.T. and one of the most inspiring people in the world.
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn and Twitter

Also, are you following Founder Gy on Instagram?

Vielka Hoy

  • Company: Bridge To College Inc, uses a web app to match students to colleges that will fund and graduate them on time while providing K-16 institutions with the data to ensure graduation.
  • Founder Flex: I’ve been a teacher for nearly 20 years. I also do some ed tech at Stanford.
  • Company Flex: We’ve been getting a steady stream of school districts to sign up since introducing the app to that specific market. In this first month we’ve worked with about ten school districts and community organizations.
  • Biggest “aha” moment during FG Cohort: That there is a critical difference between VC funding and angel investing. It forced me to think really far ahead about the monetization plan and new iterations of the product.
  • Where were you when the idea for your company popped into your head? I think I was in front of a classroom of high school students. They were complaining about something related to college. I started drawing graphs and equations on the board to explain admissions. Those eventually went on some paper napkins, then into Excel, and finally into an algorithm.
  • If you never had to work again, what would you be doing and why? Writing novels and drawing my comic strip. It’s so relaxing to me and I have the beginnings of so many. It would be nice to finish them.
  • Favorite thing about Oakland: People are making a genuine effort to embrace change while maintaining Oakland’s original character. It’s very dynamic and resilient.
  • Favorite spot to work in Oakland: I love the water or being outside so Tilden Park, Lake Merritt, even some of the beaches in Alameda.
  • First thing you’re going to buy when your company sells or IPOs: A vacation home.
  • If only one sport existed on the planet which should it be and why? I ran track and field and cross country in college, but I’m going to say soccer/football. Nothing gets you ready for other sports in the same way. And culturally, as a Central American, I have to say that, or softball.
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn and Twitter

Heli Prilliman

  • Company: Lacquerbar, a multi-location nail salon/bar and online nail beauty brand.
  • Founder Flex: I was an early employee at Fivestars, a Y Combinator backed startup with a customer retention marketing SaaS platform. I helped scale the company from 10 to +500 employees and from 15K users to over 50 million in the six years I was there.
  • Company Flex: From the day Lacquerbar opened, our calendar booked out — we have to turn away customers everyday because of demand. 40% of our clients become repeat visitors. Without any advertising and marketing spent. Lacquerbar’s success is purely from word-of-mouth and social media.
  • Biggest “aha” moment during FG Cohort: While I was in Founder Gym, another Bay Area based founder in the program reached out to meet up sometime to trade stories and experiences. Like me, she was a solo founder and woman of color with a beauty startup. I was so excited to meet up with her — being a founder is hard and I desperately needed more female friends who would understand the struggle. What I didn’t expect was the chain of events that followed us meeting up. Long story short, she connected me (and Lacquerbar) with a couple of her business school friends in VC, who then connected me with their VC friends and other angel investors, who then connected me with VC partners, and the web has continued growing from there. I would not have the fundraising traction that I have now without those connections. And it started with one meeting with a peer founder.
  • Your best fundraising advice: Prepare financially for the long haul. Expect fundraising to take 6 months or more.
  • Where were you when the idea for your company popped into your head? I got my nails done fairly often before I started Lacquerbar, and I continued getting more and more frustrated with every salon I would visit. I knew in my head what I wished existed, so I said to myself, “if no one else is gonna do it, then I’ll build it myself!”
  • If you never had to work again, what would you be doing and why? Ha! I would get so bored if I didn’t work. I would likely mentor and financially support underrepresented women via scholarships and angel investing, maybe write the book; I’ve always said I would, and keep doing nails for fun!
  • Favorite thing about Oakland: The people — it’s just so friendly and fun-loving! I love hearing rap and hip-hop music blasted from speakers.
  • Favorite spot to work in the EastBay: Cafe M in Berkeley — they have amazing brunch, coffee, and mimosas for those extra hard days!
  • First thing you’re going to buy when your company sells or IPOs: I’m going fix up and remodel the house I grew up in (my parent’s house) in Stephenville, Texas. Then, buy my mom a brand spankin’ new car, she’s always had to drive old/used ones!
  • If only one sport existed on the planet which should it be and why? Easy question. Football. Life isn’t worth living without college football, fandom, and tailgating in the south, more specifically at Texas A&M. #GigEmAggies #BTHOtu
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn and Twitter

Applications for Founder Gym Cohort 4 are now open!

Submit your application today to get a chance at learning how to fundraise like a boss.

  • Cohort Topic: Raising Venture Capital
  • Cohort Duration: September 17th — October 26th, 2018
  • Location: 100% virtual, so you can participate from anywhere in the world.
  • Live Virtual Programming: Weekdays at 5:00pm PST
  • Cohort Expert Trainers: Michael Seibel, CEO and Partner at Y Combinator, and Arlan Hamilton, Managing Partner at Backstage Capital
  • Learn More:
  • Application Deadline: August 29th at 11:59pm PST


This article was written in collaboration with Cristal Harris, Founder Gym’s Writing Associate

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Meet the Graduating Class of Founder Gym Cohort 3: Raising Venture Capital