Meet 5 LGBTQ+ People Showing Their Pride as Tech Startup Founders

Cristal S. Harris
Jul 8, 2018 · 12 min read

June was Pride Month and it was rainbows, flags, and parades everywhere! At Founder Gym, we want to shine a light on five LGBTQ+ founders in our community who are building businesses that honor their truth and leverage their unique differences as powerful strengths.

Sonya Fox, Founder of Vurde, Queer

FG: How has your identity as an LGBTQ+ person impacted your journey as a founder so far?

Sonya: In order to lead a company that resonates with our core mission, vision, and values that are anchored in intentional living practices, I must first reflect that as the Founder. I have done so by using my voice. My voice is an extension of the lens that I see the world and as part of the LGBTQ+ community, I find it imperative to reflect my truth and live authentically, whether it is being honest of my views on various socio-political topics or sharing more of who I am and what things have guided my journey into beginning Vurde.

FG: What about being LGBTQ+ makes you a stronger founder, and thus a more promising investment for Venture Capitalists?

Sonya: As Lena Waithe noted, the things that make us different are our superpowers. As a Black Queer Woman, I know first hand what it means to cultivate a level of self-confidence and inner strength within yourself despite many of the stereotypes mean to chip away at your sense of self-worth. Taking a nod from my former athlete days, the more obstacles you face on or off the court, the more it strengthens your mindset. In time you find that when faced with adversity you are less apt to back down and poised to charge ahead to win the battle or at least learn from it.

FG: What’s been the hardest part about being a founder?

Sonya: Staying the course and not feeling the need to play it safe. Going into new territory like entrepreneurship can be scary however, the reward of creating value to others and the community-at-large is worth the journey.

FG: Is there a network of other LGBTQ+ folks you create community with? If so, where can our readers find these communities?

Sonya: I founded Lorde Have Mercy Podcast (Launching this Fall) w/ 2 other black queer women creatives, coined in homage of fierce activist & womanist Audre Lorde. The idea for the podcast was birthed out of my desire to create space where the narratives of our community are expanded. Aside from developing our podcast, our weekly virtual meetings and impromptu “sista girl” check-ins have been an amazing resource of creating a community I value.

FG: What can other LGBTQ+ founders do to tap into that community or create their own?

Sonya: Get out, connect and take action all while being authentically you. You’ll be surprised at how much you may have in common with others to include finding those within the LGBTQ+ community. You never know until you shoot your shot. And if you can’t find it, as they say, build it.

FG: How has Founder Gym helped you as an LGBTQ+ founder?

Sonya: Founder Gym help further instill in all of the cohort members that we can utilize our differences to become stronger entrepreneurs to create businesses that leave a positive legacy in our communities. FG directly shows you that #IssaMindset. Their approach to teaching and providing relevant entrepreneurial tools has been nothing short of amazing. I am learning the full spectrum of tools & resources to create Vurde into the company I seek. Founder Gym’s focus on helping those from underrepresented communities navigate their road to building sustainable businesses is helping expand the narratives of those with a number of communities to include the LGBTQ+.

Nomzana Augustin, Founder of NISAPass, Lesbian

FG: What about being LGBTQ+ makes you a stronger Founder, and thus a more promising investment for Venture Capitalists?

Nomzana: I’ve had to overcome obstacles of judgement, discrimination, and exclusion, but persisted and persevered through these struggles to meet certain goals and grow through life. In the process, rejection I accepted that not everyone will believe in me has become easier to deal with. Only because I know there’s an answer and way somewhere. You just have to find it.

FG: What’s been the hardest part about being a founder?

Nomzana: Coming from underrepresented backgrounds and, therefore, realizing how inaccessible I am to capital, mentorship, a strong Bay Area connection.

FG: What’s the biggest area of growth you’ve personally experienced as a founder so far?

Nomzana: Dealing with rejection and knowing to never give up, no matter what. Where there’s a rejection, will later come a deal.

FG: What’s been the best part of being a founder?

Nomzana: Having ownership of a solution and challenging myself to constantly think innovatively in ways to fulfill our clients.

FG: Is there a network of other LGBTQ+ folks you create community with? If so, where can our readers find these communities?

Nomzana: Yes, just a small friend group.

FG: How did you celebrate pride month?

Nomzana: With family and friends in both DC and New York, a Group of us were part of the DC parade.

Ava Peptone , Co-Founder of Hosthome, Transgender Woman

FG: How has your identity as an LGBTQ+ person impacted your journey as a founder so far?

Ava: I draw curiosity and attention when people read me as transgender. My whiteness codes me as a safe trans woman, so I’m often asked about my community. In a negative sense, more conservative investors will call me the wrong pronoun and refer to me as a man regularly and the power dynamic does not allow for correction. I often have to withstand unintentionally, and sometimes intentional, erasure and belittling of my body and identity in an effort to connect with new partners. Emotional aftercare is crucially important.

FG: Do you believe your identity affects your ability to get funded? If yes, why?

Ava: 100%. I have to sort through what money is token money that may be better described as advertising for the investor’s profile and what is genuine interest/faith in our venture. It is an extra layer of discernment. As mentioned above, more conservative investors cannot see past my body and will make assumptions about my life and work without knowing me. The assumptions that I am a form of entertainer or personality, and truly not a woman are still displayed in the older generation; often populating the boards of various investment funds. In short, I am not taken seriously by some as a result of my body. Regardless of living through the very problem, I am working to solve.

FG: What about being LGBTQ+ makes you a stronger founder, and thus a more promising investment for Venture Capitalists?

Ava: Learning to survive the trauma of living in a gender assigned to you without your consent requires strong coping and mirroring skills. I have a deep sense of self-care and have learned to build resilient safety nets around me to survive the transition. Now those systems support me through the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. Also, when we are being inauthentic, we can chameleon the traits we see in others and mirror them back to encourage the other person to like us and feel safe around us. As a transgender woman, before transition the persona I lived through was a mirror of what a boy should be and how they should behave. It was constructed for survival. Now I use that level of consciousness to modulate how I am received in communicating with others.

FG: What’s been the best part of being a founder?

Ava: Autonomy. I work for myself and can be as focused or scattered as I prefer at the moment. Additionally, I can work from anywhere in the world.

FG: Is there a network of other LGBTQ+ folks you create community with? If so, where can our readers find these communities?

Ava: I direct the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and we have a large local network. Beyond that, I’ve learned much from innovative peers in the LGBTQ+ space and the social justice space. I find family in independent bookstores, cooperatively owned cafes, and underground queer dance parties and balls.

FG: What can other LGBTQ+ founders do to tap into that community or create their own?

Ava: Find your people offline. We exist and in offline relationships, you will learn how to engage people who do not support your identity and still connect with them. This skill is crucial in the startup space.

FG: How has Founder Gym helped you as an LGBTQ+ founder?

Ava: I learned from other identity-based ventures on how to articulate the value of cultural identity purchasing to investors. Using differences as strengths internally is intuitive, but externalizing these aspects through your venture is more challenging. Almost every venture was an example of this in Founder Gym.

FG: How did you celebrate pride month?

Ava: I was honored as an activist of the year in Baltimore so I rode in a jeep at the front of the parade. I promptly stood on the roof with a large flag and jumped off a few times, complete with superhero landing.

LaTecia Johnson, Founder of Visionary Rising Agency, Lesbian

FG: How has your identity as an LGBTQ+ person impacted your journey as a founder so far?

LaTecia: Early in the journey I struggled with fully acknowledging my identity out of fear that it would impact the meetings, clients, and opportunities I secured.

FG: What about being LGBTQ+ makes you a stronger founder, and thus a more promising investment for Venture Capitalists?

LaTecia: For me, being part of the LGTBQ+ community, having had to navigate the world from this perspective for much of my professional career provides me with a unique perspective and lens to which I see the world. This lens expands to provide empathy and clarity of purpose for the mission at hand because defining myself on my terms is so deeply embedded into who I am as an individual and leader of an emerging company.

FG: What’s been the hardest part about being a founder?

LaTecia: I encountered feelings of isolation at the start of this journey. Launching a company is a lonely road when people don’t understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it. They have questions that can’t be understood unless they’re in it every day and the vast majority of people don’t understand what drives entrepreneurship forward: those small wins where you secure a new lead or connection — those intangible things — that can make or break your company, in the beginning, become the most important aspects. Those wins are hard to articulate to people who haven’t lived a founder’s life. So, I struggled, in the beginning, to find my tribe and create that balance between work/life and creating a space where these things could coexist with ease.

FG: What’s the biggest area of growth you’ve personally experienced as a founder so far?

LaTecia: I see the growth in how I’ve learned to balance my effectiveness as a leader and practicing radical self-care. One of the things I didn’t realize when launching the company was that part of being a founder exists in the ability to lead. When taking on the role of “founder” there’s a responsibility that comes with that. In the beginning, I was ill-prepared to accept this role or the responsibilities it encompassed. As I’ve grown, the company I’ve learned that the biggest part of being a great leader and an effective founder is simply showing up. So, I show up for myself, my family, my tribe, my team. I show up even if I don’t have the answers (especially when I don’t have them) and commit to the learning — eventually, the answers come.

FG: What’s been the best part of being a founder?

LaTecia: The connections and freedom building something that was previously not there — the creatives and companies we’re helping tell their story and succeed in ways they never imagined — and, the person I am becoming as a result of this journey. I am not the same person I was 3 years ago — and I don’t want to be.

FG: How has Founder Gym helped you as an LGBTQ+ founder?

LaTecia: It’s provided support and strength to continue on this journey, now surrounded by a myriad of others who look like me and connect on different aspects of the story. My tribe has expanded and so has my network as a result of this program.

FG: How did you celebrate pride month?

LaTecia: I treated myself to a 2-week vacation at the start of June, so this is the first year in a streak of 7 that I missed out on all the celebrations, and I’m not complaining.

Angelic Williams , Founder of My Umbrella, No Label

FG: Do you have any other identities that impact your life as a founder of a tech company?

Angelic: Female and Black.

FG: How has your identity as an LGBTQ+ person impacted your journey as a founder so far?

Angelic: It’s what motivated me to found my own company. I channeled my post-election fear into motivation to search for a safe platform for LGBTQ people. When I didn’t find anything adequate, I decided to build it myself.

FG: What about being LGBTQ+ makes you a stronger founder, and thus a more promising investment for Venture Capitalists?

Angelic: The amount of resiliency you have to have just to survive everyday life. Owning/running a business is almost like a vacation compared to constant mental, physical or social battles that you have to overcome just to become the person I want to or know I can be. If I can do that for myself, there’s no way I can assume that I couldn’t build, pivot or scale a successful company.

FG: What’s been the best part of being a founder?

Angelic: The best part of being a founder is building something that you truly believe in. It’s much more rewarding to work your tail off for your own dream than someone else’s.

FG: Is there a network of other LGBTQ+ folks you create community with? If so, where can our readers find these communities?

Angelic: Of course there is! MyUmbrella is available on iOS and Android. I also attend Lesbians Who Tech events which are also a great way to meet new people outside of the bar or club scene.

FG: How has Founder Gym helped you as an LGBTQ+ founder?

Angelic: Founder Gym has helped me immensely. Not just the expert trainers but the cohort as well. Everyone brings something different to the table and Founder Gym celebrates those. It’s also awesome knowing there are other LGBTQ founders. I was afraid of being the only one.

FG: How did you celebrate pride month?

Angelic: We had a booth at SF pride and the turnout was amazing. Felt so much love from people.

Founder Gym knows that “differences are strengths.” Ava, LaTecia, Nomzana, Sonya, and Angelic teach us that what makes us different makes us uniquely qualified to solve problems in new and better ways. Here, at Founder Gym, we are proud of our LGBTQ+ founders and all of their accomplishments. We stand as allies with an amazing group of founders whose companies are poised to change the world.

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