Mandela SH Dixon
Jun 13 · 19 min read

“I loved Founder Gym because I felt seen and heard. I also felt like I got the information that friends would give one another. It was a refreshing break from the typically​ competitive nature of business and be surrounded by people that want to grow and want you to grow as well.”

~ Brooke Shareé Patterson, Founder of The HGHLT

“Before the cohort, I knew that there were gaps in my knowledge base, but I had no clue as to how to fill them. After graduating, my base has been solidified. While I don’t think you can’t replicate going through actual investor meetings, I won’t feel as nervous when I finally do.”

~ Jullian Giles, Founder of Kwolya

“Before, I was afraid because I did not know this space. I felt I had to have the next Uber idea and look a certain way. Now, I know that there are investors out there who want to fund ideas like mine and investors that look like me. I belong here. Entrepreneurship is in my blood.”

~ Arlene Perez, Founder of CoCo: My College Counselor

It is time for another FG Cohort Graduation! From April 22nd to May 31st, we trained 39 founders from 4 continents, 4 countries, and 31 cities how to prepare their fundraising toolkit and deliver a strong two-minute pitch. It was the first time we hosted separate cohorts for founders at the pre-seed and seed fundraising stages, and the first time we trained three cohorts at once. With these graduating cohorts, the total number of Founder Gym Graduates is now 329.

Since launching our first cohort in January 2018, Founder Gym’s alumni has grown by 1165%.

This growth is made possible with the support of our partners. In February 2019, we announced our flagship partnership with Google for Startups (GFS) and offered scholarships to founders across the global GFS Partner Network. Our partners at the Kapor Center provided several scholarships to founders who are part of the Oakland Startup Network and iLab Program. We sincerely appreciate their commitment to serving underrepresented founders and enjoyed training their community members.

FG Graduates are building world-class companies.

They are developing startups that build new hiring platforms to make it easy for companies to hire without the hassle of resumés, help professionals in the building and design world find the right manufacturers, guide authors through a simple process of writing and publishing a book, connect Black women to health care services, and so much more.

They face unique challenges as underrepresented founders.

In a recent study, it was reported that only:

  • 1% of venture-backed founders were Black
  • 1.8% of venture-backed founders were Latinx
  • 2.4% of venture-backed founders were Middle Easterners

Another report revealed that women received only 2.2% of venture capital.

Cue Founder Gym.

For six weeks, we provided an intense virtual training experience for select founders, led by some of the most experienced investors, founders, and startup lawyers in Silicon Valley. Now, after completing the rigorous graduation requirements, we are excited to officially introduce the graduates of FG Cohort 9 [Pre-Seed]. But before you meet the founders…

Take a look at the numbers.

Meet the FG Cohort 9 [Pre-Seed] Graduates!

Aaron Williams

“Put in the work, and stay on top of all the assignments.”

  • Company: Gettable Groceries
  • Description: Gettable Groceries is a fin-tech startup that provides affordable, on-demand credit to individuals facing food insecurity.
  • Location: Stockon, CA
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn

Afoke Bakpa

“Because of Founder Gym, I am more knowledgeable about VC financing, the required strategies to fundraise. Now, I can confidently approach investors about my business.”

  • Company: Insegna
  • Description: Insegna is a mobile app that connects households with plastic waste recyclers in emerging markets.
  • Location: Abuja, Nigeria
  • Get connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Ange Goueti

“Because of Founder Gym, I am now apart of a family of founders.”

Arlene Perez

“You have already exceeded so many expectations that society may have of you. This is just one more thing you WILL overcome because you were born for this.”

  • Company: CoCo: My College Counselor
  • Description: CoCo is a personal college counselor web application to keep high school students and their parents informed and on track about college requirements.
  • Location: Pico Rivera, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Ashlee Wisdom

“The collective brilliance of the cohort members is inspiring. It was great to be connected to so many courageous and driven people who are doing their part to make the world better with their ideas.”

  • Company: Health In Her HUE
  • Description: Health In Her HUE is a digital platform that connects Black women to the health care providers, services and resources that are committed to their health and well-being.
  • Location: Bronx, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Brittany Bass

“Because of Founder Gym, I have the insights, resources, and relationships to take my company to the next level on our journey.”

  • Company: Wine & Bowties
  • Description: Wine & Bowties creates culture and produces live experiences that foster an emotional connection between brands and underrepresented millennials.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Brooke Shareé Patterson

“Be coachable. You don't know it all yet. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here. Come into the program with an open heart and mind, ​and the possibilities become endless.”

  • Company: The HGHLT
  • Description: The HGHLT is an interactive mobile app and platform dedicated to the business of beauty and fashion.
  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Charles Johnson

“One piece of advice I would give future Gymmates would be to attend every session because one comment from any of the sessions can be the missing key to opening the door to you getting offered a term sheet.”

  • Company: Pop Up Commercials
  • Description: Pop Up Commercials is building technology that displays commercials only when the viewer presses the pause button on the remote control.
  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Chasma Smith

“Because of Founder Gym, I am supported by a cohort of founders that hold invaluable insights, shared experiences and keep me accountable. They encourage me to keep doing good work on bad days.”

  • Company: She Tried It
  • Description: She Tried It creates access to male-dominated industries through fun and practical experience-based workshops for women of color.
  • Location: San Leandro, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Damien McDuffie

“I have a clear vision on the important pieces needed to build our business.”

  • Company: Wine & Bowties
  • Description: Wine & Bowties creates culture and produces live experiences that foster an emotional connection between brands and underrepresented millennials.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Dana Barsbai

“I was too scared to approach any investor before FG and now I am more confident in my capabilities. It forced me to work on my pitch and practice.”

  • Company:
  • Description: is the hiring platform for the digital age, where talent is recognized for skills and grit without resumes.
  • Location: Astoria, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Eranya Sargent

“I have a clearer picture of what I am building and the path to bring it to life.”

  • Company: Hooky
  • Description: Hooky is the first mental wellness spa that brings a spa-like experience to talk therapy.
  • Location: Kansas City, MO
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Evan Carr

“Tell them the problem, the solution, and why YOU ARE THE PERFECT person to solve it.”

  • Company: DesignAsBuilt
  • Description: DesignAsBuilt is the Google for Building Materials helping architects, engineers, and designers find the right manufacturers for their projects.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

James Meeks

“The best advice I received during the cohort was to do the proper research on VC’s you’re considering partnering with to make sure it’s the right fit for both parties.“

  • Company: CRE8
  • Description: CRE8 is the world’s first fashion marketplace that is powered by engagement from brands, customers, and fashion tastemakers
  • Location: Mansfield, TX
  • Get connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jared McClain

“My accountability partner was phenomenal about checking in and keeping me sane, up to date, and encouraged.”

  • Company: Black By The Numbers
  • Description: Black By The Numbers is a digital media company that creates and distributes data-driven content relevant to the Black experience.
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Get connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jarrod Knight

“You belong here. So do the work to prove it.”

  • Company: Wugi
  • Description: Wugi is your personal nightlife concierge with information including events, addresses, dress code, and more.
  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jason Caston

“The best thing about the FG Cohort is the moment you realize you are part of a community of like-minded founders. They are all going through the same trials and tribulations and want to help each other grow, build and win. “

  • Company: Composio
  • Description: Composio is a full-service automated platform for authors and writers that guides you through the 3-step process of writing, publishing and marketing your book.
  • Location: Frisco, TX
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jeremy Evans-Smith

“Really get down to why you’re different. You should be able to get 3-layers deep into your product’s differentiation. This is especially important for non-technical founders.”

  • Company: Emproov
  • Description: Emproov is indexing team diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), to provide actionable analytics for healthier workplaces.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

John Lewis

“Because of Founder Gym, I will raise our seed round in 3 months.”

  • Company: PayWhit
  • Description: PayWhit is an AML/KYC compliant application streamlining payments across borders.
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jullian Giles

“Founder Gym will give you a solid base from which to build from. Use the experience to perfect your investor materials, then practice what you learn by going to pitch competitions.”

  • Company: Kwolya
  • Description: kwolya is a private social network that helps make socializing online feel more human.
  • Location: Harrison, NJ
  • Get Connected: LinkedIn

KaDeadra McNealy

“Because of Founder Gym, I have the tools to approach investors without feeling insecure.”

  • Company: Millennial Nail Bar
  • Description: Millennial Nail Bar is bringing the nail technician to your location for all nail care services.
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Keara Kindelynn

“The best thing about the FG Cohort was the collective brain power. FG became a shared experience even though each founder was on their own personal journey.”

  • Company: Foreverly
  • Description: Foreverly is a platform that simplifies end of life planning processes, and recommends resources, to enable the space to heal.
  • Location: Renton, WA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Khalida Ali

“Before the FG Cohort, I had so many questions about the groundwork that is necessary to launch a company. I now have a much better understanding and feel equipped with the right tools, knowledge and insight.”

  • Company: RHINO
  • Description: RHINO is a career discovery and development platform for the next generation of diverse talent
  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Kistein Monkhouse

“Because of Founder Gym, I am re-energized for the next phase in building my business.”

  • Company: Patient Orator
  • Description: Patient Orator is a healthcare digital media content development and distribution platform
  • Location: Stormville, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Kristine Campbell

“Attend every session, show up 100% of the time, purposely block time out for the homework, and be ready to take a lot of notes!”

  • Company: Hailio
  • Description: Hailio is the first AI-powered business monitoring platform to enable enterprises to transform and scale their company strategies.
  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Majella Edwards

“Because of Founder Gym, I am more confident about approaching international investors and I have a better understanding of what I need to do to have fundraising conversations.”

  • Company: Sortal
  • Description: Sortal is changing how people find and use visual information like photos, videos, and graphics through a trainable personal assistant
  • Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Michelle DalPont

“Do all the work because it will pay off and give you more clarity than you know.”

  • Company: FitSciety
  • Description: FitSciety is a new social marketplace for fitness users to connect with other users, and personal trainers to gain qualified leads.
  • Location: Riverside, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Olivia Cueva

“FG provided us all of the materials needed to go out and pitch to investors. It also provided us with an amazing community of support while we went through the process.”

  • Company: David E. Glover Emerging Technology Center
  • Description: The David E. Glover Emerging Technology Center provides cutting-edge technology tools and training to low-income youth, adults, and seniors throughout the East Bay.
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Om Suthar

“No one became rich or successful because they dreamed about it and wanted it bad enough. It’s because they persevered, put in the work consistently and listened to people that matter.”

  • Company: SQRL
  • Description: SQRL is a wellness platform for today’s workforce that’s easy to personalize, deploy and use.
  • Location: Brambleton, VA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Orlando Watson

“Find a mentor in the cohort and be a mentor to someone in the cohort.”

  • Company: Honeycomb
  • Description: Honeycomb helps news publishers monetize their mobile app by crowdsourcing unused phone power.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Perla Humphrey

“The relationships with the founders were great! It kept me motivated and involved.”

  • Company: Edifius
  • Description: Edifius is an AI software company that provides machine learning virtual assistants to businesses to automate mundane tasks.
  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Rafael Richardson

“Over the six weeks, I’ve changed the brand design, developed a clear fundraising path, and created all of the support materials to share with potential investors. It’s truly a mindset shift.”

  • Company: Subzz
  • Description: Subzz is an online platform that helps schools find and manage substitute teachers.
  • Location: Montgomery, AL
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Raja Afrika

“Before the FG Cohort, I was confused and frustrated about my fundraising journey. Now, I feel armed with the tools and know-how to go forward and complete my fundraising goals.”

  • Company: Marijuana Software
  • Description: Marijuana Software reduces the complexity of cannabis business reporting to a button click.
  • Location: Aloha, OR
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Rocky Gray

“The best part of FG was meeting the other founders and becoming a family.”

  • Company: HeyWilla
  • Description: HeyWilla is the first online platform that offers an end to end baby shower planning and registry experience.
  • Location: Bronx, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Sabrina Mutukishna

“Fundraising is not a reflection of your self worth and it’s definitely something you can study! Listen to FG advice and don’t take it personally when you hear a ‘no.’”

  • Company: Workologie
  • Description: Workologie supports underrepresented groups with the resources, tools, and knowledge needed to advance inclusion and equity in the workplace.
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Saleem Summour

“Because of Founder Gym, I am ready to meet investors.”

  • Company: Lvendr
  • Description: Lvendr is the best way to create fully dynamic right-to-left Arabic-scripted websites.
  • Location: Gaza, Palestinian Territories
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Sheri Kurdakul

“The best thing about the FG Cohort was the cohort. There are so many driven people that also drive me. We are all willing to give of our time and resources to ensure the success of the group. We’re supportive when we crash and celebrate when we win. Being part of that is the best thing.”

  • Company: VictimsVoice
  • Description: VictimsVoice is a digital diary that allows victims to record each incident of their abuse and meets the strictest legal standards of court admissibility, Giving Victims a Legal Voice.
  • Location: Princeton, NJ
  • Get connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Tamika Joseph

“Because of Founder Gym, I am more confident and prepared to being a founder!”

  • Company: Take A Loan Off [TALO]
  • Description: TALO is a non-profit that will provide student loan debt relief to minorities.
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Trellis Usher

“For me, it all starts with knowledge. The more I have, the more prepared and confident I feel about the task at hand. Founder Gym has given me a great foundation to move forward and it only took 6 weeks!”

  • Company: The Cancer Blueprint
  • Description: The Cancer Blueprint leverages technology to improve the experience between cancer patients and providers to enable care planning and timely decision-making.
  • Location: Brookhaven, GA
  • Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Congratulations to the FG Cohort 9 [Pre-Seed] Graduation Day Winners.

After pitching at Graduation Day, the FG Cohort Members voted for their top three pitches based on the effectiveness of their pitch and the strength of their deck. James Meeks, Majella Edwards, and Jason Caston were selected as the winners.

Meet the FG Cohort 9 [Pre-Seed] Trainers

Brian C. Patterson’s business law practice is focused on representing emerging growth companies (startups) throughout their life cycles. He is also one of the few attorneys who represent venture capital and private equity investment funds. Brian is broadly experienced across many sectors and industries in business and corporate formation and governance, deal structuring, equity and debt financing, public offerings, a variety of M&A transactions, strategic, partnering and commercial transactions, and fundamental IP, employment, and stock and option matters.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Get Connected: LinkedIn

Tim Brady is a Partner at Y Combinator, a Silicon-Valley based accelerator that provides seed funding for startups. YC was founded in 2005 and has invested in over 1600 startups, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Instacart. Prior to joining YC, Tim was the Co-Founder of Imagine K12, an edtech accelerator that merged with YC in 2016. Tim was Yahoo’s first employee in 1995 and wrote the business plan that attracted Yahoo’s first venture capital. Tim spent eight years as Yahoo’s Chief Product Officer. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from Stanford and MBA from Harvard.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Get Connected: LinkedIn

Cat Lee is the newest partner at Maveron Ventures, an early-stage consumer-tech venture firm. Founded in 1998, Maveron has invested in over 200 startups, including Ebay, Groupon, Pinkberry, Zulily, Shutterfly, All birds, and Zume Pizza. Prior to joining Maveron, Cat completed First Round Capital’s Angel Track program and was a Scout for Sequoia Capital. Before that, Cat spent six years at Pinterest as Head of Culture and Global Partner of Marketing and Growth. Cat also worked at Facebook across various roles on their developer platform team. She has an MBA from the University of Michigan and a BS in Computer Science from Stanford.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Venky Karnam leads deal-flow at Afore Capital, leveraging a one-of-a-kind data science platform that is skilled at identifying interesting early stage companies. Afore is based in San Francisco and is one of the few pre-seed venture capital firms in existence. Prior to joining Afore, Venky was an angel investor, and previously worked at Google, AdMob, and Yahoo. Venky holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology and an MS in Computer Engineering from Northwestern University.

Location: Palo Alto, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Mandela SH Dixon has helped hundreds of founders raise startup capital and build successful businesses. She was the founding Portfolio Services Director at Kapor Capital, the Global Director of Startup Weekend Education, and a tech startup founder backed by Kapor Capital, 500 Startups, and Imagine K12 (acq. by Y Combinator). Mandela is a member of First Round Capital’s prestigious Angel Track program. She is a sought-after speaker and has shared her frameworks on over 80 stages. Mandela has also received various recognitions, including being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List and LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Venture Capital and Startups.

Location: Oakland, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Jomayra Herrera works as an investor at Emerson Collective, an organization dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity for everyone. She has been at the firm for 3 years and specializes in its education and future of work investments. Before joining Emerson Collective, she worked at an ed tech startup focused on transforming professional development opportunities for teachers. In 2018, Jomayra was a Forbes 30 under 30 winner in education.

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

Brittany Davis leads Deal Flow on the investment team at Backstage identifying and investing in pre-seed and seed stage companies for the fund and Accelerator. Previously, she was a Manager at Village Capital where she analyzed opportunities and created investment recommendations in the fintech, education, health, food/agriculture, and energy sectors. Before that, she founded an ecommerce startup, Runway Technologies, while completing an MBA at Harvard Business School. She gained experience supporting entrepreneurs as an Associate at Techstars and as a Mentor at Startup Jamaica, built a solid foundation in finance working at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for 5 years, and received her BS in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn


Paige Hendrix Buckner, FG Program Director

Location: Portland, OR

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

“As a former founder, I know how hard it is to start, run and grow a company. I am passionate about connecting founders with the tools, skills, knowledge, and network they need to build strong, sustainable startups. It is exciting to think about how many dreams we are supporting with each new cohort. I’m incredibly proud of our graduates and can’t wait to see what they do next.”

Cristal Harris, Digital Engagement Associate

Location: Oakland, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

“I am so proud of Cohort 9 for all of their hard work. It’s no small feat that they are building businesses and raising money for their ideas. I loved supporting the cohorts. I am passionate about serving founders because it means serving the future of tech. I am so glad to be an integral part of diversifying tech, one entrepreneur at a time.”

Cord Brown, Digital Engagement Associate

Location: Tuscaloosa, AL

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to support underrepresented founders from all walks of life. These founders will go on to build companies that will change the world and I am proud to know that Founder Gym contributed to that journey.”

Karen Rodriquez-Ponciano, FG Cohort Operations Associate

Location: San Diego, CA

Get Connected: Twitter and LinkedIn

“It’s a blessing to be able to work with the Founder Gym team and this brilliant group of founders. I’m so proud of every single one of them and I can’t wait to see what they do next. These people are the disruptors and innovators who are changing their communities and entire industries. This community is exceptional, resilient and hungry for more. Watch out, world!”

Are you ready to join a global network of accomplished and inspiring founders? Great, because we are ready for you!

We are now accepting applications for FG Cohort 10.

This is a 6-week virtual program designed for underrepresented founders who want to raise capital to scale their startup. The entire cohort experience is 100% virtual, so founders can participate from anywhere in the world. FG Cohort 10 operates from July 22 — August 30, 2019.

Deadline to Apply: July 10, 2019


Clap it up!

Enjoy what you read? Consider giving us a few claps by clicking the clap icon.

Share This Opportunity

Tweet this article or share this on Facebook

Get Plugged In

Did you like the gems dropped by our founders? There is more where that came from! We share special announcements and advice on fundraising every Tuesday at 9:00 am via the FG newsletter — subscribe here!

Follow us on Social Media

Twitter | Instagram

Keep Reading

Meet the Graduating Class of Founder Gym Cohort 7 [Seed]

Meet the Graduating Class of Founder Gym Cohort 8 [Pre-Seed]


Stories that highlight the next generation of successful tech founders

Mandela SH Dixon

Written by

CEO of Founder Gym | Bringing Silicon Valley to the streets since 2011


Stories that highlight the next generation of successful tech founders

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade