- Diversity & Inclusion in Entrepreneurship: Navigating the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center
Just now·5 min read
The Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center believes that entrepreneurship should be accessible to anyone who is passionate about turning their ideas for solving problems into a reality. Given how much of a challenge it already is to successfully start and run a business, some students can get discouraged by their perceived lack of “fitting the mold” of a traditional entrepreneur archetype. Additionally, good ideas can come from anyone, so diverse representation in the field of entrepreneurship is essential for moving the community forward. For these reasons, HKEC, in partnership with the Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs, McCombs Social Innovation Initiative, the Entrepreneurship Minor, and the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute, hosted the Diversity and Inclusion in Entrepreneurship Summit: Navigating the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem on April 14, 2021. This virtual event, hosted by program manager Amanda Golden, featured a keynote presentation from Blanca Lesmes, co-founder and CEO of BB Imaging and Healthcare Consulting, followed by a panel discussion featuring Luis Martins, Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center Director, Sharon Miller, Bank of America Head of Small Business, Aisha Lewis, Notley Director of Strategic Programs, and Brooke Turner, DivInc Executive Program Director.
From left. Blanca Lesmes and Amanda Golden.
Blanca received her B.A. in International Business and Spanish from St. Edward’s University in Austin, before earning her MBA from The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Before college, Blanca worked at her parents’ restaurant. “I had immigrant parents, and I was raised on the American Dream,” Blanca reminisced. “I had an interesting relationship with the people I worked alongside. There was an expectation that I washed tables and bussed dishes just like everybody else working for my parents[…] My earliest relationships were with a dozen or so employees that were undocumented. At times, immigration services would do ‘restaurant raids’ and round up undocumented workers to be deported. It wasn’t until that day that I realized the reality of my situation, and the situation of the people that I worked with[…] was different not only because I was the boss’s daughter, but because I was a documented citizen, and that was my first introduction to the ideas of access and privilege.”
Blanca later founded BB Imaging in 2005, and over the course of the next 15 years, she cultivated relationships with healthcare providers in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma by delivering premium ultrasound services at their respective offices. The company has grown to become the largest privately owned ultrasound company in the Southwest. Now, she is focused on making healthcare more accessible for women in rural communities around Texas using the technology expertise she’s garnered. “BB Imaging allows me to pursue my passion of bringing accessibility to healthcare,” Blanca noted. In her free time, Blanca serves on the advisory board of DivInc, a pre-accelerator focused on diversity in the tech industry.
Blanca’s message for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds nervous about taking the next step is: get out of your head. “Acknowledging some painful truths about our self-limiting thoughts, which often isn’t coming from external sources, and asking ourselves ‘why not me?’, can set ourselves up to participate in the ecosystem.”
When you have addressed the things that are holding you back, the next step is execution. “Once you’ve confirmed that you have a good idea and the market is there, stop working in isolation,” she emphasized. For a large portion of her BB Imaging tenure, Blanca did not have a board, and reflected on the lack of an ‘accountability partner’ and how that led to feelings of isolation and burnout. “In choosing a board, realize what skills you do not have, and find someone in that space. We should be looking for someone who has a complimentary skill-set that we can draw on from occasion. My board over the past year has had a different standard for me, they hold me to a certain pace, and they’ve helped motivate me and push me past some of those self-limiting thoughts.”
As Blanca has become more established in the healthcare provider space, she’s shifted her focus to providing access to entrepreneurship for communities who might otherwise not have it. “We are the ecosystem. You are a player and a contributor. Part of your role is to be giving to the ecosystem, not just taking from the community, so join us in any effort that you can to expand the ecosystem.”
Clockwise from top left. Sharon Miller, Luis Martins, Aisha Lewis, and Brooke Turner.
After Blanca’s keynote presentation, the event shifted gears onto a panel discussion hosted by Luis Martins, featuring Aisha Lewis, Brooke Turner, and Sharon Miller. This panel discussion centered around increasing the surface area of entrepreneurship by helping underrepresented groups better navigate the entrepreneurial ecosystem around Austin and abroad.
Aisha Lewis kicked off the panel discussion with her perspective on the biggest barriers that underrepresented groups face in pursuing entrepreneurship, which she says are network and resources. “To me, there is a lack of knowing who the right people are to make connections to resources to help early stage companies grow, like accelerators and incubators which are great for expanding your network,” Aisha explained. From her perspective, however, the environment has recently made strides for the better. “Since the uprisings of last year and currently, people are now putting their money where their mouths were.”
Brooke Turner took a deeper dive into addressing barriers once underrepresented founders have made it past the early stages of forming their company. “Once we think we’ve addressed the issues of access and resources, we come up against bias and ‘the way things have always been done’,” Brooke recalled. As a board member of DivInc, Brooke gave some perspective on getting early-stage companies off the ground, namely incubators and accelerators. “Incubators are places to grow very new ideas. Once you’ve outgrown that, you can put your foot on the gas to accelerate that growth,” she explained.
Sharon Miller shared her unique perspective as the Head of Small Business for a major national bank. “We know that access to capital is the biggest opportunity, but also the biggest hurdle for businesses in the U.S[…] I think it’s important to develop a relationship with an advisor or banker to tap into those sources,” Sharon explained. “To produce successful entrepreneurs we need to combine fair access to capital with mentorship and education.”
We have made recordings of the Keynote and Panel of the Navigating the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit available on the HKEC YouTube Channel. To see future events like these, as well as a catalog of the entrepreneurial resources in The University of Texas at Austin ecosystem, visit the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center website.
- Date of publication:
- Thu, 04/22/2021 - 20:42
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