This Founder is Funding New Majority Startups

Dr Roshawnna Novellus developed her interest in helping women-led and POC-owned businesses early on. The daughter of a serial entrepreneur who raised her and her brother as a single mom, her mom taught her that women can do anything, especially when they’re in control of their economic power. Her mom was well aware of the racism and sexism embedded in our country’s financial system and knew Novellus would need to be equipped against it early. She took her to investment meetings at the high school where she taught so she could learn how to plan, budget, and identify sound investments.

Her mother is the reason she worked hard to secure over $600,000 in scholarships to finance her own college education, wanting to relieve her mom of any financial burden. That process – which included writing letters to over 200 companies – also showed Novellus that she had a knack for fundraising. 

After college, she spent several years running a tax and accounting firm, watching countless women of color struggle to attain financing to grow their businesses. These were founders of companies that had a proven track record of success and were generating significant revenue, but were getting denied for loans due to biased lending structures. 

Despite women of color starting businesses in greater numbers than any other racial demographic, they’re often targeted by predatory lenders and are the least likely to receive investment funds. 

Although she was making good money in the corporate sector, she wasn’t fulfilled by the work. Advocating for and impacting those who are under-represented felt purposeful and aligns with the values her mother had instilled in her.

All of these experiences led Novellus to launch EnrichHER.

We sat down with her to get a little deeper.

You don’t see a lot of Black women in the fintech space. How has that impacted your journey in fintech?

The biggest challenge has been in being taken seriously. In the early days of pitching EnrichHER to tech investors, I was constantly questioned about my ability to run a tech company. I was told that I needed the help of “someone else” to enact my vision—maybe a white male who just finished his undergraduate degree, someone more “technical,” or one of their friends. This was said despite me having two bachelor’s degrees, a masters in information technology and a Ph.D. in systems engineering. 

As a Black woman founder, I face the same obstacles that our EnrichHER companies face when it comes to navigating the finance sector. That’s why I’m so passionate about the work we are doing at EnrichHER to make business capital affordable and accessible to everyone – not just the wealthy and privileged. 

What should all New Majority founders/CEOs know about fundraising for their companies?

Do your research. Make sure the VCs or funders you’re soliciting have a history of investing in your industry or with owners who have a similar background as you so they have some familiarity with your business. Still pitch them even if they don’t, but understand that you may face philosophical differences in strategy and operations down the line. 

Have your materials together. Your pitch deck, business plan, financial projections/valuation, demo, marketing assets, etc should be finalized prior to fundraising.

And finally, know that the odds are not in your favor, but don’t take it personally. Women-led startups only received 2.3% of venture capital funding in 2020. That number drops below 1% when it comes to women of color. A lot of us are facing the same uphill battle when it comes to funding our businesses, but the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.

You’re launching a community funding campaign which was made urgent by the pandemic. Tell us what you’re looking to achieve with this effort.

In 2022, women entrepreneurs still lag behind men in capital funding despite employing over 10M workers in 2019 and starting businesses at twice the rate as men. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the industry trends and what’s happening in the financing sector.

However, these statistics won’t change unless we change. We must do more than pay lip service to the need to eradicate gender bias and investment gaps. We have to start putting our money where our intentions are.

I firmly believe the path to social and economic change includes the strengthening of diverse businesses. Once women and founders of color have a larger role in the economies of our communities, we will be able to build a society that is more reflective of our needs, desires and aspirations. As the number of these businesses increases, society as a whole will benefit from inclusive job growth, as well as products and services that better reflect the input of the people they serve.

EnrichHER can be an asset to investors looking to do good in the world while making a profit. How is EnrichHER’s opportunity for investors a lot smarter than, say, putting your money into cryptocurrency?

For those who care as much about impacting society as they do about making a profit, EnrichHER offers a straightforward way to do both. I really wanted to make funding diverse businesses accessible to all kinds of investors – not just the wealthy.

We offer a variety of ways for individuals, foundations, corporate impact funds, etc, to deploy capital to companies: a managed fund, a tax-deductible donation, or a loan. We give investors an easy way to pool their funds with other investors and leverage the power of the many. No matter the size of the investment, their funds will have a larger impact because they are part of a collective, rather than a standalone investment. For loan investments, we offer up to a 5% annual ROI.

What is the biggest misconception business owners have about securing loans or any kind of funding?

That the only place you can get a loan from is a bank. Business owners should become more aware of the various alternatives to traditional lending that are out here. Fintech lenders like EnrichHER offer more flexible financing options and a more inclusive and community-based lending philosophy.

At EnrichHER, our underwriting model leverages financial attributes, marketing analytics, and quantitative and qualitative elements extracted from community participation. While we rigorously vet our companies, we believe in a holistic approach to supporting customers.

All borrowers are asked to complete our financial training programs to ensure they are optimizing usage of any funds received. These training programs are created and tailored specifically with our target demographic in mind and presented with various learning styles. It provides one-on-one support, peer-support, and more personalized interactions. Participants gain practical tools to access grants, loans, venture capitalists and other untapped sources of funding, as well as access to a community of support from like-minded entrepreneurs.

As a result of this model, we have a 0% default rate on our loans and we can happily report that all participating businesses are still open and thriving.

In addition to loans, what other products does EnrichHER offer?

In addition to loans, business owners can apply for a line of credit, grants or to join the accelerator program. Funders (corporations, foundations, individuals) can set up a managed fund or a donation to support these diverse businesses.

Additionally, as of last Fall, business owners can find love through EnrichHER nLove, a new luxury concierge matchmaking platform where we provide dating coaching and curated dating experiences, saving busy business owners valuable time.

You’re just as passionate about wellness as you are about gender equality. Talk about your love for yoga and how you developed the “wealthy yogi” lifestyle.

Running a tech company is one of my life’s greatest challenges. However, to stay focused and motivated, I practice mindfulness in both my work-life and personal life.

I became a certified yoga instructor years ago after falling in love with the practice. It helps me center myself and eliminate fear and anxiety over things I cannot control.

I also practice mindfulness when it comes to my finances. I call this philosophy “The Wealthy Yogi.” It’s a blend of yoga and meditation with intentional financial planning and it allows me to use my internal compass to navigate through life.

There are so many moving parts to running a business and so many variables that are out of our control. Mindfulness gives me the faith that I will achieve my goals and helps me weather any setbacks that come my way.

Roshawnna Novellus

Roshawnna Novellus

Dr. Roshawnna Novellus is the Founder and CEO of EnrichHER, a proven and trusted FinTech lending platform that makes it easy for retail and institutional funders to deploy capital to pre-qualified revenue-generating businesses led by women and people of color. A nationally-recognized financial inclusion advocate and champion of mindfulness, Dr. Novellus is dedicated to deploying working capital to women and people of color to help them grow their businesses. She holds a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering with a Minor in Finance, a Masters of Science in Information Technology emphasizing Information System Engineering, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management Economics, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering – achieving Summa Cum Laude in each. A native of San Diego, Roshawnna is one of the few Black women ever to have raised over $1M in venture capital. She is a Roddenberry Foundation Fellow and served on the Commission on Women for the City of Atlanta from 2016 to 2018. Additional honors include: the "Excellence in Sister-Nomic$ Award" from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Atlanta Business Chronicle's "2016 Women Who Mean Business;" Georgia Trend's 2017 "40 Under 40;" Washington Life's "25 Innovators & Disruptors in Tech;" a LinkedIn Top Voice in Technology; and winner of the FinTech South Innovation Challenge. Dr. Novellus has appeared in Bloomberg, Fortune, Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, and Black Enterprise and has been featured in national television campaigns for her advocacy work in partnership with Logitech, Mastercard, and Hennessy.

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