Thirty one years ago, Ramona Pierson was a young Marine out for a run one day when she was hit by a drunk driver which left her blind and in a coma for 18 months.
After regaining consciousness, when all hope was all but lost, Pierson used the support from older members of the nursing home where she was placed in to recover. For 11 years following the accident, Pierson had to re-learn to walk and breath and worked on regaining her eyesight.
The LGBT business mentor was encouraged back to health with the aide of elder patients who gave her more than what modern medicine could give her toward her recovery. Following from that traumatic yet triumphant life experience, Pierson figured out that other lifetime expertise would be beneficial to others experiencing similar life altering conditions and setbacks.
She founded Declara, a company that uses advanced semantic search and predictive analysis to help connect highly skilled and experienced people with those who need their expertise.
SEE Pierson’s presentation to the President here:
Today, that company has a team of 65 employees, “with women serving as CEO, COO, and head of data sciences,” President Barack Obama told a room full of supporters, mentors and members of the press at a speech yesterday sun setting the White House’s first ever “Demo Day.”
Minutes before, Pierson was among 30 startups displayed about the State Floor of the White House pitching their products and services on showcase.
Obama chatted with the 13 year old designer of a 4 year old bow tie company, a pair that designed a teddy bear that teaches ill children about how to take care of their health conditions like diabetes, and a team from MIT that designed a way to predict and prevent seniors from falling, among others.
Those who didn’t do formal presentations were at the White House earlier with fellow entrepreneurs at a round table with senior White House officials, tech mentors and venture capitalists like ABC’s Shark Tank’ star and mentor Daymond John.
The event mainly focused on highlighting the diverse success stories out there that are rarely championed and heralded.
“We’ve got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot -– the next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban,” Obama told the East Room crowd. “They might never set foot in Silicon Valley. We’ve got to unleash the full potential of every American –- not leave more than half the team on the bench.”
It’s well documented that businesses with more diverse staffs perform better so it’s not just about mixing things up just for the sake of doing so.
Venture Capital firm First Round Capital, which has funded Uber and Square as portfolio companies, noted that among its funded firms, those with a female founder performed 63% better than men-run firms.
But because of things like bias in hiring, for example, or a limited pool of women and minority candidates with requisite tech and science degrees, the US is falling behind.
“Right now, one study shows that fewer than 3 percent of venture capital-backed companies have a woman as their CEO,” the President noted, referencing “another study” which showed that fewer than 1 percent have an African American founder.
“Yet we’ve seen again and again that companies with diverse leadership often outperform those that don’t. That’s the market that is out there — not just here in the United States, but globally. So that lack of participation from everybody isn’t good for business.”
Capital remains a major obstacle.
“Women control 60% of household spending, and heavily influence 95% of household spending,” said CEO Jonathan Nelson in a statement. “What can we do to help address gender bias in the innovation capital of the world?”
The access to capital problem can be limited also geographically, Obama noted.
“Capital is tough to come by, but it’s even tougher if you’re not in one of a handful of cities that have a well-developed venture capital presence,” he said.
The President also used the opportunity to announce several initiatives that women, people of color and others should be aware of, in addition to those revealed by other executive administrations earlier in the day:
Eariler, the Small Business Administration shared that it has awarded $4.4 million to 88 startup accelerators and 27 prizes of $50,000 each to cities and Native American communities to help them start businesses.
“Today, we’ve got a series of public and private commitments to build on those efforts,” the President noted.
This past January, “Intel announced that by 2020 they would achieve full representation of women and minorities in their U.S. workforce,” Obama noted. “Last week, Pinterest also announced ambitious new diversity goals of their own.
“We’ve got more than 40 leading venture capital firms who are pledging more — pledging to do more to track and hire and support women and underrepresented minorities and veterans at their firms and portfolio companies. A pair of leading pension funds are committing to diversifying the ranks of those who manage their money.
“We got companies like Xerox, Box, and others that are going to institute their own version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” named after my good friend Dan Rooney, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which means interviewing at least one woman and one person of color for every senior position — just so that folks get a chance to get in the door.
“And more than 100 deans at America’s engineering schools are committing to recruit and retain more diverse student bodies, building the pipeline for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs because this is something we are seeing again and again and again.
“We’re expanding our TechHire initiative to 10 new cities and states -—bringing together employers and local governments to create newer, faster training pathways, like coding boot camps, so that a more diverse group of workers can get hired and perhaps eventually start a business of their own.
“We’re scaling up the National Science Foundation’s successful Innovation Corps program at six more federal agencies so we can help more of our scientists move their ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace.
“More than 50 new cities have signed up to our “Startup in a Day” initiative.
Watch some of his remarks
These quotes stood out:
“Startups, young firms account for almost 40 percent of new hires. And as we’ve fought back from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, those firms have helped our private sector create more than 12.8 million jobs over the last 64 straight months, which is the longest streak of private sector job growth on record.
“So today, America is home to more high-tech companies than anyplace else in the world. And business leaders have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest -— America is. With technological advancements like cloud computing and big data and 3D printing, the fact is there has never been a better time to launch an idea and bring it to scale right here in the United States, right now.
“The next Steve Jobs may be named Stephanie or Esteban. They may have never step foot in Silicon Valley.
“We are not producing all the technical talent, all the engineers that we need. And part of the reason is because too many girls and too many young people of color are getting intimidated and winnowed out of the process, not being mentored, not being encouraged, and we deprive ourselves of the talent that we need in order for us to continue to be a dynamic, innovative economy — because that’s the part of the population that’s growing.
“You never know who is going to give you the next big idea.
“Ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, and they can be inspired by any kind of life experience.”
Good Stuff! I’m inspired, encouraged and hopeful.
I Simulcast the Remarks and Demo presentations in the East Room on the Meerkat and Periscope apps.
My Raw (sometimes shaky) Footage:
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt can be heard nightly at 8pm on DCRadio/WHUR 96.3HD4 on "Coming to America with Wayna and Friends. She is an editor at Techyaya.com, founder of the Digital Publiching Academy and JayJayGhatt.com where she teaches online creators how to navigate digital entrepreneurship and offers Do-It-For-You Blogging Service. She manages her lifestyle sites BellyitchBlog, Jenebaspeaks and JJBraids.com and is the founder of BlackWomenTech.com 200 Black Women in Tech On Twitter. Her biz podcast 10 Minute Podcast is available on iTunes and Player.fm. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks. Buy her templates over at her legal and business templates on Etsy shop!