The technology industry is so broad-reaching and established that “innovation” has become the status quo. The problem that comes along with this entrenched approach to technological development is that we’ve also codified what the people who innovate look like; where they went to school, who they know, and what kind of experience they have.
I don’t buy it. I think being a server or a mom or self-taught or a survivor is a great place to start for any entrepreneur. When systems aren’t designed with us in mind, just trying to get through the day can turn us into very creative engineers.
Technology isn’t just 1’s and 0’s and wires and chips; it’s not just what’s new and cutting-edge. Technology is a set of tools. Real innovation happens when we use the tools at our disposal in new ways that create meaningful change for everyone, including those who were previously excluded.
If you’re an outsider to the tech status quo, you’re more likely to identify pervasive problems that have gone chronically overlooked. And if you’re working on solving a problem that affects you, you’re solving it for everyone else who thinks like you, looks like you, or shares some part of your experience. That’s the market that’s waiting for you.
If you belong to any kind of marginalized identity, the gatekeepers of the status quo are always going to question you and your ideas. Some VC isn’t going to get your vision. Some start-up ‘guru’ is going to dismiss your work.
I recently heard Janice Omadeke, creator of the Mentor Method, share some incredible advice her mother gave her: Let the world tell you “no.”
Don’t let one person’s opinion stop you. Keep going, and the market—the world—will let you know if you’re on the right track.
Women entrepreneurs get asked 60% more questions focused on loss prevention, revealing an unconscious bias that women leaders are more likely to fail. It’s essential to learn what these kinds of interrogations sound like so you can reframe prevention oriented questions into ones that allow you to speak on your strengths, opportunities, accomplishments, and goals.
Only 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black and 75% of all venture rounds still go to all-white teams. I know lots of folks are working very hard to dismantle systemic barriers to success, and it’s important that we support each other and never stop working for these changes.
Your best chance at breaking through institutional biases is to find ways to control the conversation around what matters as much as possible. Define your environment. Don’t let questioning or mistrust derail your focus or undermine your legitimacy.
Remember that every minute you’ve spent thinking about, building, and testing your ideas are your credentials, not what you look like or where you went to school.
Being able to spot overlooked problems, reframe the conversation, and create your own context are your superpowers as an outsider. Thinking differently than those who think they know best is your gift to the world.
Her love for solving wicked problems, as well as a decidedly human-centric approach to design, have driven Samantha Mathews’ innovations in areas of impact like crowd modeling, WebXR, and safety systems design. With her team of creative outsiders at LOCI, Mathews is evolving the enterprise risk landscape with virtualized safety training solutions that provide unprecedented reach and accessibility.