What This Woman Is Doing To Make Sure Female Entrepreneur's Stories Are Told
If you’ve had the chance to read the articles of the amazing female entrepreneurs on the Story Of She website, you’ll know that the platform is on its way to becoming the premiere storytelling hub for female founders of color. But it wasn’t always this way. Just a few years ago, Story Of She founder Alana Brown wasn’t sure if there even were any successful Black female entrepreneurs to tell stories about.
As an undergraduate and the lone Black woman in her entrepreneurial studies classes at the University of Southern California, she felt alone and isolated. There was a level of comradery amongst the boys and between the mostly male professors that felt exclusionary. Often her presence, insights, and voice were easily overlooked, talked over, and dismissed. Alana realized quickly that her intelligence, pedigree and performance would not negate her everyday experiences with racism or sexism – especially in the world of entrepreneurship.
“It literally felt like an old boy’s club,” she reflects as we speak during a dusky fall Friday in New York City, where Alana moved to and eventually founded the brand, Story Of She just a few short years after she graduated from her undergraduate program.
To further isolate Alana’s college experience, many of the kids in her undergraduate program had parents who had helped them launch businesses in high school, or who were funding the launch of their businesses in college. Alana’s parents were professors – educators at heart – so her self-directed trajectory into entrepreneurship was an entirely new pathway to everyone in her support system. There would be no guidance in helping her on her way to success. She was entirely on her own.
Alana combed through the entrepreneurial and women’s magazines, desperate to find someone who looked and had a story like her own - someone who had insight into the path she wanted to follow. She knew from her courses that Black female founders were the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. Between 1997 and 2015, the number of Black female founders rose by an astonishing 74%, generating over $51.4 billion in revenue each year. Clearly, the talent, success and revenue of Black female entrepreneurs was there. Their stories, however, simply weren’t. In fact, the absence of these stories – and voices – felt silencing.
“If your goal is to start your own company and you can’t visually see that from anyone who remotely resembles you, I think that’s extremely discouraging.” Alana says, “I don’t know if that can be measured.”
So, while the boys talked over one another in seminars – trying to verbally out spar the others with wit and theory and ego – Alana silently set out to find a way to empower the voices of Black female entrepreneurs. Naturally, becoming a storyteller was the first step in Alana’s journey.
“Storytelling is seeing the narrative.” Alana tells me. “(It’s) breaking down something that seems unattainable and making it more relatable.”
For Alana, storytelling serves as verbal map that holds the power to reveal hidden, subtle landmarks needed to help a reader – or aspiring entrepreneur – navigate their journey towards success.
Alana also knew that storytelling can serve as an act of empowerment: “Telling your own story is extremely powerful. You’re taking this narrative and owning it.”
The idea of building a space where women felt empowered to share their journeys with other female founders, while simultaneously emboldening their own mission through the process of dictating their own narrative was an invigorating concept. Yet Alana struggle to find the best medium in which this mission should live.
After graduating USC and moving to New York to start a new job, Alana contemplated writing a book - a collection of stories from female founders of color. However, she was quickly swayed away from that idea after being accepted to the prestigious Nantucket Project - an annual gathering of over 500 visionaries and seekers that discuss boldest and most thought-provoking ideas of our time. Pitching her idea at the Nantucket Project helped her understand that she needed to become more specific about zeroing in on addressing the major underlying themes that Black women within this entrepreneurial space were facing. She asked herself, what problem am I solving that I can directly benefit people who are like me?
Realizing that access to storytelling is paramount, she immediately understood that the price point of publishing a book might not give back to her community in the way she had originally intended. If she wanted to change perceptions around what an entrepreneur looked like – and who had access to participate in entrepreneurship – she needed a platform that would give her access to reach her audience where they consumed media the most – online. A few weeks later, with a notebook full of sketches, and zero funding, the idea for Story Of She blossomed in a coffee shop in Harlem.
Today, Story Of She serves as a digital storytelling platform for female founders of color, and boasts content from intimate profile pieces to artistic, documentary styled videos featuring women entrepreneurs from all sorts of cultural and racial backgrounds. Alana’s mission of course, stays true to its original intention - to champion women of color as they pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors.
“Less than 1% of Black women receive venture capital funding for their businesses – things like that are discouraging.” Alana says when I ask her of the impact of Story Of She within the female founders community.
“But also, I find that since I’ve been working on this, I’ve learned about women who are similar to me. Women who have started their own companies,” she reveals. “I can visualize what it means to be a Black female entrepreneur now. Every time I do that, I’m reminded of the need for what we are doing.”