Karen Cahn , the Founder and CEO of IFundWomen, has dedicated her career to closing the funding gap for women entrepreneurs and opening up their realm of possibilities through maximizing confidence. A successful pioneer in tech and media, she spent 10 years as an early Google Intrapreneur leading several monetization teams in search, display, and video.
When Karen Cahn started the Branded Entertainment business on YouTube back in 2006, she and a rogue group of sales and product managers, connected big consumer brands and video creators. Her group created the first native video ad experiences monetized on YouTube.
IFundWomen is the go-to marketplace for active participants and supporters of women-owned businesses. They offer access to capital “through crowdfunding and grants, expert business coaching on all the topics entrepreneurs need to know about, and a network of women business owners that sparks confidence, accelerates knowledge, and ignites action.”
Despite Karen Cahn’s busy schedule, she has kindly offered advice and reflection on her success story in the following interview.
As the founder of IFundWomen, what led you to create this company?
IFundWomen was created when my first startup—a video platform for female creators—was failing. We were out of cash. We set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise $30,000 to keep the proverbial lights on. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but eventually, we ended up meeting our goal.
We had the idea to create a crowdfunding platform specifically designed for women entrepreneurs to get their ideas funded. Why? Because crowdfunding should be the first stop on every entrepreneurs’ journey. It allows a startup to prove there is demand before investing in supply.
We realized that there was no one to teach us how to crowdfund. We knew that coaching was a key ingredient to any successful entrepreneurial story, so we offered coaching on how to crowdfund.
Lastly, we knew that women thrive when they’ve got a community of sisters around them to push them to keep going. We made community a core part of our offering as well.
You coach and mentor women on how to start smarter, better businesses. How else do you try to fill that role of mentorship in your life? What do you look for in your own mentors?
I truly believe that women can solve all the world’s problems. I love having a diverse group of investors and partners that has helped me build IFundWomen from the ground up.
I think one of the ways that women differ from men is that women tend to ask for help when they need it. This has definitely been my strategy with building IFundWomen. Test, learn, iterate, and have strong coaches around me to show me the way.
What do you believe is the most valuable thing to invest your time into?
I eat, sleep, and breathe funding for women entrepreneurs. At IFundWomen, our #1 goal is driving funding into the hands of women. That’s what I invest most of my time in and care most about.
What’s one thing you believe every entrepreneur should know?
Overnight success takes five to 10 years. Do not quit your day job when you have a startup idea! You should work in your 10% time to prove there is demand before investing in supply. We believe at IFundWomen that no founder should go into debt or max out credit cards funding the earliest days of her startup.
As a woman in business, you are always meeting new people across all backgrounds and industries. If there’s one thing people take away after meeting you, what do you hope that is?
The one thing people get about me right away is that I’m no BS. I get straight to the point, and tell people the truth about their business idea (only if they ask).
This approach not only saves people time and money, but it also engenders trust. I’m not a “yes” person or a person who just wants to be liked. I’d rather people know that I care about them and their business by giving them honest, constructive, no-BS feedback.
What is a key business strategy that you took away from your three years as General Manager of AOL Original Video?
Know what your customers want to buy and sell that exact thing to them. For example, when I started at AOL, I knew that, at the time, Verizon was looking to market to women because women make 80% of the household purchasing decisions.
So, my team and I went hunting for the best women video creators, gave them a budget to make whatever they wanted, which not only yielded a 7-figure deal from Verizon, but also got AOL an Emmy nod.
The IFundWomen COVID-19 Relief Fund provides microgrants to women-owned businesses that are being impacted by this crisis. What charity or foundation is IFundWomen currently supporting?
Our number 1 KPI at IFundWomen is driving funding into the hands of women-owned businesses. To that end, our COVID-19 grants go directly into the crowdfunding campaigns of entrepreneurs raising capital on our platform.
We believe that no founder should have to go into debt or relinquish equity while building the earliest days of their startup. This is why we provide access to rewards-based crowdfunding and grants. Any of our crowdfunders that have been impacted by COVID-19 are eligible for our COVID-19 grants.
Additionally, since our inception, we have given 20% of our standard crowdfunding fees back to women raising capital on our platform. Meet some of our Pay-it-Forward grant recipients here.
IFundWomen is closing the funding & confidence gap for female entrepreneurs. How does IFundWomen advise businesses such as hair and nail salons to strategically pivot during the COVID-19 crisis?
Think smartly about how you can meet your customers where they are and deliver some sort of value. For example, can you deliver hair color with brushes and instructions? Can you do house calls while wearing a mask?
Karen Cahn has proven that success can come from every angle, including failure. She has learned from previous challenges that determination is everything when it comes to striving for what seems to be impossible.
IFundWomen is driving funding into the hands of women-owned businesses and closing the funding gap and confidence gap for women entrepreneurs. Lack of funding should not prevent women from taking on business challenges and empowering others through their ventures.
Karen is living out the BLENDtw vision of generating positivity and confidence for entrepreneurs across all walks of life with connections.
Through IFundWomen, women are exchanging experiences with other women to help shape their understanding of the world and prepare them for the future. This overwhelming support between women is inspiring us all to strive to do the same: to reach for the “impossible.”
Alicia White Leading Project Petals to Repair Communities
Nonprofit organizations are driven by a social cause. They help families in need, repair communities, teach children new things, and give hope to those who need it most.
Alicia White, the founder and president of Project Petals, had all of this in mind when starting her nonprofit. She is an advocate for all those living in low-income and under-resourced communities. Not only is she an entrepreneur, but she has also worked with the United Nations and done grant work with domestic justice civil rights issues within her community.
BLENDtw had the opportunity to interview White regarding her history with Project Petals and moving forward with her program.
1.) You started Project Petals with the vision to help low-income and under-resourced communities. Can you tell us a bit about what the process of starting up a new business was like? What were your struggles along the way?
The process of starting my organization has been rewarding, and I learned so much through the process. My organization started out as a volunteer-led project in Queens, New York. It was important for me to form an organization to improve the environment, support communities and future leaders.
It was challenging starting my first environmental project, and I wanted to make it less difficult for anyone coming after me. Also, to help youth learn the leadership skills needed to make an impact in their communities.
Starting a new organization for me had its challenge, but I learned so much along the way. I had to essentially learn what it was to set up an organization in what felt like overnight. Through extensive research, I had to file paperwork, create a website, the logo, the structure of the organization, and just typical start-up activities fell on my shoulders.
Like most black women founders, my biggest struggle was finding and securing funding. For example, in 2019, Black-led organizations received less than 4% of grants and funding. That percentage dwindles when you are a woman.
2.) COVID-19 has been challenging for many small businesses and has caused people within many communities to struggle to make ends meet. How have you seen this affect them and what has Project Petals been doing in response to this?
COVID-19 has hit the communications that my organization works, extremely hard. My organization had to change from working on the ground with large amounts of volunteers to working remotely, with fewer volunteers on the ground.
Through all of this, we were still able to support our community leaders and neighborhoods with the tools and resources that they need to improve their environments. Like every other organization, we have to abide by COVID-19 safety restrictions and guidelines to keep everyone safe while still actively providing the services that are needed to make an impact.
3.) Going forward with Project Petals, what do you envision with your company? Where do you see it going in terms of growth?
I see Project Petals eventually moving to a national scale. The need for environmental support and community development is needed now more than ever. With the climate crises on the brink of causing further catastrophe, it is vital that Project Petals is able to serve as many communities and leaders as we can.
4.) You have a program called, “Youth Builders Program.” Can you elaborate more on what it is and what sort of programs it offers? And how this program can be of help to those participating in it?
Our Project Petals Youth Builders Program helps young people gain the leadership skills they need to improve their communities and futures. Our program connects youth in grades 4-12 to engineering, architecture, urban planning, environmental science, tech, and design professionals who can offer mentorship, experience, internships, and inspiration through monthly workshops.
We work to catalyze the next generation of environmentalists, community leaders, and professionals in these fields. Our program inspires them to develop a passion for these fields, thus working to create a more sustainable, diverse, and equitable world. One hundred percent of all of the youth show great leadership potential. We believe by fostering this leadership and giving them access to a network of professionals; we will start to build more resilient communities.
5.) Before Project Petals, what sort of jobs were you doing? What led you to want to become an entrepreneur and what advice do you have for anyone also planning to pursue entrepreneurship?
Growing up, I always had ideas that I wanted to bring to reality, but as a young person, I didn’t know how to, and I didn’t think it was possible for me to do so. As an adult, social entrepreneurship gave me the opportunity to take my ideas and actually use them to make a positive impact in other people’s lives and the environment.
If I had to give any advice, it would be to have confidence in your ideas and in your skillset as you may face many obstacles, nay-sayers, and challenges along the way. Failure is par for the course and is a good lesson plan to succeed.
We hope that by understanding Project Petals, White, and how entrepreneurs can shape the future of the community around them, we can then better understand how to make our community and the world around us a better place. Thank you to Project Petals and White for this opportunity and we hope this program thrives in the coming years!
Using Instagram Art to Promote Anti-Racism: Meet French Graphic Artist Aurélia Durand
Instagram artist, Aurélia Durand, has been using the platform to promote her anti-racism art. She has a website on which she sells posters, stickers, and cards that she has designed herself. Her art is focused on celebrating diversity and equal representation. Durand’s dream is to help form a united community and an inclusive future for everyone. BLENDtw had the opportunity to ask Durand a series of questions about her current work on Instagram, the book she illustrated, and her goals for the future.
1. Who or what inspired you to start creating art? What keeps you motivated?
When I begin working on a new artistic creation, I listen to music to put myself in a zone where I feel good and am inspired to create a meaningful message. I find that music settles the mood and atmosphere around me. I create to stay positive, and staying positive is essential for my well being. I need to be creative; I am addicted to creativity; imagination, drawing, and seeing the idea evolve is exciting. The most fulfilling feeling is to see people interacting with my work.
2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? What advice would you give to young black women with dreams similar to your own?
Create for yourself; don’t try to make the same as everyone else. Find your voice; follow your instinct.
3. What impact do you hope your art will have on our world today?
I hope my art empowers people and makes them smile.
4. In what way does art communicate with and reach people better than other means do?
It’s upon us; it happens because of many factors. I think that visuals are more impactful than words. It is universal, we see it, and we quickly react to it.
6. You just recently illustrated a New York Times bestseller, “This Book is Anti-Racist.” What inspired this project? What do you hope readers take away from it?
I hope readers want to take action for antiracism in there every day life after they read the book.
My publisher, Quarto, contacted me at the end of 2018 to participate in the book’s conception as the leading illustrator. I have never met the author; unfortunately, due to the current global pandemic and social distancing regulations.
The book, “This Book is Anti-Racist” was released in January 2020 and became a best seller in June after the Black Lives Matter movement spread globally. We sold more than 150,000 copies! The book has been popular in schools, but people of all ages are reading the book. It includes about 20 exercises for readers to do while thinking about how they can take action to build a more inclusive society.
7. Do you have any plans or projects you are working on? How can people help support your cause?
I am working on many new projects, but I can’t talk about them as they are meant to be a surprise. In October, I will be participating in several talks with Adobe, Ladies and Wine, and the AOI association. The projects are very exciting and I have confidence that they will have great success when they are completed.
Meet Steve Schwartz: Coaching Students Through LSAT Unplugged
None of us are strangers to the barriers that standardized testing poses to students. Most of us have gone through exams such as the SAT, ACT, or SAT II exams, which are notorious for being inherently abstruse to students without test preparation programs and similar resources.
Beyond these college entry exams, which some schools have made optional due to these reasons, there are also graduate school entry-level exams. Like the SAT and ACT, exams like the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT serve as gatekeepers to graduate school for many students for several reasons, ranging from financial difficulties to no access to preparation materials.
According to a study by Harvard scholars, the LSAT was linked to the marginalization of aspiring black lawyers.
Even so, individuals are working to alleviate these barriers; Steve Schwartz, one of these remarkable individuals, is making his LSAT preparation materials more accessible to all demographics through his blog and YouTube channel. BLENDtw had the pleasure of interviewing Steve about his journey to becoming an LSAT coach.
In your blog, you mentioned that a lot of other LSAT coaches tend to be geniuses that didn’t have to study for the LSAT for a good score. But, you worked extremely hard for your impressive score, and you can help others accomplish the same for themselves. How do you adhere to your promise to make LSAT prep and impressive scores accessible to all?
Well, it’s really about getting into the student’s mindset and seeing the questions from their point of view. Going back in time to when I was prepping, I would feel dumb sometimes; I wouldn’t always get it the first time, the second time, or even the third time. So, it’s really about adjusting to the way they think about it and getting them to understand it using their way or their approach.
In 2019, there was a study published that linked the LSAT to the marginalization of aspiring black lawyers. How are you working to alleviate this marginalization?
So first off, aside from my courses, I release 98% of my information for free via the YouTube channel, Facebook group, and Instagram. So 98% of my information is free, that’s a lot of information. That being said, I also have scholarship programs for my class.
Earlier this year, I ran a special interest scholarship, where all you had to do was submit a short video, really anything you want. I got over 100 submissions. I was initially going to give 10 students access to top tier courses for three months, but I got so many good submissions that I accepted 30 students for free.
Going forward, I have several scholarships I am running, through which you can get 50% off the classes if you have a fee waiver, are active or former military, and if you’re committed to practicing law in the public sector, you can get an additional 10% off. I am doing my part and always looking for more ways to make my materials more accessible.
How do you believe standardized testing gauges one’s abilities? What is your opinion on the belief that assessments like the LSAT are barriers to achieving one’s dreams?
I think standardized tests play an important role, but they’re also overemphasized in the admissions process. They have some validity, and they’re a better objective method than GPAs are because of grade inflation and variations among different kinds of programs; one standardized test plays a role in leveling that field.
But, at the same time, people can afford prep while others can’t. That creates barriers because some people have certain backgrounds that make it so that they can perform better in these exams. So, I wish that these exams didn’t have as much importance as they do. But, I still think they play a role. People should always be looking to make these exams better and more equitable.
You mentioned in your blog that you became an LSAT coach upon obsessing over it, achieving an impressive score, and wanting to help others to do the same. How did you reconcile your dreams of becoming a lawyer with your desire to help others surpass the “roadblock” the LSAT poses on the journey to law school?
First off, once I took this exam and became obsessed, my natural process of studying it naturally forced me to help others. So, since I was a political science major as a pre-law student, I had friends who were also looking to take the LSAT; it just felt natural to help them. I kind of fell into teaching the exam in that way.
At the same time, I was working on my law school application and personal statement, and that really is a journey to self-discovery, and you wonder why you want to go to law school and what you are doing here.
Through that, I realized I didn’t want to go to law school; all the things I loved about it was an idea I had created for myself. But, I loved teaching the LSAT, so I decided that it was really for me.
I discovered this by writing a personal statement. I started my blog a few years later, and it just took up from there along with the YouTube channel.
And from here, we really are just looking to expand mediums to get as much information out there for people to have.
What advice would you offer a college student on a predetermined path, like pre-law or pre-med, about not reaching a traditional endpoint?
I would say to talk to some people doing what it is that you want to do. I would say to do some exploration and talk to people in the field and ask them what they do. Maybe you can shadow them so you can understand what it is that goes on so you can get a clear idea and not just something you make up in your head. Talk to the professionals in the field and get their advice.
What is the most memorable or impactful coaching experience you have had thus far?
There are so many, it’s hard to think of just one. I have a lot of online coaching sessions; I even release them on YouTube where students get those flashes of insight. And whenever that happens, that’s really powerful. And, of course, due to COVID, there are more online classes. I play with different formats and the most interesting is group coaching.
In this format, the students support each other and present information to one another. It is an extremely powerful moment when students begin to support each other. It’s empowering to have someone learn by teaching others. I have learned a lot from teaching, but those moments where one student supports another and grow through that process, I think that’s the most powerful thing I have experienced.