'RHOA' Star Tanya Sam Is Creating Space For Women In Tech

Nurse-turned-entrepreneur wants to innovate, disrupt and inspire with TV and business platforms.


We all know that when it comes to entrepreneurship, women are killin' it. Black women in particular are the fastest-growing community of entrepreneurs, yet still face major obstacles in getting funding or even being taken seriously for their products, services, and business acumen. Research has shown that men were "significantly more likely to secure funding than women when pitching the same business content," and, in terms of race, black entrepreneurs in general are "three times less likely" to be approved for loans than white entrepreneurs.

Many advocates have joined in the fight to level the playing field for women not only to survive in business but to thrive and serve their communities. One remedy that is popular is "capital entrepreneurs" who actually find innovative ways to invest in those who are in disenfranchised communities. Among those is a new leader who has decided to use a popular TV platform---the wacky, wild, and salacious world of reality TV---to provide a leg up for women entrepreneurs: Real Housewives of Atlanta's Tanya Sam.

Courtesy of Tanya Sam

The Toronto-native stans for entrepreneurship, particularly inspired by the savvy of her fiance Paul Judge, a serial entrepreneur in his own right and co-founder of Tech Square Labs and Pindrop Securities. Sam has now launched The Ambition Fund to help women and underrepresented entrepreneurs reach heir goals. And though some might have just recently become familiar with Sam on TV, she's been on the Atlanta scene disrupting in entrepreneurship well before she hit the small screen.

"I've been in the tech and startup ecosystem in Atlanta for quite some time. We opened Tech Square Labs in 2014, a startup and co-working space for early-stage entrepreneurs primarily building high-gross, scalable technology companies. We invest in and help them scale their companies---everything from access to market, capital, etc.," Sam said during an exclusive xoNecole interview. Along with her duties as founder of the fund, she also serves as director of partnerships at Tech Square Labs.

An Idea Out of A Need

When she joined the Bravo TV show cast, Sam had a light-bulb moment after viewers of the show expressed a need. "So many women and other entrepreneurs [began] reaching out to me saying, 'Wow your story is so interesting. You went from nursing to technology. How did you do it? I'm building a business. It's not necessarily in tech but can you help me?'"

"I'm harnessing my passion for working with entrepreneurs, helping them to build and grow, across industries---helping to provide access to capital and networks so that they can thrive and succeed."

Sam, a graduate of the University of Toronto who was raised in a family of doctors, chose to pursue nursing after college, working for top hospitals in New York, Toronto and Atlanta. It was during that time that she got the idea for her first business, Limitless Smart Shot. At the time, she had read Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person and was inspired to take a leap.

"I love that book. I bought it years ago and I just feel like it was the right time for me to say yes to different opportunities. I was a bone marrow transplant nurse, and I worked in oncology and chemotherapy. I'd ran the gamut of the nursing profession. And at one point, I fell into entrepreneurship because I was going to work everyday with these super-smart people, and we'd walk into work and cheers our coffee cups and say, 'I hope this gets us through our shifts.' And people were relying on caffeine which can give you energy, but it doesn't actually increase your brain performance. I decided to fall back on my science background and formulate a beverage designed to increase your focus, attention and memory and actually boost your brainpower naturally. So that's where Limitless Smart Shot came from."

From 9-to-5 to Living Her Best (TV) Life

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When she started dating Judge, he was in the throws of launching a company, so it was a match made in entrepreneurship heaven. "I was getting this real-life, real-time business experience of how to build a company," Sam said. "It was extremely fascinating... the best lesson on taking chances." She also began going to meet ups and events centered on tech and entrepreneurship and her network grew in those spaces, among others.

Becoming a cast member on Housewives was something that came "out of left field," Sam said. "I would have never guessed, two years ago, that I would be on a television program at all. The opportunity came up, and [my reaction was], 'Oh you should think about it. It would be really fun.' But I just didn't know. I went to Paul, and he said, 'YOLO. Why not?' I knew some of the ladies and here I am in my second season. It's definitely been a roller coaster ride of fun."

Juggling Roles and Finding Balance

Wearing several hats---fiance, reality show star, startup advocate and entrepreneur---can be a challenge for anyone but Sam says she relies on forgiveness, self-care, and a little creativity in spending time with loved ones.

"I think the first key with balance is forgiveness. You can't be so hard on yourself that you're like, 'I didn't get everything done by this time today, and you know, you beat yourself up. That's No. 1--forgiveness."

And then for me, just being able to do the things that I love---like I love to work out. I feel like it absolutely feeds my soul with happy endorphins. I love to treat myself every once in a while to a new pair of shoes and be able to just find time to spend hanging out with friends. And sometimes that means saying, 'Hey, do you want to grab a glass of wine with our laptops and go to a workout class together? It kind of feels like you're killing two birds with one stone."

Standing behind women entrepreneurs by offering them resources to level up is something Sam hopes will be a proud and impactful part of her legacy. "It's really amazing when business owners' daughters say, 'I love watching you on the show and see [someone who is] fabulous black girl magic, is in tech and studied science. That's pretty cool. I get messages all the time where women see me on the show and identify, and it's awesome."

For more information on The Ambition Fund, visit their Website, and follow Tanya Sam via Instagram @itstanyatime.

Featured Image via Tanya Sam

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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