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'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.

BOSS UP

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

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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