Tanya Sam Talks Raising Funds For Women Entrepreneurs And Leaning Into Multiple Career Passions

Tanya Sam Talks Raising Funds For Women Entrepreneurs And Leaning Into Multiple Career Passions

One can say that entrepreneur Tanya Sam checks all the boxes: Beautiful. Eloquent. Quirky. Fashionable. Her impact and interests transcend reality TV (though many of us loved watching her on The Real Housewives of Atlanta for sure), and she has the smarts that she's using to empower women entrepreneurs through The Ambition Fund. It's an investment company she founded that has worked to level the playing field for women and minorities to access resources like mentorship, investment capital, and funding.

Oh, there's more. She's an expert in the Web3 and NFT spaces, has served as director of Partnerships at TechSquare Labs, mentoring more than 60 companies founded by women and minority entrepreneurs, and has served as host of the influential Money Moves podcast powered by the Greenwood platform.

And through her work, she has made valuable investments, helping businesses generate more than $100 million in revenue. Add to that her hosting gig on "Making of a Mogul," a TV series focusing on the success stories of entrepreneurs in Black and Brown communities.

Paras Griffin/Contributor/Getty Images

She's been the queen of taking up space across diverse interests and passions, so beyond tech and entrepreneurship, she also has a robust social following and has built a diverse community centered on a love of books via the Tanya Time Book Club, a virtual space that will soon host its first in-person meet up in London.

I caught up with her after our first conversation, pre-Covid, to talk more about how things have been going with The Ambition Fund, her continued pursuit of advocating for women and minority entrepreneurs through actual investment (i.e., putting your money where your mouth is), and how she's been able to lean totally into multiple things she loves while building community:

xoNecole: We spoke almost three years ago, and you talked about all the awesome things you've done with the Ambition Fund. Talk a bit more about the success and impact of your work since then with BuiltxWomen and Ascend 2020.

Tanya Sam: That was just when we were going into the pandemic, perhaps, and that's so crazy! A lot has gone on from there and changed. The Ambition Fund is a fund I started to help underrepresented founders and early-stage entrepreneurs grow, scale, and educate themselves on how to build scalable businesses. A lot of that came from the work I did with TechSquare Labs, BuiltxWomen, and Ascend 2020.

[There was] a little bit of influence from my time at Real Housewives of Atlanta when I was exposed to a much bigger audience. I was constantly being inundated by women, in particular, who were building businesses outside of this smaller tech silo but had credible businesses that they were looking to scale, whether they were in hospitality, beauty---just so many people.

I feel like the pandemic grew this as well, where people were looking for different ways they could make their businesses successful---make their dreams come true.

Courtesy of Tanya Sam

That's where the Ambition Fund [came in.] Prior to that, I was investing in hydro-scalable companies, trying to find an avenue for some of these smaller businesses to help them grow and scale and have profitable enterprises.

Since then, I've done several more investments. In the entrepreneur world, it takes time. One of the things people are always asking is, 'Have you cashed out?' or 'Are you living on an island right now?' A lot of us founders have gone on to raise Series A from either the investment check I wrote---Series A [first major round of funding] or B [second major round]. They've increased their number of employees, which is always important to me, to grow and scale and hire more people and create more avenues for families to grow.

Some of those businesses, sadly, did not survive. They're starting another business based on the learning and pivots they've had to do. I look at that in all sorts of growth because there's a learning lesson for it all.

xoN: You really know your tech and business. What led you to pivot into tech, especially from your background in STEM and what you studied in school? Were you always a tech and business geek?

TS: My background is in healthcare and medicine. I did a degree in genetics and cell biology and then went back and did another bachelor's degree so I could study nursing. I [spent] most of my career in bone marrow transplant and oncology. So when I really was exposed to tech and the idea of it, I was dating my partner at the time. He was instrumental and was a serial entrepreneur starting a cybersecurity company. I knew nothing about cybersecurity, technology, or entrepreneurship at the time.

I really grew up in a family that was very medical-focused. The idea of starting a business and raising a round was completely foreign to me. But, there's all these ideas I sort of noodled on myself and how I wanted to approach entrepreneurship.

There are so many people out there that have this idea, and they're faced with this dreamer's dilemma. Do I take a chance on myself and build my own business to solve a problem that I'm passionate about, or do I keep doing what I'm doing, get my paycheck and live life out as we've been taught?"

[That's the case] for most of our generations----take the safe route. Work the corporate ladder. I did both. I like to say that because there was a time when I was working 12-hour shifts in the hospital but at the same time, I was running my own business and working in startups and tech, learning everything I could. I had people around me that were instrumental in helping me combat the imposter syndrome I think everybody has when it comes to navigating and making those career shifts to go from what they know---what is safe--to risking it all and trying something new.

xoN: You spoke about 'generations' and being taught to go the 'safe' career route, and I know you're Ghanaian-Canadian. There are many friends and family I know who are first-generation immigrants, with lineage from Africa and the Caribbean, who have been told the same. How has your upbringing played a role personally for you in your diverse career journey?

TS: My dad came to Canada on a med school scholarship back in the early '60s. Canada had a very small Black population, so it was a huge deal that he was awarded a scholarship to go to Canada to study medicine, which really changed the trajectory of so many people in our family. One of the main tenants that I think Africans have when you go overseas to study is that there are like five professions you go into. And so, I decided to pursue nursing, and even that, it was like, 'Oh, I'm not sure. You should go be a doctor.'

To branch out and do entrepreneurship in the U.S. was a big point of contention in my family, however, I say all that to say that most Africans---and it's very commonplace---have so many jobs.

When I think back to my aunts who stayed in Ghana, they ran businesses---shops, kitchens, clothing businesses. The idea that I could be a multi-hyphenate and that I could do all these things and wear multiple hats---that part is in my blood.

xoN: What is your advice for other women who have a passion for careers considered 'safe' but also want to branch out and fully lean into businesses or other careers?

TS: You've gotta just go for it. Oftentimes, we're our own worst enemy, and we talk ourselves out of it. We want to wait until the timing is right. I've heard this over and over again. The timing is never right, and you just have to go for it.

My second piece of advice is done is better than perfect. I say this often as well. I came from a background of life-or-death decisions, but most decisions you're going to make in building your business are not going to be life or death. I feel like we have to let go of that idea that everything has to be perfect. [We think] we have to go back to school to study business or get that MBA.

There's so much information available online that can help you scale a business, how to market, how to do operations, so done is better than perfect. Just launch it, and you will always---if you're committed to it---be able to reiterate and grow from that. You will be able to make the best decision possible based on getting your business out there.

And last, access your resources. The best resources are right there under your nose. It's vertical resources and horizontal. It might be people in your mastermind group or others who have built businesses and can help you when you hit roadblocks. Others can help you raise money.

There are people out there who are willing to help you. You just have to ask.

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Featured image by Paras Griffin/Contributor/Getty



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