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.
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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.
Featured image by Paras Griffin/Contributor/Getty
This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
Many of us are familiar with actress, model, and entrepreneur Vanessa Simmons. Whether we previously followed her life and career on the iconic VH1 series Run’s House, keep up with her on social media today, or have seen her continually grace our screens on series like BET’s Games People Playor WeTV’s Growing up Hip Hop, she’s a name the culture knows and respects. But what many people may not know about the elegant go-getter is that she’s a big advocate for wellness.
In fact, during the pandemic, she was the friend many leaned on for physical and mental assistance and tips. “We were all in a state of fear and shock, and wellness was at the forefront of many of our minds. We wanted to know how we could stay as healthy as possible, and as the lockdown grew, mental health became just as important,” she says. The unique experience is what fueled her to birth U4IA (pronounced euphoria), an online community built around fact-based beauty and wellness tips and mental health awareness.
The platform started simply as a personal blog, a way for her to have all of her wellness thoughts and suggestions in one place. But anyone who is familiar with Vanessa’s efforts and her business-minded family knows it doesn’t take long for a business idea to spark, and she knew there was an opportunity here. “Pastry (the sneaker line she created with her sister, Angela Simmons) taught me the highs and lows of being a businesswoman. I feel like this is an extension of that,” she explains.
We can see she lives this through her work as an actress, which she’s strived for, for years. But making time for self-care in her routine is something she developed over time. “Every day is not the same – that’s life. But generally, I try to wake up before the house at 5:30 a.m. Then I journal, meditate and breathe, do an ice facial, start my skincare routine (which she makes sure to not rush), and start my day.”
She also practices wellness with her daughter. “All of those things allow me to wake my daughter up in a positive mood and spend time getting her ready for school. Also, I do affirmations with her," she says. "There's been times when she’s tired or in a mood and she actually tells me she feels better after we complete them. And you know kids tell the truth; that’s how I know it’s working!”
Like many, motherhood drastically changed her daily comings and goings. She admits that the journey altered her values and the way she moves through life, especially being someone from the Big Apple. “I had to find patience. I’m a New Yorker, so I like everything quickly. But I learned to find the balance between life and career and know when to shut down the work stuff and just be there for my family - which has brought me more happiness.”
Through U41A she hopes to share some of those processes and tips that help and make it accessible for everyone. “There are expensive ways to celebrate self-care, but there’s also things we can do at home. I like intentional breathing, jumping jacks for five minutes a day, and jumping rope – that releases endorphins. Also, meditation, affirmations, and my prayer life helps me.”
She adds, “Oh, and I love my at-home spa blanket. There's so much we can do in our living space that gives us that luxury spa feeling and fills our self-care cup.”
Today, Vanessa works daily to maintain that balance and intention she’s created for herself and her loved ones, and U4IA is a big part of that. Currently, she’s excited about their upcoming events and future partnerships.“I’m bringing the U4IA website to life through a health and wellness activation. We’re basically bringing the best of wellness in each city to one space.”
Lately, I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed with life, relationships, and work. With things moving so fast, it’s easy to exist in a state of productivity. But one thing life has taught me is that if you’re not showing up for yourself, you can’t properly show up for others, and that creates anxiety. But if someone as busy as Vanessa Simmons can make time for daily self-care, so can I. If you’re feeling the same or looking to make a change in your wellness routine, make sure to keep up with Vanessa’s lifestyle journey on social media and visit U4IANow.com for the latest updates.
Feature image by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images