This Black Female-Founded Tech Startup Is Uplifting Diverse Voices In Tech

This Black Female-Founded Tech Startup Is Uplifting Diverse Voices In Tech

When Erika Hairston was entering her first year at Yale in 2018, she never imagined that the challenges she experienced during her education would give her the insights needed to solve a problem that she and many STEM students would face. “The summer after my senior year of high school, I stumbled upon a documentary about the lack of women and minorities in tech,” she tells xoNecole. “They showed how code was in every single thing we touched, and I just remember thinking, ‘Holy smokes, how is it possible that there are so few people who look like me in this industry that is clearly taking over the future?’”

While her time at the Ivy League came with its set of learning curves, Hairston was sure that her love for coding as a computer science major would outweigh those barriers to entry.

During her freshman year, she landed an internship at Facebook that would shape her outlook on tech forever. “I got my first offer letter, and seeing that, I was like, ‘This is how you create economic opportunities,” she recalls. “Seeing how much I was making as just a 19-year-old in tech made me realize I wanted to devote the rest of my career to helping more people have access to this in-demand field in tech.”

And that, she did.

Today, Hairston is the CEO and co-founder of EdLyft, a tutoring platform that equips students in computer science courses to land in-demand tech careers at the largest tech companies and is one of the youngest Black women to raise more than $1 million in venture capital through her startup. “We're a platform that helps companies train and engage their entire future workforce,” she says. “Everyone and all students are using our platform, however, we make it an intention to prioritize partnerships and programs where diversity is a top priority or a top goal.”

Erika and her co-founder believe in replicating the support that kept them in computer science to help more underrepresented talent thrive in the growing world of tech. After leaving their corporate jobs to pursue this mission and launching Edlyft in February 2020, they have since supported over 3000 students to reach their goals in the tech field.

“Computer science dramatically changed our lives, and when we looked at the market, we saw how in-demand software engineering was and realized that if we could replicate what kept us in computer science to help more people gain access to these in-demand careers, that would be really powerful.”

We caught up with Erika Hairston to talk about all things coding, overcoming imposter syndrome, and the importance of demystifying the fundraising process for Black women entrepreneurs/founders.

Photo by Apple Media

xoNecole: Learning to code can seem like an intimidating skill to acquire. Can you speak to how one can overcome those initial barriers of entry? 

Erika Hairston: Coding is like learning a new language where practice makes perfect. The intimidation, it's not just women of color who experienced that, it’s everyone when they try coding for the first time because it has a very steep learning curve. The first piece of advice is acknowledging that you're not alone in that initial hurdle of the steep learning curve.

The second piece of advice is that the media doesn't help. When you think of your typical hacker or getting into computer science, you see a white guy with a hoodie and glasses on, with a laptop in the corner, and sometimes people don't see themselves represented in that. And so I think there's been a lot of push to change that in really seeing yourself as an engineer, and that’s a part of what we are trying to change.

On a tactical level, there are so many organizations and resources that I encourage women, especially Black women, to tap into in order to overcome those barriers. One amazing organization that we're partnering with is Reboot Representation, whose mission is to increase the number of Black, Latinx, and Native women in tech.

xoN: Many female entrepreneurs struggle with imposter syndrome. How have you dealt with self-doubt while remaining confident in your abilities?

EH: More recently, I will say I have chosen to dismiss impostor syndrome as something that I feel because I realized that no one knows what they are doing. I wasn't ready to become a founder — I actually was working on a side project when I thought, ‘Oh, I can't be a founder. I don't look like a founder.’ What does that look like? And when I got into Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp, I was surrounded by women founders who were stages ahead of me, and they became my friends, and I got to see what it looked like to be in their shoes.

It was the first time that I saw that this is what it would look like for me to do this. I am capable, I can do that. Changing what it looks like to be what you want to be is a really important part of my journey. Surround yourself with investors or peers who have that shared vision of the world with you, empower you, and help you see what you can become.

"Changing what it looks like to be what you want to be is a really important part of my journey. Surround yourself with investors or peers who have that shared vision of the world with you, empower you, and help you see what you can become."

Photo by Apple Media

xoN: What challenges did you face when raising venture capital funding or navigating the tech world?

EH: Demystifying the fundraising process is one of those inside secrets that you don't know until you know. So democratizing access to this information is critical so that there's no longer those "The Only Black Woman To Raise This Much" headlinesthose have to be abolished.

We went through an accelerator program called Y Combinator. It's three months of access to investors who help you gear up for its ‘Demo Day’ where you pitch in front of a lot of investors. That was how we got that inside, ‘secret juice’ which is the way the fundraising process works. Doing those exercises and research to learn the tactics and skills that will increase our chances of being funded by investors that are mission-aligned was a really critical part of the process.

What that looked like for us was sending a lot of emails; I was even in people's DMs on Twitter. Being prepared to answer any questions and asking more founders for more introductions, that is truly how fundraising happens because sometimes we can't do what works for the 99%.

xoN: As a successful female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for women who aspire to start their own businesses, particularly in male-dominated industries like tech?

EH: One, do your ‘startup math’ or do your founder math. Calculate how much you need to have saved before you start your business. For me, that was six months of living expenses to feel confident and comfortable leaving my full-time job to focus on my company full-time. Do that math, save it up. That way, it's not always ‘Oh, I'll do it later,’ there's a concrete number that you're saving up towards.

Second, fall in love with a problem, not the solution. When you're building a business, the solution will look different, and it'll have to change as you learn from the people that you are building for. But if you care a lot about the problem, you'll find all of the different ways to best solve that and stay motivated as you work on your business.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image by Apple Media

Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next

Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.

Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.

Kendrick Lamar’s Longtime Partner Whitney Alford Gives A Rare Glimpse Into Her Private Life

Whitney Alford’s presence can be seen and heard all throughout her longtime partner, Kendrick Lamar’s impressive rap career, inspiring such deep cuts like the 2009 song “She Needs Me” and providing background vocals on To Pimp a Butterfly’s “Wesley’s Theory” and “King Kunta.” Perhaps the most visible she has been was in his latest release, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, where she appeared on the album’s cover art with the couple’s two children, as well as in the visual for his single, “Count Me Out.”