…I like to think that I am already pursuing this. I am on the board of directors for Kate’s Club, an Atlanta nonprofit whose mission is to empower children and teens facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. By creating friendships with kids and young adults that share their experience, Kate’s Club guides children through their grief journey in a comfortable, safe, and uplifting setting. This organization and all the children we touch hold a special place in my heart as I also experienced loss at an early age, losing my mother at the age of 12. Our mission is to change the perception of grief, allow families to openly talk about and experience their loss in a safe and peaceful environment.
I had the great pleasure to interview Tanya Sam. Tanya is the Director of Partnerships at TechSquare Labs, a technology startup hub and venture capital fund. Since 2016, TechSquare Labs has invested in over 30 companies and those companies have raised over $300 million dollars in venture capital and generated over $100 million dollars in revenue.Tanya is passionate about creating pathways to bring more women and minorities into business and technology. She co-founded BuiltxWomen, a business accelerator for female entrepreneurs. She currently leads Ascend 2020, a technology startup and small business pre-accelerator for minority and female founders. Additionally, Tanya serves on the Board of Directors for Kate’s Club, a non-profit organization that empowers children that have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. This organization and all the children they help hold a special place in her heart as she also experienced loss at an early age, losing her mother at the age of 12.Tanya lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her fiancé Dr. Paul Judge, a technology entrepreneur and investor. She was born in Toronto, Canada and her parents are from Ghana and England. Tanya earned a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Cell Biology from McGill University and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University of Toronto.She has practiced nursing for over a decade in some of the top oncology hospitals in Toronto, New York and Atlanta including Princess Margaret Hospital, Northside Hospital, and New York Presbyterian. She is a fashionista, an avid runner, workout queen, spin-cyclist, traveler, foodie and bibliophile.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Technology and startups are a second career path for me. I attended McGill University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and thought I would do research or perhaps Medical School. I found out pretty quickly that lab work is lonely, and I wanted human interaction. Once I graduated, I decided to go back to school to earn my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Toronto. I gravitated to hematology-oncology and did this for 10 years in some of the top hospitals in the country including Northside Hospital, New York Presbyterian, and Sloan Kettering. I loved being a nurse and taking care of people and their families.
I started getting involved with technology and startups about six years ago because my now fiancé was building his third cybersecurity company, Pindrop. It was basically at the napkin stage. His co-founder wanted to build something from his PhD research. So, they founded a voice security and authentication startup that protects large volume banks and financial institutions from fraud over the phone. To date, Pindrop has screened over 500 million calls.
Building a startup is an all hands-on-deck, all-consuming endeavor so I just started pitching in where I could. I am not technical but in the startup space there are a plethora of tasks required to make a company successful, so I tried to learn and do as much as I could to help. From operations to branding, to marketing to office design.
This experience inspired me to start my own startup beverage company, Limitless Smart Shot. It was actually born out of working in healthcare as an RN as we have busy 12 hr. days that demand us to be mentally sharp all the time. That said, we rely on coffee to keep us going, so I developed a dietary supplement drink to increase focus, attention, memory and help support healthy brain function.
Working alongside a serial entrepreneur like Paul Judge and then starting a company of my own, I realized that a large part of being successful is surrounding yourself with other like-minded people as well as opportunity. We built TechSquare Labs to create a startup ecosystem in Atlanta for early-stage entrepreneurs. We invest in and help build early-stage technology startups including everything from e-commerce to marketing to cybersecurity to blockchain. As the Director of Operations and Partnerships, I have a lot of freedom to create programs and I am passionate about helping minority and female founders build businesses.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Burning Man 2015. Spend time in the startup world, especially in Silicon Valley and you will hear about the Burning Man. I had never heard of the community or experience but so many people mentioned it and urged me to go. I went for the week in 2015 and it was absolutely incredible! The experience dispels all the hype that the media commonly talks about. The community of folks that attend and create this pop-up city of 70,000 people is truly a wonder of the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is a story of customer discovery. For my initial launch of Limitless Smart Shot (a 2 oz dietary supplement beverage designed to increase focus, attention and memory)
I planned to launch the product at Black Hat and the DEF CON Cybersecurity Conference in Las Vegas. It is the biggest security conference in North America and would have the perfect target audience — hundreds of thousands of super smart [email protected] and tech geeks. I had already tested my product locally at several hackathons and startup events and received great reception, now it was time for the big leagues!
I created this Limitless with the startup and tech ecosystem in mind because I was surrounded by uber smart coders who drank highly caffeinated beverages to help them stay up all night to code and game and increase brain performance.
Once set up at the conference, I started speaking with potential customers and I was shocked to hear the same response over and over. “I’m a genius. I have a PhD. I’m a renowned hacker.” They were not interested in getting smarter, they already felt that they were top dog!
Customer discovery fail! Turns out as the company grew my biggest customer segment was moms and stay at home parents concerned about “mommy brain.” Working adults over 40 who were concerned about job performance. The classic aging angst of will I be out-performed at my job by a 25-year-old with boundless energy.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Ascend 2020 is a 6-month pre-accelerator designed to scale and launch high-growth minority and/or female led startups in the Atlanta area. Our current cohort has 30 founders building a range of businesses from on-demand babysitting services to travel logistics to music and event tech. It is a partnership between TechSquare Labs, Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
I will say, RHOA always provides excitement 🙂
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Paul and I have been to Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Island twice. It is the most beautiful place on earth and the experience is incredible, hanging out with Richard and eight other amazing friends and couples for a week playing tennis, drinking tropical drinks and hearing how each other’s brain tick was invaluable and the most fun.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Having worked in two industries, oncology nursing and startups, that tend to have high rates of burnout, I would advise people to quickly find an outlet that they love. Oftentimes it is a gripe group at work or a physical activity, but you need somewhere to vent when times get heavy. I love working out, having cocktails with fellow nurses, or even just staying home and relaxing with a good book.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I like to think that I am already pursuing this. I am on the board of directors for Kate’s Club, an Atlanta nonprofit whose mission is to empower children and teens facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. By creating friendships with kids and young adults that share their experience, Kate’s Club guides children through their grief journey in a comfortable, safe, and uplifting setting. This organization and all the children we touch hold a special place in my heart as I also experienced loss at an early age, losing my mother at the age of 12.
Our mission is to change the perception of grief, allow families to openly talk about and experience their loss in a safe and peaceful environment.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Never be ashamed to ask questions in meetings.
The crazy wacky ideas are sometimes the best.
There are no rules.
Fail fast, succeed faster.
Done is better than perfect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later!” Richard Branson
This has been instrumental in helping me overcome fear and doubt. Women tend to struggle with this more than men, as men are more likely to raise their hand for a job or task while women want to ensure they are “perfectly qualified” to do it beforehand. I think we miss out on a lot of opportunities this way, so I like to share this quote often.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jen Bonnett. Ten years ago, she founded a program called StartupChicks. It was the first female startup accelerator of its kind in the Southeast and the first one I had ever participated in. It was instrumental in creating a supportive environment of other female and like-minded entrepreneurs to build my company alongside of.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Tracee Ellis Ross. I joined RHOA because I was passionate about representing a different side of Atlanta on the show, historically there have been a lot of entertainment and sports figures on the show. I wanted to show a female working in startups and tech in order to show other young woman that yes, there were career opportunities in tech. I am also from a mixed heritage family, British and Ghanaian and I grew up in Canada which offers a different perspective than the Southern experience.
I feel that Tracee’s character on Blackish is a wonderful representation of an African American female on TV and I would love to meet her. I think she is like my spirit sister.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
IG & FB @ItsTanyaTime