In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. That’s why we’re launching Founded, a new web series that shares the stories of women founders who are using tech to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. To highlight the stories of four women of color tech entrepreneurs, for our first season we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S.
In our first episode, we meet Tanya Sam, a reality TV star and tech startup investor. Through her work with Tech-Square Labs and the Ambition Fund, Tanya is strengthening the power of historically under-served entrepreneurs.
We sat down with her to dig deeper into her vision for the tech industry. Here’s what she had to say about her past life working in healthcare, how she’s helping bring minority voices to the table and how she balances her career with filming a television show.
Today, you’re a tech entrepreneur, investor and reality TV show star—but you were a nurse for the bulk of your career. Tell me about your career transition to becoming a tech founder.
When I first moved to Atlanta, I was still working full-time as a registered nurse, and my then-boyfriend/now fiancé Paul was launching a cybersecurity company. On our second date, he actually had to take a coffee meeting with his co-founder, and I sat in on the whole conversation. I was so impressed! I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneur world.
My career in healthcare is actually what inspired Limitless Smart Shot: As a nurse, I worked busy 12-hour days, and we relied on coffee constantly. So I wanted to create a dietary supplement that would be healthier and could increase focus, attention, memory and support healthy brain function.
You’re the co-founder of Tech Square Labs, Atlanta’s lead seed stage venture fund. What was your vision for Tech Square Labs? What problems are you hoping to solve?
The vision of TechSquare Labs was to create opportunities to help tech entrepreneurs make something from nothing. Oftentimes, early entrepreneurs have an idea that they believe can become a large-scale, technology-based company, but they don’t have the resources to drive that idea. TechSquare Labs helps with everything from providing coworking space to helping teams with patent research and networking opportunities.
You also founded the Ambition Fund to invest in women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. Where do you see The Ambition Fund scaling with the next five years?
In the next five years, I plan to take the Ambition Fund Business Battles to over 50 cities across the globe, help fund over 500 companies and by that point to have also helped 1,000 women and minorities become angel investors. I want to help change the face of entrepreneurship by making it more female, more black and more diverse.
Just being on set with you for the shoot, I noticed that you have a great sense of humor. What really cracks you up?
I am truly a corny and goofy nerd at heart! I like dry, witty humor and laugh at my own dumb jokes. I try to live life to the fullest by working hard and enjoying what I do! I think that comes from my stint as an oncology nurse; it really teaches you an appreciation for life and health.
What’s it like filming The Real Housewives of Atlanta? I’ve read you turned down the opportunity to film full-time—why?
When I was offered the chance to work on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, I thought it was a great chance to show the life of a black woman working in tech on mainstream television; representation matters! But filming takes a ton of time, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to work on the Ambition Fund and TechSquare Labs, and all my other projects, if I were on the show full-time!
You do a lot of these kinds of interviews; is there anything you’d like to share that you don’t usually get asked about?
I love to talk about my passion for a nonprofit organization that I am very involved in. Kate’s Club is an Atlanta nonprofit helping young people who are facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. Kate’s Club connects kids and young adults so they can share their experiences, and helps them process their grief in a comfortable, safe, uplifting setting. I’ve been a volunteer and working with children at Kate’s Club since 2016, and I’m currently on the Board of Directors and serving as the Gala Chair for our annual Mourning Glory Gala May 16, 2020.
There’s a personal reason why Kate’s Club holds such a special place in my heart. I also experienced loss at an early age; I lost my mother at the age of 12. When I was going through that, let me tell you, there was nothing like this around for my younger sister and I. No clubhouse, no programs, no summer camps or even exposure to other kids that had experienced loss.
Are there any stories you’d like to share about using your influencer status in a positive way?
So recently, I actually helped bring someone onto the Kate’s Club board after meeting online. I use my Instagram Stories to talk about my work at Kate’s Club, and I had a woman reach out to me to share her grief story, and she ended up making a donation right there over Instagram. And now, just this week, she ended up joining the board!