Angela Benton is a leading innovator in Silicon Valley, who decided to follow her father’s advice and study what creates the currency of the future.
She is the Founder and CEO of NewME Conference and NewME Accelerator, a social enterprise and mentoring network that helps entrepreneurs old and new to forge a path of success. The example of her experience and foresight combined helps to elevate minority men and women and by providing this lead, it helps to make them current and indispensible to any technology forum. She is a resilient model of empowerment, purpose and achievement for all who have come up since.
Over the years Benton’s courage and ability to break apart silos and cross over intersections of disciplines are what positioned and catapulted NewME in the respected position to “educate, accelerate, and empower minority entrepreneur’s success”. Equally exciting is the notion that NewME alliances with partners such as Google are additionally propelling global entrepreneurial imagination and opportunity – mounting realistic dreams across the world. This is why today, leading investors and media such as Forbes, CNN, INC, WSJ, Ebony and Essence Magazine all recognize Benton and NewME for innovative approaches to leadership, diversity and outstanding mentorship. A handful of Benton’s recent honors include, one of the Most Influential Women in Technology 2010, Ebony Magazine’s Power 150 for 2010, Youngest Hall of Fame inductee of Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) and a 2010 Woman of Power honoree by the National Urban League. Benton sat down with YRB Magazine to share intimate details of her journey:
YRB Magazine: Tell us a little about Angela Benton.
Angela Benton: My life experiences helped me be who I am today. Pregnancy changed the person I was.
I felt written off being pregnant at age fifteen and delivering my baby at age 16 was my most life-changing event.
Pregnancy teaches you about who people really are: you are perceived differently from a judgmental standpoint. After I gave birth I finished high school in 3 years taking both 11 and 12 grade courses simultaneously. Immediately after at age 17, I left home to attend community college. I always liked basketball and wanted to play in college but at the time I couldn’t perform physically. College was a lot harder because most colleges do not allow children on campus.
YRB: Was teenage pregnancy your motivation to succeed in life, how did you maintained your focus and eventually transition far beyond the hurdles?
AB: When you become pregnant people don’t see you in the same light; they count you out so for a while I was in competition with myself, this other Angela. People wondered who I was going to become because I did not want to become what others expected of me. When I became older I had a shift in maturity and decide to follow my passion, do what I like and prove people wrong by completing my education.
YRB: What is a day in the life for Angela?
AB: My days differ but mostly include my kids. It is important for me to pick up my daughter from school each day. My flexibility allows me to spend time with my children and manage my company successfully.
YRB: What was your actual introduction to technology?
AB: During the first dotcom boom, I worked as a freelance web designer and on publications; I still love publications to this day. People told me that the Internet would put me out of business but that did not discourage me.
I studied design and coding and finished my degree while working as a web designer. At the time, not too many designers knew how to code and design simultaneously.
From a designers perspective it is better because you are able to control the end result of a website. When I worked for publications, I taught myself how to code and on the advise of industry professionals, transitioned to dotcoms.
YRB: What is NewME, how does the program work?
AB: NewME Accelerator is an intimate and intensive 12-week residential program located in San Francisco that launches minority and women-led startups. Since launching in 2011, we have accelerated over 300 startups and helped them raise over $11 million in venture capital funding.
YRB: What was your introduction to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education?
AB: I do not come from a STEM background; I have a Fine Arts degree. College was my way to explore. I love theory and the way people think so I studied philosophy but of course I didn’t become a philosopher.
YRB: Do you feel STEM and Art are connected?
AB: A lot of the mentors that we work with say that to be in technology in 2014 you should have a STEM degree, I do not agree with that.
People should just follow their passion. However, I feel entrepreneurs need to be quasi technical, meaning you don’t have to know how to code but you need to know the ins and outs, understand technology and know how to communicate with designers so that you can manage the process and actually go to product.
YRB: Have you encounter racial discrimination in your career; are there any unique obstacles you’ve experienced in your industry?
AB: Not so much racial discrimination but as a woman CEO I am often excluded from “the boys club”, the men’s conversation.
I find myself more alienated because I am a woman. It is challenging but I force myself into conversations and make sure that I am noticed and heard.
Most often, men are very surprised to learn that I am the CEO of my own technology company.
YRB: What do you feel is most vital for entrepreneurial success?
AB: An entrepreneur should be able be mentored, they should be open to suggestions and feedback. Additionally they should be able to grow and not hold on to certain stage in the development process.
YRB: How do you find entrepreneurs for Newme and what qualities do you look for in new entrepreneurs?
AB: They actually find us!
They see us on social media mainly through Facebook. For us to work with an entrepreneur, they must have a clear developed idea for their business. They must know what they need to do and they must be coachable.
YRB: Who are some of your women influencers/mentors?
AB: Oprah by far, what she has done is nothing short of amazing. She built a broad platform and accepted herself and created her personal brand – I greatly admire that about her. Deborah Reid of B.E.T is one of my favorite speakers/ role model women entrepreneur, and Michelle Obama as well, what I love most about her is her relationship with Barack Obama; they are partners in life, love and business.
To learn more about Angela Benton and Newme Accelerator follow her on twitter @Abenton