Fintech expert Dr. Roshawnna Novellus is making the most of her career. She’s the founder EnrichHER, a digital platform that connects investors with Black women-owned businesses (to date, the platform has helped 163 companies connect with over $14M in funding); she advises readers on funding, entrepreneurship and money management; and in recognition of her support for Black women in business, she was featured in a 2021 Super Bowl ad with rapper/singer-songwriter Lil Nas X.
In a recent interview, she told TNJ.com how she came to be a fierce advocate for women. “The story really begins with my mother. Beyond working full time as a teacher, she also was a serial entrepreneur. She showed me that women have the capacity to do anything, and she was intentional about teaching me to be in control of my own financial power as a Black woman,” she revealed. “She was well aware of the racism and sexism embedded in our country’s financial system and knew I would need to be equipped against it early.”
Below is more of my interview with Dr. Novellus.
TNJ.com: What led you to launch EnrichHER?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: Over the years, I’ve remained passionate about being a solution for the lack of access to capital for women founders. In fact, less than 8 percent of all the VC dollars go to companies with women-led founders. The number drops to below 1 percent when you look at women of color. And when you look at combining sources like the SBA (Small Business Administration government agency) and alternative lenders, the number is still only at 18 percent.
Women build businesses at a quicker rate than men and in fact, businesses run by Black women are the #1 new business category. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the industry trends and what’s happening in the financing sector.
I firmly believe there has been no true innovation and push to disrupt the current financial landscape, so I said, “Hey, I have a Ph.D. in computer engineering and finance, and have studied marketing and community building for over ten years. Let me try to see if I could do something to change the statistics.”
TNJ.com: How does the platform work?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: EnrichHER’s mission is to change the status quo by increasing access to capital. Our platform matches revenue-generating companies led by women and founders of color with individual and institutional sources of funding. The platform allows everyday people to pool their funds with others and leverage the power of the many to propel underinvested businesses forward. We also partner with corporate impact funds and foundations to connect companies led by women and founders of color to capital, coaching, and community.
Essentially, we have evened the playing field for funders so that anyone can make a difference. Women-led businesses have a greater pool of opportunity and are no longer reliant on just a handful of venture capital firms to determine their future.
TNJ.com: What’s the meaning behind The Wealthy Yogi?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: My philosophy behind The Wealthy Yogi is that all decisions have greater clarity when made from a place of mindfulness, especially any decision involving finance. There was a time in my life when I was caught up in corporate titles, status, and making as much money as possible, and I was good at it. But even though I “had it all”, I was unhappy. I was stressed, friendless, and miserable because I didn’t take time to practice awareness and live a life in harmony with my internal truth.
When you decide to live a life where you spend your money in alignment with your goals, values, and priorities, you invite a life filled with love, gratitude, internal peace and financial freedom. I am passionate about integrating this mindset into the wholeness of my life journey and teaching others how to live the life of their dreams.
TNJ.com: You were one of the innovators selected for the Defy Logic ad campaign that debuted during the Super Bowl. How thrilled were you to be selected, and what is the overall messaging of the ad?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: I was beyond excited to have such a massive opportunity to represent Black women and further EnrichHER’s cause of funding women-owned businesses. The overall message of the ad is about defying expectations: ignoring artificial limits imposed by others in order to create change. You don’t have to look, sound, or act a certain way to be something. The message aligns so well with our work at EnrichHER.
We know that entrepreneurs don’t have to look a certain way to succeed. Women run businesses that are profitable and poised for growth. But women founders are systematically denied funding that would let them scale on the same level as their male counterparts. I believe that when you invest in women, you invest in an entire society. I am honored that Logitech recognized the importance of our mission enough to choose me to participate in this incredible campaign.
TNJ.com: In what way do you want the entrepreneurial ecosystem to change for women entrepreneurs? What’s the challenge in getting it to fruition?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: Historically, women have faced a profound lack of support in business financing. National statistics have shown that women get approved for business loans at rates about 20 percent lower than the same rates for men. They also receive smaller loans than men, with only 4% of business loan dollars ($1 out of every 23) going to women.
Additionally, predatory lending agencies have a history of targeting Black women, which is why it’s so important to be knowledgeable about multiple methods of business financing. That’s one of the things we cover in EnrichHER’s Business Financing Accelerator, and it’s very important information.
I strongly believe that in order for society to change, access to resources must change. Diversification of business ownership is part of the solution. Business owners are the brokers of goods into the community, and they influence politics and legislation.
We want to change the entrepreneurial ecosystem by eliminating bias in the financial sector, creating trustworthy financing options, and increasing the availability of capital. Then we will see women thriving, with an abundance of economic power and contributions to the economy, ultimately resulting in women-led business being able to raise as much capital as they want and need.
There are a lot of challenges, like the lack of education on how loans work along with the lack of respect when it comes to women who run businesses. From EnrichHER’s beginning, people asked me, “Is it a charity?” “Can women even build businesses?” “Do women know how to repay loans?” There are tons of successful women out there. Time and time again, people keep telling me there isn’t enough data that shows that women know how to build businesses, and it infuriates me. I wanted to ask them, “Where are you living?”
This is a big part of the problem because these are the people who make the decisions on which companies get funded and get a chance to move forward. If I’m a woman building a high-tech company, I need people who have money to fund my business so I can ramp up. Luckily, I did find some people to help me while I bootstrapped and was creative in how I could move forward.
TNJ.com: What about your work do you find most gratifying?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: The most exciting part is hearing from the customers. You can literally hear it in their voice or read it in their messages: the excitement that someone created a way to build generational wealth for their family and community. It is so energizing and motivating. It has also been gratifying to see things like #buyblack become important on a national and international level, because it means there is a growing recognition of the connection between economic power and the advancement of historically marginalized groups.
TNJ.com: What are your short- to long-term goals for EnrichHER?
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: EnrichHER’s long-term goal is to deploy $1 billion to businesses with diverse founders and leadership. For 2021, our goal is to partner with corporate impact funds, foundations, and individual funders to deploy $30 million to companies.
We believe that providing capital for businesses with diverse leaders is the key to economic empowerment, inclusive economic growth, and overall gender equality. Once women founders have a larger role in the economies of our communities, we will be able to build a society that is more reflective of our needs, desires and aspirations.
As the number of sustainable women-led businesses increases, society as a whole will benefit from inclusive job growth, as well as products and services that better reflect the input of the people they serve.
(Now through April 30, EnrichHER is offering a $5,000 grant to women-owned/minority-owned businesses. Apply on EnrichHer’s website.)