Even when others urge you to move away from your business idea, you may be best served listening to your gut and letting time be the ultimate judge of what works.
This was the case for Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that introduces girls of color to the tech industry through entrepreneurial projects. Founded in 2011, the Oakland, California-based organization teaches virtual reality, robotics, game design, web design, and mobile app development through workshops, hackathons, and summer camps. With 15 chapters across the country in addition to virtual events and workshops, Bryant says, to date almost 30,000 students have participated in a Black Girls Code event.
A decade ago, however, Bryant was still running the company as a side hustle, funding it with her 401k. People around her encouraged her to rename it, she recounted to Beatrice Dixon, co-founder and CEO of The Honey Pot Company, during an Inc. Your Next Move streaming event on August 31. But focusing on Black girls was the whole point, so Bryant stayed true to her idea–and it ended up being one of the best moves she made for growth. When people googled “coding for Black girls” or similar phrases, her company was the first to show up.
“The irony of that. The thing that was our biggest mark against us 10 years ago became the thing that helped people discover us and the work that we have been doing consistently for 10 years,” Bryant says. “Our name is Black Girls Code, and we’re unapologetic about that and we wouldn’t budge.” Looking back at her decision, she says it’s an affirmation of her work and the sacrifices she and her team made since founding.
Here, Bryant shares other ways she helped Black Girls Code become a force by trusting her intuition, and the lessons other entrepreneurs can learn from her story.
Celebrate your community
Bryant says she does a lot of mentoring both to girls in her programs and to women she meets elsewhere, and that mentoring has been a key to her efforts to grow her organization and build community. But it’s not just mentoring that’s important–it’s positive encouragement and lifting up others that creates the best connections.
“This belief in each other is something we don’t hear enough–that we can do it, whatever it is, whether it’s [becoming] a computer scientist or a doctor, a lawyer, or an entrepreneur. We don’t hear positive affirmations of ourself often enough,” she says, adding that celebration has been the foundation of her messaging. “That’s the key, the secret sauce, without a doubt, of what we do different or better than other organizations.”
Grow alongside your customers
In 2019, Bryant saw a large group of Black Girls Code alumni going off to college, and recognized they no longer would have the same support that they had had in the program. Wanting to add more structure, Bryant and her team launched a program last year to give alumni career advice, mentorship, internships, and ultimately, job opportunities. Listening to her customers helped the company better serve them. “What they tell us when we ask for feedback is that they still just want that community of other girls that look like them, have similar backgrounds as they do, and are on a similar path, because there’s a power in the community,” Bryant says.
Look for opportunities in every challenge
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Black Girls Code was forced to shut down coding events while the country went into lockdown. Like many event businesses, the nonprofit pivoted to offer virtual events–and the program grew from 3,500 students per year to more than 10,000. Today, the company has slowly begun to offer in-person events again, but the pivot taught Bryant a lesson about finding silver linings.
“It opened our eyes to the possibilities of being able to use these novel virtual tools to expand our reach well beyond where we ever thought we could,” she says. “It’s been really beautiful to see that happening.”