Vixen Chat: Angela Benton Talks New Me Accelerator and Entrepreneurship
From single mom to CEO, Angela Benton is a successful entrepreneur making her dreams come true one endeavor at a time. The tech-savvy Internet-nista is the CEO of Black Web 2.0, an online publication that gives information and assistance to African-American entrepreneurs interested in technology and media. The diligent mogul is also spearheading New Me Accelerator--a system that assists business owners in the advancement and development of their own companies.
Although networks like Twitter and Instagram make it easy for entrepreneurs to reach their intended audiences, Benton strongly believes that there aren't enough minorities and women in the technological mix.
Learn more about Angela on the next page.
Photo Credits: Forbes Magazine and Getty Images
VIBE Vixen: What is New Me?
Angela Benton: An easy way to think about New Me is any entrepreneur or someone who has an idea; we basically provide a platform or different types of resources—sort of like a map— to make them more successful. So it might be our training program where we have access to advisors and mentors. It might be connecting them with investors; it really just depends on where they are at any given point in time.
What inspired you to create this company?
So New Me is specifically for minorities and women and really the reason why I created it was because if you look at the technology industries, the success that we hear about, the snapchat and instagrams of the world--almost none of them are run by people of color or women. That’s really why we started New Me. It was to try to not just figure out why, but also increase the success rate of minority entrepreneurs, so that they can participate in this new economy that’s essentially being generated from companies that are built in the technology industry.
Do you think that there is ample guidance or opportunity in black and brown communities?
When I first started out with Black Web 2.0, which is now a part of New Me, my friends were my support system. We would talk all night on the phone every day about the problems that we had and the things we were trying to figure out. We would try to help out each other try to figure out those problems and whatever issues that came up, so we didn’t necessarily have access to the people we needed to have access to.
Like many entrepreneurs, we tried to figure stuff out on our own, even though I had the support system of friends most entrepreneurs don’t have. I didn’t start talking to my family about my work until I really started to see some success with it. Most folks that are in minority communities have friends and family that kind of just write it off and say “okay.” It’s very important for an entrepreneur to have a good support system and have different perspectives. They need acknowledgement, early stage capital. A lot of us can’t go to a friend or family member and say, “Hey, I need $25,000 for this idea I wanted to start.”
How did you get the funds to create your companies?
The biggest misconception is that you need a lot of capital to start, especially with a digital or Internet or web-based company; you actually don’t need a lot at all. Black Web 2.0 was started as a blog. I installed WordPress and I started writing about what I knew—I was actually working in the tech field. It cost me a domain and I didn’t even hire anybody to install it for me. It was like ten bucks at the time. For New Me, we already had traction with Black Web 2.0, so I had a network that I could go to already and say “hey, I have this idea.”
At the time, we were thinking about doing a nine week program in Silicon Valley. We were basically able to sell sponsorship on that idea based off of my own credibility. It also validated that it was a business. A lot of folks have an idea and they just want to try it out. If you have an idea and you just want to know that it’s going to be a business, the best thing you can do is figure out how it can generate revenue early on.
What was the most difficult struggle that you went through to create you businesses?
I don’t know if there was one particular issue. At every stage of the game, there’s always an issue. There was always a difficulty or hurdle. When I started in 2007, it was how do we get more people to come to the site? At that time, we had tot generate more content. How do we generate more content? We had to hire more writers, but we didn’t have any money. The landscape was totally different back then, so we were able to do it. New Me is a different business, so we have some similar hurdles. If you have a business, the key thing you need is to get in front of people so they know that you have something. There needs to be awareness. Another thing is how do you grow your team along with your business? I had that at a much smaller scale with Black Web 2.0 than I do now with New Me.
Do you think that New Me encourages young minorities to have more substantial careers?
I wouldn’t say “substantial” careers. I think people need to identify what they are passionate about and then do that. Being an entrepreneur is so hard. It’s a lot of ups and downs; it’s an emotional rollercoaster. You have to be passionate about something to be in it for the long run. Whether someone’s creating a $500,000,000 business or a $5,000,000 business or they just want to quit their day job, they still have to be passionate about it. Those are the types of entrepreneurs New Me is looking for and that we want to work with. Even if they haven’t found their passion yet, we really want to work with people who are talented, ambitious and have an innate sense of resilience. Those are all the qualities you need to be a successful entrepreneur. Even if they haven’t found their passion yet, we can be along with them for the ride.
What are the most popular programs that you offer?
The most popular program is our virtual accelerator. I think the biggest reason is because it is accessible to everyone. Before the accelerator, we would get random calls, people would meet me places, people really wanted to be involved in what we were doing, but there was no way to accommodate that with the 12-week program. We could only work with 16 entrepreneurs per year. The virtual accelerator basically takes our 12-week model and we essentially modify it and split it into two types of programs. One of them gives people access to a mentor and all of out advisors and speakers. We actually do all of that online now. That whole formula is Q and A for the benefit of the entrepreneur. Now we can accommodate a significantly larger amount of entrepreneurs whether they’re in DC, Nebraska or LA. Ultimately, they have more control over creating the life that they want. It’s definitely a shift. When I was younger, nobody my age was quitting their jobs. I’m meeting so many young people that want to be entrepreneurs. Even my 16-year-old daughter is so creative and wants to do stuff on her own, too.
Where would you like to see New Me in five years?
When I think of my personal goals and what I want to accomplish, I tend to think of it in more of an abstract way. We are a for-profit company, but we are also a mission-driven company too. For me, what’s important is that we really are helping a lot of people change their lives on their own, but that’s never out of balance with how much money we are making. So my goals are to help a lot of people and to also be a sustainable business at scale. I want to help hundreds of thousands of people or even millions of people—not just in the states, but globally as well.
Do you have a story about a successful member of New Me?
One of our most recent and probably most successful entrepreneurs to date is with a guy who was incarcerated for trafficking drugs. He got out and started working on his business. He came to New Me and raised a million dollars and is about to raise another round of funding. That was a huge success story that’s helping people who are incarcerated stay connected with people in the outside world. His personal story is not directly related to me, but I can relate to him being a teenage mom.
People wrote me off and said this is what my life is going to be like. I’ve talked to him and he felt the same way. The amazing thing was watching not only his life transform, but him transforming the lives of the people that he works with, the inmates that he’s helping. He’s really making an impact on peoples’ lives.
If you could give a young entrepreneur advice, what would it be?
Surround yourself with people who believe in you and what you’re doing. Sometimes that means not sharing what you’re doing too early with your family because they just might not be the most supportive at times. I think a lot of great ideas get killed in its infancy before its even validated to a market. I think it’s important to get the support that you need by identify people around you that are going to really help you through the process, if not intellectually then emotionally especially after you validate the idea that it’s going to be a business.
What was the most difficult time for you during your entrepreneurship journey?
I would say it was going to bed at 3 a.m every night. I had three kids and I would have to get up and go to work in the morning. It’s physically challenging. You don’t realize that it’s hard because you’re so passionate about doing something you don’t remember that. I think the hardest thing at the time was taking a risk. My brain knew that I can go get a job some place else and probably make more money, or I can go this other route and follow my intuition. Paying attention to that is really the reason why I am where I am now. I had to have a lot of faith. I didn’t know how things were going to work out, but I just had a feeling and knew that was the direction I wanted to go.