Create & Cultivate 100: STEM: Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon

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THE FOUNDER.

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Forget thigh gaps, Founder Gym is about representation gaps. Knowledge gaps. Network gaps. 

Specifically, Founder Gym is an online training gym that focuses on underrepresented founders building tech startups. Over the course of 4 weeks, founders complete structured exercises to increase their strength in a core area of startup success, and receive personal training from Silicon Valley investors and venture-backed founders.

Top trainer and co-founder: Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, says, "As a woman of color in Silicon Valley I have seen first-hand the gaps in knowledge, network, and capital that underrepresented founders experience. Founder Gym is my way of closing those gaps."

More below.

Instagram Handle: @MandelaSH 

Business Instagram Handle: @FounderGym 

Congrats on the launch of Founder Gym! Chat us through what it's all about and the impetus for the company? 

Founder Gym is an online training center for underrepresented tech startup founders. Via four week cohorts led by expert trainers, we help founders develop their entrepreneurial muscles, so that they can successfully navigate their startup journey. As a woman of color founder in Silicon Valley, a global director of entrepreneurship, and a portfolio services director at a venture capital rm, I have seen first-hand the gaps in knowledge, network, and capital that underrepresented founders experience. Founder Gym is my way of closing those gaps. 

So, when someone is launching, what's the biggest mistake they usually make? 

The biggest mistake most new founders make is that they build the solution, before they truly, deeply understand the user and their problem. They are so smitten with their idea of a solution that they invest all their time, energy, and resources into developing it out. Then when they finally launch it, they are confused as to why no one is using it. The issue is they did not first focus on mastering the user and that user's problem. If they had kept their eye on that, they could have intentionally designed a solution with that information in mind, and likely achieved greater early adoption of their solution. 

The biggest mistake most new founders make is that they build the solution, before they truly, deeply understand the user and their problem.

Do you remember your first big mistake and what you took away from it? 

My first big mistake was not asking for help when I needed it. I had imposter syndrome and didn't want to be "exposed" for not knowing something everyone probably thought I should. So rather than seek out advice when I really needed it, I kept my head down. This was a big mistake and a huge waste of time, because I spent countless hours struggling alone, and problems that likely could have been resolved, ended up spiraling out of control. This experience taught me a few things: 1) I don't have to know it all (99.9% of other founders don't), 2) I should ask for help when I need it (99.9% of all successful founders have close advisors and coaches), 3) there are people who are willing to help me, and 4) vulnerability is key - you have to be willing to talk about your weaknesses, if you truly want to reap the benefits of other people's guidance. 

Where do your drive and passion come from? 

My parents always pushed my sisters and I to be our very best - both in academia and sports. Hard work, discipline, and excellence were engrained in me at a young age. Also mortality played a role. Once my father unexpectedly passed away when I was a teenager, I very quickly realized the finiteness of life; that I only have a limited amount of time on this earth and I'm going to make the very most of it. 

How do you feel as a woman in STEM? 

I feel like I am not just a woman in STEM. I am a Black woman in STEM, who grew up in a low- income household, who never took a technology, business, or finance class in K-12 or college, didn't go to an Ivy league school, and didn't know a soul in tech prior to entering Silicon Valley in 2011. My background and lived experiences has shaped who I am, how I interact with this industry, and the way in which I want to make an impact. My existence in this space isn't just about me. This is about what I can do to help other people like me; people who aren't from the tech world and don't have access to it, but who want their shot to contribute to it and benefit from it also.

I am not just a woman in STEM. I am a Black woman in STEM, who grew up in a low- income household, who never took a technology, business, or finance class in K-12 or college, didn't go to an Ivy league school, and didn't know a soul in tech prior to entering Silicon Valley in 2011.

How have you successfully navigated such a male-dominated field? 

Several things have helped me successfully navigate this male-dominated field: an unwavering belief in myself, my ability to learn, grow and adapt, a relentless work ethic, a commitment to excellence, building strong relationships, strong communication skills, and a deep understanding of human nature. 

What are your hopes for young women who are interested in STEM? 

If you are not yet in STEM, but are interested in entering the field, step one is to get clear on why. Why do you want this? Once you are crystal clear on your reasoning for pursuing this path, that will create the motivation that propels you forward to learn whatever you need to learn, meet whoever you need to meet, and do as much as work as you need to do, in order to break into the field and make your dreams a reality. Any path to greatness starts with a strong reason why. 

"Any path to greatness starts with a strong reason why."

Tweet this. 

What is your biggest pet peeve? 

People who make excuses, instead of taking personal responsibility. 

What are your biggest fears about running a business? 

My biggest fear is letting the opinions of others drown out my inner voice. In business, that could lend itself to me signing up for things that truly don't align to the type of business I want to run and the type of founder I want to be. I try to ensure that fear doesn't become realized by blocking off time each week to be alone, reflect, think, plan, and ensure my business is still in alignment with my innermost truth. 

What's something you'd like people to know about your job that they probably don’t? 

I work extremely hard. I work in the early mornings, late nights, weekends, etc. Sometimes I even pull all-nighters (even though I'm trying to cut back, because I also recognize the importance of sleep and rejuvenation). I work really f___ hard behind the scenes to create the things everyone else sees later on in public. 

What about your career makes you feel the most complete? 

Doing something that I truly believe in with people I truly enjoy, and having fun every step of the way. That makes me feel complete. 

If you had to trade jobs with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why? 

Oprah Winfrey, because she built her career on listening, learning, and sharing the truths about humanity. 

At what point in your career did you find the confidence to really take charge and become the woman you are today? 

I think every time I have faced my fears and come out on the other side in one piece, I have grown more confident. I think every time I have received recognition or praise from others, I have grown more confident. So it's been a combination of internal affirmations and external affirmations that have helped me realize my potential and step into my power. I don't think true confidence is an overnight or instantaneous thing. I believe it's developed from experience, and I am still on my journey of experiencing new challenges that will help me evolve into who I need to be, in order to truly, fully embody unwavering confidence. 

What's the best advice you've ever been given? Or your favorite piece of #realtalk? 

I didn't receive this advice, but this is the advice I want to give. It's advice that I live by. Don't blindly accept the narrative: "This is just the way it is." That's something that others can easily accept, but I challenge you to question it, push back on it, and even offer alternatives if you're able to. Many problems with society today stem from people blindly perpetuating the same narratives, systems, and behavior they inherited from the previous generations. I'm here to remind you that this is a new time, a new era, and you do have the power to create better ideas and narratives that can positively change the world. 

When you hit a big bump in the road, how do you find a new road? 

If I hit a bump in the road, I try to focus on what's in my control to fix. I try not to complain (which is easier said than done sometimes). Instead, I like to remind myself that struggle is par for the course - it's an expected part of the journey on the road to greatness. And with that in mind, I go for a run, watch a motivational video on YouTube, and get back to it! 

What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day? 

"Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley.

TO SEE THE FULL CREATE & CULTIVATE STEM LIST CLICK HERE. 


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