Overcoming inequalities as an underestimated entrepreneur

Stephanie Cummings, CEO of Please Assist Me, shares how access to startup resources accelerated her company’s success.

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You’re crushing it at work right now, impressing both your colleagues and clients with your dedication to the job. While your career may be headed for huge success, let’s face it, things at home may be a complete and utter mess.

Thanks to entrepreneur Stephanie Cummings, there’s now an app busy Tennessee and Washington, D.C. professionals can rely on for help. It’s called Please Assist Me, an all-inclusive home-management tool that offers clients a range of services from washing dishes to restocking groceries, taking out your trash — even waiting around for the cable guy!

We caught up with Cummings backstage at last year’s 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival to hear how she leveraged LaunchTN’s network of resources to start and grow her startup, while still holding down a full-time job in health IT.

“I couldn’t just stop my job cold turkey,” she said. “I wish I could have; we would have been so much further along. But I had to slowly edge my way into this process.”

It wasn’t until March 2018 that Cummings was able to finally focus full-time on scaling her business. So what changed? “We got investors on board,” she revealed. “And have been grinding and growing ever since.”

But her path to success had its fair share of obstacles. And as she discovered early on, for women and minority founders — the underestimated entrepreneurs — it can be a journey littered with inequality and rejection.

Inequitable access to capital

When it comes to accessing much-needed venture capital, a recent report revealed women-run startups receive only 2.7% of all investment funding — and if you’re a woman of color, the statistics are even worse. Less than 1% (0.2%, in fact) of all capital offered by investors finds its way to minority women entrepreneurs.

“I am super humbled now to be part of that .2%,” she told listeners. “But that’s just a shocking percentage. Minority females aren’t getting funded. LGBTQ founders are not getting funded.”

As Cummings points out, the same study reports companies with at least one woman as part of the founding team outperform their all-male counterparts by up to 63%. “You can usually give an underestimated founder capital, and then they take that and convert it into a much larger return,” she said, “if you give them the resources to actually grow.”

Here at LaunchTN, we want to help all entrepreneurs at all stages of development find their way to resources that can accelerate their business growth.

Accelerator programs help pivot startups

Cummings attended last year’s 36|86 festival as a FedEx Innovation Scholar. FedEx selected 100 female and minority entrepreneurs to receive a scholarship to attend the conference. “This is the first time I’ve actually been fully immersed,” she told us backstage. “And it’s totally an amazing experience.”

Prior to the festival, Cummings used our LaunchTN network to connect with various programs aimed at assisting budding entrepreneurs. Throughout the state of Tennessee we collaborate with organizations — accelerators — eager to help businesses grow.

“We got accepted into the accelerator in Chattanooga,” Cummings explained. “They believe in you as a founder, and so it felt like a family — like somebody was wrapping their arms around my vision and giving me the tools and direction on how to succeed.”

Cummings also participated in a Memphis-based accelerator program, where her startup Please Assist Me found like-minded mentorship. ServiceMaster, a major home-services company headquartered in Tennessee, partnered with Start Co. to create a home-services-tech accelerator. “We service homes and we have a tech component,” Cummings said, “so we fit perfectly in that.”

With offices now on site in Memphis, Cummings said, the partnership has helped pivot her business even further. “We meet with their executives and receive mentorship. Their tech team is available to us as well, so just a really big wealth of resources there,” she said. “They also provided even more funding to kind of help us to move forward.”

Enter Arlan Hamilton from Backstage Capital

On the advice of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Cummings also applied to be a part of the Google For Entrepreneurs — Black Founders Exchange, a week-long program providing guidance and mentorship for black founders.

“It was the first time I had one-on-one meetings with investors,” she said. “I also gained the community of other entrepreneurs that I still stay in contact with today.”

While attending the Exchange, Cummings took part in a pitch competition and was one of only five companies selected by Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital to receive investment funding.

Hamilton has become a true champion for underestimated founders. She operates a fund dedicated to minimizing the venture capital disparities in tech startups by investing in women, minority, and LGBT founders.

“I’m so grateful for [Hamilton] because once she invested in us it validated us as a company and allowed us to truly be respected among other investors,” Cummings shared.

Now with investment capital behind her, Cummings is looking forward to growing her business steadily. In a short amount of time, Please Assist Me has expanded from just four homes to servicing entire apartment complexes throughout the state of Tennessee and Washington, DC.

Subscribe to Disrupt the Continuum wherever you get your podcasts, and join LaunchTN for 36|86 — Aug. 28-29, in downtown Nashville.

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Empowering Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and working to make TN the most startup-friendly state in the nation. Host of 36|86 Festival | launchtn.org

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