EPISODE 019
Bring Your Full Self

This episode is a conversation with Blanca Catalina Garcia, an innovator and educator building a vibrant, multicultural, and empowered entrepreneurial and tech startup ecosystems. She creates and cultivates spaces where people with diverse stories can feel supported to grow, thrive, and go to the next level.

We talk about the challenges many Black and Brown women face in the tech startup world and how showing up as your full self is enough. If you need a reminder of your power, you'll want to listen in on this conversation.

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Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:00]          You have a background in psychology.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[00:02]       Yeah.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:03]    And so you definitely have an understanding of human, human behavior, thinking. How did you make that jump from your psychology background into the tech entrepreneurial world?


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[00:18]       Yeah, that's such a good question. I have to say I didn't make that jump. I was lucky enough to run into other women, women of color, who recognized in me a talent, knew that it was important, and invited me to the table.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:36]          See, that's how it's done. I love that.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[00:40]       Yeah.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:41]          Wow.

[00:46]       Welcome to the Unpolished MBA podcast. On this podcast, we have conversations with tech startup founders and entrepreneurs and traditional corporate MBAs. Many say that startups equal the unpolished MBA because those without the formal business education are scrappy and do many things untraditionally to achieve business success. But anyone who has built a business from an idea can attest to the fact that the experience is another level MBA, and there's nothing quite like it. The candid conversations shared here is helpful to both sides of the fence. One is not better than the other, just different. Let's jump in.


[01:37]       Hi, I'm your host Monique Mills, and in my work, I get to have great conversations with a lot of smart and interesting people. Some are tech startup founders and entrepreneurs in various industries, and others are corporate employees. Here I'm sharing a conversation I had with Blanca Catalina Garcia, an innovator and educator with a focus on building multicultural and empowered entrepreneurial and tech startup ecosystems. Now, I know I said a lot in that, but if you keep listening, you'll understand what I mean. You see, I met her in Atlanta, and she lights up every room she goes into, and almost everyone in the tech startup ecosystem here knows her. During our time together, we talked about the challenges many black and brown women face in the tech startup world, but Blanca also spread some inspiration that she is so commonly known for. She shared how showing up as your full self is enough. So if you need a reminder of your power, you'll want to listen in on this conversation.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[02:47]       I am an entrepreneur.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[02:50]          MBA or no MBA?


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[02:52]       No MBA.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[02:53]          Okay, so can you tell me what your entrepreneurial experience is right now, or where it started?


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[03:00]       Yeah. So right now, I run two companies. One is my consulting business, BCG Innovation, and the focus of that company is program design and program leadership or educational experience. And then I have a business with two other entrepreneurs that I work with, they’re my business partners, and it's called Flagship Founders. And we are innovative ecosystem builders and entrepreneur educators. We actually came together after working in an organization together and really decided that we needed more businesses like ours or organizations like ours that are diverse-led, women-led, international perspective-led and looking to talk about collaboration and creating access for founders on the bleeding edge of that conversation. Before that, I worked, I had sort of the jobs, but I also had a business as a freelance interpreter because the big piece of my background is working in Latino and Spanish speaking communities, English language learning communities, and the sort of intercultural multicultural space.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:30]       I do remember seeing you at I think it was Demo Day at Digital Undivided. I think it was their first cohort. I think.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[04:41]       I came into their second year. Yes.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:45]          Okay. So you have really experience there with women, diverse women. And can you tell me how some of the challenges that you've seen, what are some of them, and what are you doing to help them overcome?


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[05:03]       Yeah, that's a great question. So one aspect that is a big block is the code of entering entrepreneurship, and specifically what you just mentioned - startup entrepreneurship, tech entrepreneurship. And what I mean by that is that women of color, black and brown, Latina, African American, multicultural women are part of the groups of people that are sort of left out of the inside conversations of how this really works and how you can do it. So there's an aspect of, “I don't know what I don't know.” And there's another aspect of, “I'm not in that conversation. I don't know what those terms mean. I don't know how to show up in a room and say the words I need to say for people to take me seriously or for there to be an inclusiveness.”

[06:01]       So that was actually a big part of what I did. And like I said, my background was really in intercultural communication, translation, and building leadership. And so that was part of the reason that digitalundivided brought me in because they needed someone to help translate, and to help, not just from the perspective of the founders, but to actually work with mentors to say, “Hey, I'm an experienced technologist”, or “I've been a CTO”, or “I'm an engineer”, or “I'm an investor”, or “I'm a multiple entrepreneur founder and I want to contribute. I care about this.” And working with them to help them translate the world that they were in, and how they talked about this and the pathway, and make it accessible so-- We live in a space that is full of jargon and--


Host - Monique Mills:   

[06:58]          Yes.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[06:59]       You know, this coded talk.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[07:02]      That's it. I was just talking about this yesterday on LinkedIn. Someone asked me what’s SaaS. They didn't know I was talking about software as a service. And who am I to think that someone should know that? Like, who am I? That's not in most people's vocabulary.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[07:16]       Sure. I mean, that's the thing is that we get into that-- It's not even necessarily intentional harm.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[07:21]          It’s not intentional, yep.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[07:24]       It's just, you just kind of get into the groove of it, you're in circles with people that talk about things in a certain way. And for the sake of brevity, for a lot of different reasons, we start using these jargony terms, these acronyms. And even just sort of the assumptions around that, how do you even get to that point, or the context of understanding what you're talking about just sort of gets excluded from the conversation. It was the same in security I had. All of the founders had that. They were like, “I don't know how to speak this language. I don't--"


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:04]       Because technology is a language.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[08:06]       It is.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:06]    Yes, for sure. This startup world is a language in and of itself. It's different than corporate language too.

Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[08:14]       It is. It is totally different. So lots of women that were not just corporate professionals, successful leaders in the corporate world, coming in and saying, “I have no tools around this. I want to create something. I think it lies in this space. I think that's where the potential of it is but it's just a gut feeling. It's an instinct because I don't really know. And I’m outside of this conversation.” So that's a big piece of it and it's still a big piece.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:56]          In this next part, I ask Blanca to share some of her observations in the tech startup community. She mentioned a practice that I've seen as well. It's kind of a pat on the head when founders of color, especially women, create businesses around problems they understand well, but it's not quite appreciated by the investor community. Listen in as Blanca talks about creating your own pathway, which many times is the only way to move forward in entrepreneurship.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[09:32]       One thing that I have noticed, and this goes for black and Latino founders, for sure, is that there is sort of an-- I don't want to say that it's necessarily negative, but it has sort of like a pat on the head connotation that these are women who are building companies that are solving little problems or problems that are for them. So I'll hear this a lot like, “Oh, well, I'm not sure that we're interested in these founders. A lot of them are in the music space, or they're building a hair business, or they're looking at small business transitioning to some sort of scalable platform or more women's issues, or a company that maybe looks at reproductive health, or relationships, building communities, beauty products, things like that. It's like, “Well, that's not really what this space is about.”

[10:42]       And so first of all, I would say, of course, a lot of these women are building businesses around the problems that they recognize because we have a specific experience and a frame of reference that allows us to see a problem where others don't. When you look at the actual potential, the markets themselves, these are big, big markets---billion-dollar markets. And that just kind of sometimes get ignored, or the way that they are addressed by the tech that actually gets investment is just so off base. And so that's one stereotype that I've definitely heard, and it's pretty prevalent even if people aren't super aware of it, that's the problem with bias.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[11:35]          Yeah.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[11:37]       You're not going to really actually know that you're biased unless you're doing some sort of self-reflection and really digging into your assumptions and so I hear this a lot. The other is, you know, it's the typical, I'm going to say it, the typical sort of sexist perspective of like, “Do these women really have the space, gumption and focus to build a real company?” And this goes to a conversation that I have a lot with my women and women of color entrepreneur community is bringing your full self to the space. And also walking this path or creating your own pathway because the pathway that's laid out or that's vetted is not a pathway that works for us. And so, this speaks to this stereotype of like, “Well, how do you really do this if you have kids, if you're taking care of your elderly mother, and you're the economic and social center of your family?”, which is absolutely the case. Which is just wild to me because obviously, that's what makes these women such incredible entrepreneurs.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[12:49]          Right.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:  

[12:52]       If you can juggle that, like really? Oh, so your option last night was to either work on some aspect, like develop some aspect of the tech of your business or play video games. And well, she was like, she managed like seven different categories of life and still worked on her business. And this also speaks to the fact that I have had for years now, a long time conversation about how we don't necessarily buy into the grind or hustle culture of the tech entrepreneurship space, that there is an alternate way to do it, that there's an aspect of that that-- Like, I honestly believe that black and brown women in entrepreneurship will be the ones that will create a pathway that will make this space that much healthier, that much more expansive, that much more human. Because we are the more likely people in the world to have more access to a broader perspective of how to do this differently, and how to do it in a way that is just more complete more, more human and invites more people, regardless of whether or not that's your identity, to bring their full selves. And when people can bring their full selves to their entrepreneurial ventures, that's where innovation happens, that's what catalyzes change.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[14:23]          So, I went back and forth about including this part in the episode but I know that we're not the only ones who feel the pressure to be that “stand-up person” when we encounter bias. I have a different way of approaching changing hearts and minds but Blanca shared a vision of the community we should all create to gain the necessary support and confidence to just be. It's easier said than done, but if you're a person who needs a reminder of your power, keep listening.


[15:04]       Let me ask you something though, because I've been asked this question a lot. I'm on the Board of some different accelerators in the country and I'll speak to these issues. And one of the questions that comes up to me a lot is like, “Well, when you're out there, and you're the only woman, African American in that group, do you speak up to those people then?” And I said, “Well, in a large crowd like that, or even a crowd of people who are not on the same page as far as thinking goes, No, because then I come off as the angry black woman.” And so what I've tried to do is just build relationships one on one and change minds that way. So with your position in leadership in multiple entrepreneurial spaces, do you find yourself being that person that stands up and says something like, “No, that's incorrect”? Or do you take a different approach where you're focused on hey, we're going to just change the status quo from behind the scenes?


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[16:21]       Yeah, that's such a good question and truly a life quandary. So I wanted just to highlight that I kind of have a little bit of an issue with this sort of calling out the black women or calling out the women Latina like, “Why didn't you say something?”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[16:40]       Why don't you say-- Yeah. And it's like, that's not the way you change hearts. You change hearts, and then you change minds. That's the way I see it.


Guest - Blanca Catalina Garcia:   

[16:48]       And all of the onus, it's like-- I'm a very visual person, so imagine that phrase, even that frame of reference, the picture I see is this lonely woman of color in a big room, full of other people who don't look like her. And then she has to raise her hand so that everyone can look at to and not understand. And also, she's speaking whatever language, otro idioma, they don't even know what she’s saying, like, “What?” And I offer a different perspective. I offer, first of all, imagine that woman is actually deeply connected to a much bigger room full of women who look like her, with whom she is sharing her story, sharing learnings, and remembering who she is and her power. Again, how did you make that leap? I didn't, somebody called me to the table and said, “I trust in your power”, seeing her so that when she's in that room, whether she speaks or not, whether somebody gets it or not, her presence is powerful. And sometimes you speak, sometimes you're just you just called to say, “I'm going to invite you to not say that again, and here's why.” And sometimes you don't, and a lot of times, it's about building relationships. But I think that the power of that, that confidence, that clarity comes from also really being inserted in your community and seeking out the community. That's a lot of the work that I do.


[18:42]       When I bring entrepreneurs to the table, they're all like, “I need a business audit.” And I'm like, “Oh, we're going to get to that, but first, let's connect with each other. Let's take advantage of the opportunity that we're on somewhat similar journeys, and that we're in community with each other, and that the path looks different for us and we're together in this. So what does that look like for you so that when you go into those other rooms, where there isn't that much of a shared connection, which I've-- Here's the other part of it is it opens you up to the potential connections and other people, that those people have similar stories, maybe not your stories, but I really believe this. And a mentor of mine said that to me once. I was nervous about an event that I had to lead, and I had to stand in and [was] kind of called to be the person you just mentioned. And I was like, “I'm terrified. I can't even think straight.” Then she said, “You know, I don't think your job is to do anything else except to just stand there and hold the space and be in your light.” And it really stuck with me. I was like, “That's right. I've been doing all of this work. I've been building all of this community. I'm reminded of my power. That's the only thing I need to do.”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[20:02]          Okay, that's it. I bet many of you will agree that Blanca just has a peaceful tone and demeanor that helps you relax and open your perspective to seeing things a little bit differently. She is someone that dedicates so much of her time to enlightening and leading others to act on their aspirations by building on the foundation of their identity, their background, community, knowledge, and expertise. Again, showing up as your full self is what's necessary to accept, embrace, and stand in your own power.


The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.

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