Podcast Transcript – Series THREE, Episode 48
Sabrina williams, seed May 2022
[00:00:00] Sabrina Williams: I go where I’m wanted and where I can start to get a foothold. So that’s not to say that I haven’t attempted to get funding or try to. Uh, member or do something with a group and been told, no, there’s been a lot of nos. That’s what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. And sometimes you’re not sure why someone said no, sometimes you are, but I definitely have really tried to make my research work and go into places where I can, even if it’s a tiny crack where I can make it bigger.
[00:00:41] Dan: What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out another episode of founders on. That was Sabrina Williams, founder and CEO of SEED, a company that helps consumers and underserved farmers grow smart and feed more by democratizing access to agricultural technology. Sabrina [00:01:00] is a native Californian, born and raised in Compton. Her curiosity and passions led her to pursuits in architecture, law, and urban planning. Through her nonprofit, she dedicated herself to social justice challenges in urban communities. It was a miss arena that Sabrina discovered the core issue that will led to SEED: food insecurity amongst the most vulnerable, lower income populations. Now, her company is bringing together technology, climate policy and food equity to create more and better access to growing. Sabrina has a great story. You’ll want to listen in.
[00:01:33] Our episode is sponsored by The Plug. Sherrell Dorsey and her team have become the source for unique, insightful data and stories about black professionals and the black founder ecosystem. They have stuff you won’t find anywhere else, including industry briefs and member access sessions with leading innovators. For more information on the plug, look for a link in the show notes before we continue, please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast. We’re available anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube. [00:02:00] And if you like what you hear, drop us a review on apple or at podchaser.com.
[00:02:04] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:17] Hello and welcome to Founder Unfound, spotlighting the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent.
[00:02:31] I’m your host, Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it.
[00:02:33] Today, we have Sabrina Williams, founder and CEO of SEED, a company that helps consumers and underserved farmers grow smart and feed more by democratizing access to agricultural technology. Welcome to the show Sabrina. We’re so excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:02:50] Sabrina Williams: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.
[00:02:53] Dan: Awesome. Well, just to get started and help the audience understand what is SEED exhibit?
[00:02:59] Sabrina Williams: SEED [00:03:00] is a company’s acronym for Sustainable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development. And we started with the goal of helping low-income farmers grow better and grow more. We wanted them to be able to save water, to grow more so that they could sell, make a little money in farmer’s market.
[00:03:17] And also be able to feed their family. So we created this automatic irrigation system that essentially is run on a little microprocessor called Arduino and it was coded so that it could connect to wirelessly moisture sensors out in the field. So these farmers were able to monitor what they were growing, how much they were growing, how much water is connected to an irrigation system.
[00:03:45] So the kit itself was determining how much water they would be using. And it was a really quick, simple, fast, very inexpensive system that went into these low-income communities to [00:04:00] help them grow more. And it did, people were growing 30% more in their plots, which was allowing them to make a little money at the farmer’s market.
[00:04:09] And also they started sharing what they were growing. So that is where SEED has its origins. That’s the beginning of the business. But we realized that part of what we wanted to do was improve the environment around where a lot of these farmers live, which are really impacted by pollution. Climate change is a real factor.
[00:04:32] So part of that is looking at the soil that they’re growing. And if you can improve the soil in communities where there’s a high level of pollution, you’re immediately changing that environment and you’re bringing down the pollution. Essentially, you’re taking the carbon out of the air when you improve the soil.
[00:04:51] And we realized that a carbon sensor would be great for these communities. Something that was low cost that they could have as a portable [00:05:00] device. And there was nothing like that on the market. Everything is super expensive. You’re talking about $3,000 for a machine that comes into a field to measure carbon.
[00:05:11] So you realize, well, let’s do something a lot to. And thinking about it. We also realized that wow, people are talking about these carbon credits. What if these small holder farmers, these underserved farmers could actually tap into that as well. So SEED at this point is not only an irrigation system. It’s also developing into this business that provides the tools for people to be able to take part in these markets that large farms have access to.
[00:05:43] Dan: I love that. And it’s such an amazing concept and we’re going to dig more into SEED in a little bit, but before we go there, I would love to hear more about you Sabrina. Can you tell us where you’re from, where you grew up?
[00:05:59] Sabrina Williams: I’m a [00:06:00] California native I’ve lived other places, but I was born and raised in and around Los Angeles. In Compton’s where I was born and I live near downtown LA now. So I’m working a lot with low-income folks in and around south Los Angeles, south central Los Angeles. So I started, my goal was to be an architect and that is what I went to school for and have a degree in.
[00:06:25] Dan: Now, wait a minute. Is this something that you had from an early age, or like, how did you come to that decision or, or aspiration to be an architect where you like somebody who liked to design things when you were a kid or.
[00:06:40] Sabrina Williams: Yeah. I was always building things. I mean, there was a shoe box. I was making something out of it. I only had dolls so that they could serve as the residents of my construction kind of built my sister must’ve hated me because I took over our bedroom. We shared a room and, you [00:07:00] know, the floor would be covered in just boxes, making a palaces and rooms and all sorts of things. So yeah, from very young. I wanted to build and I want it to impact environments through building.
[00:07:12] Dan: So awesome. So at some point as you’re going into high school, like, did you feel like you had the requisite? Well, I don’t know if it’s math or creativity or engineering mind, or did you feel like, Hey, I could actually become an architect, which is kind of this passion I’ve had for while.
[00:07:27] Sabrina Williams: Yeah, I did. I mean, that was my four years was that was the path. This is back in the early eighties, but I was taking woodshop and, you know, electrical engineering. I was doing things drafting. I was the only girl in those classes, so I really wanted it. I mean, I took home-ec too because I liked to cook, but I was definitely on a track, you know, calculus, trigonometry. I love math. There was a clear line for me at that point in high school. That was what I was going [00:08:00] to do.
[00:08:00] Dan: Okay, so you set your mind on this. And so that’s what you pursue going to college for?
[00:08:05] Sabrina Williams: I guess I did. So I have a degree in architecture and a funny thing happened in my last year of architecture. I was working with some residents in south Los Angeles on a housing project. There’s a big freeway that was being built called century freeway to connect the airport to other parts of the city. And these folks through eminent domain lost their homes. My last year of architecture school was, I was supposed to go in there and, you know, talk to them about, Hey, how would you like your new housing to look?
[00:08:36] And you know, this new plot of land that the city’s has so kindly giving you, you know, so just naive and people were mad for saying, we don’t want new houses. We want our older houses. I was just so amazed because I had no idea how it could get to this point for these folks. So when I was working. You know, architectural project as a student, I said, well, what I would love to [00:09:00] help, what can I do?
[00:09:00] And they said, well, you should have been helping us years ago when this was happening, we needed good legal help. And it was like, think, wow, you know, I could make an impact by helping people with the law. So I went to law school, so that was the next step that architecture was out in, came law school. And that was the next bit of school that I went to.
[00:09:22] Dan: So, how did your family feel? Were they supportive about this or did they say whatever you want to do, Sabrina or, you know, Sabrina, you told us you wanted to do this and now you’re doing something else. I mean, how did your sort of close network, how did they view this?
[00:09:39] Sabrina Williams: Okay. Yeah, this is a great question because I think everybody was puzzled there.
[00:09:44] Wasn’t really a, you know, you might automatically think people would say, wait, what? You just did this school. And you’ve spent quite a bit of money. We’ve spent quite a bit of money. You know, I have student loans, the whole. [00:10:00] What’s happening here, but after I guess the initial shock, they know how I am and I wasn’t going to not do it.
[00:10:07] So they were very supportive and I left California, went to school and I loved my law school experience. I think it’s a great education and I think. Law school and with the intent of being, you know, a lawyer and then I didn’t,
[00:10:26] Dan: I’m sensing a pattern here.
[00:10:28] Sabrina Williams: Yeah. A little pattern. So I worked a little bit in the law. That’s how I discovered that I really didn’t want to be in it. It wasn’t going to, I couldn’t make an impact. So I actually went back to school again and I started a PhD program in urban planning, and I realized that was a great way to fold in the architecture and the law.
[00:10:48] So both of the things that I was really interested in, I could actually have them be a part of my work life and that worked out because it actually is, you know, I use [00:11:00] the understanding of cities, of people, how people move from. And I was done at that point. I was done no more school.
[00:11:08] Dan: Impressive though. Very impressive. I mean, those are two degrees that are not trivial or not that any degrees necessarily trivial, but they are particularly demanding to go through those kinds of programs. So that’s an impressive, impressive ambition till you come out of all this schooling. Yeah, essentially, you can do whatever you like, I would imagine, but something is drawing you into a certain direction. And what is that and why was that.
[00:11:35] Sabrina Williams: I have, as I learned from my last year in architecture school, I really have an interest and a passion for helping people. So what really came to me was coming back to Los Angeles and working to improve people’s lives. So just before I came back to California, I was working for a nonprofit in Washington, DC.
[00:11:58] And. The program [00:12:00] that was going on there, that I was in 40 different states helping low income public housing. Right. Organized. I was a community organizer essentially, and we were helping residents, uh, fight against some of the policies that were impacting their lives in public housing. One of those policies was no growing food in your housing, nothing on balconies, nothing in the little bit of soil you have out in the public area.
[00:12:27] And talking with people, you know, that was really important to them. First of all, they have no grocery stores. They don’t have places that they could have access to the fresh produce. Why can’t they plant a tomato plant? Why can’t they have cucumbers? Why can’t they have okra in their housing?
[00:12:44] Dan: What was the answer to that?
[00:12:46] Sabrina Williams: Well, there’s a lot of restriction that goes on in public housing. The reason that a lot of housing authorities will give is that, you know, you’re damaging the property somehow, or that it’s unsightly a lot of it when you’d go into meetings [00:13:00] was really about keeping people in line. We have rules the rules.
[00:13:05] We’re not going to bend on them. We don’t care what the benefit is because if we start bending on this rule, then we’re going to have snowball effect. And so. You know, of course, maybe I’m a little biased about this working with the people on the ground, but it really did feel a lot like sororities just want it to be authorities.
[00:13:25] There was a very low level of empathy and there was just antagonism people, quote, unquote inline, because the reasons that they were giving. Silly, you know, eyesore and keeping things in uniform. But, you know, I did that. And when I came out to Los Angeles, I decided that I would start my own nonprofit doing the same thing because the program that I was working in, organizing in DC was closing down.
[00:13:53] So I started the nonprofit here in Los Angeles. And for 20 years, I just helped [00:14:00] people organize around housing issues in particular, who just. And so we had a few successes with getting people, you know, access to open areas where they could build raised beds. And a lot of the work around with the non-profit, you know, it was organizing, but it was also educating people about the benefits of growing their own food.
[00:14:24] I started working in the garden a little bit more and I, you know, I did that for 20 years and it was it’s the foundation of SEED.
[00:14:34] Dan: Isn’t it amazing that as human beings, we spent thousands of years understanding a relationship with growing and the earth and sustainability or sustaining ourselves via nutritions.
[00:14:49] We can get that. And the shorter amount of time in the 20th century, we become disconnected from that. And we have to, re-learn what it is to garden, to farm, to grow [00:15:00] things. It’s fascinating to me that like how quickly as parts of society can be disconnected from that. And then one or two generations, I’m not sure my kids would know how to grow things.
[00:15:10] And you know, for them the grocery store or the restaurant, you know, the refrigerator is where food comes from. You know, but at the same time, my own father came from Africa and he had a shamba as they called it, which was your own little, little garden farm. And all growing up, he would always have a farm and he belonged to community, community gardens and stuff.
[00:15:29] So it’s really interesting that there was a need for your nonprofit. No.
[00:15:36] Sabrina Williams: Yeah, absolutely. And I love what you say about the generational growing knowledge, because every time I’ve asked about my journey, I mentioned my grandmother who really was instrumental in getting me to start. Food and getting my hands dirty, knows the old thing of she had a garden and I would [00:16:00] go and sit with her.
[00:16:01] And that was our way of bonding. I would have to, you know, break the beans and do things with her. And she was an incredible purine thumb do as a child of sharecroppers in Georgia, but she was also very sassy and. Just got out of there. She became a women’s army Corps member and she was like, I’m not staying here.
[00:16:22] So I feel like a very kindred with her, or she was always moving forward. And for her time, you know, that she was so restricted in all the ways that we know. Um, but she was making it happen. She’s not going to be stopped. And a lot of. Rounded her, you know, all these almost ground and soil and all these things that come into the language, talking about farming.
[00:16:45] But one of the things was she had a great family support system and she loved making things and growing and getting her hands dirty and sharing that with our community and, you know, I spent a lot of [00:17:00] time with her and doing that. So it really is generational. This knowledge that we can pass, particularly with regards to growing our own food. It’s so basic.
[00:17:12] Dan: I love that. And what a tremendous inspiration, I think I’m going to put your grandmother on the list of people. I’d love to have lunch with if I could at some point, but we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with Sabrina Williams from SEED
[00:17:26] The Plug: Who gets to be called innovative? If we look at the current media landscape today, we often don’t see people of color dominating the business or tech news headlines. I’m Cheryl Dorsey, data journalist and founder of the plug. Our work in reporting has been featured in and used by top names like Vice, The Information, and casting directors at ABC Shark Tank. The Plug cuts out the noise to bring you news insights and analysis of trends, shaping venture capital startups, policy and ecosystems within black innovation communities. Join our annual pro membership and get exclusive access to our weekly long form reporting and monthly member calls, which puts you [00:18:00] directly at the table with leading innovators and firms around the country. Also access our data libraries of indexes. Our black owned VC firms index, or the top 100 black researchers in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Use code “unfound” to save $10 on our annual email@example.com that’s T as in the NP, as in plug insights.com.
[00:18:25] Dan: All right. We’re back with Sabrina from SEED. So Sabrina, tremendous heritage story from a bunch of grandmother before the break. And you talked about your nonprofit and the long arc of seasons of success and channel. Tell us a little bit about how does that connect to the moment or the impetus for starting SEED as a business?
[00:18:46] Sabrina Williams: A few years ago, I was provided a grant to go to Cuba, to work with residents there who were growing food. And. While we were still in Los Angeles, I had started to [00:19:00] create an irrigation system that was DIY. I had gone to a local Makerspace with my child, and we had learned how to build things and I thought, wow, this would be great to get started for the residents I was with.
[00:19:15] I want it to implement it here in a large-scale pilot, but the only grant I could get to do so was in Cuba. So that was really interesting. So I went there and held some workshops and brought the system. You know, I learned so much about how growing could take place and really with limited resources and brought that learning back from Cuba, back to Los Angeles and started getting volunteers to come in from the community.
[00:19:45] We had a growth site in south central, had people come in, learn how to work, their raised beds. We had the system. That we are going to put in place. And it was really becoming a case where people [00:20:00] that were not in the community that were not low income were asking you about how they could actually do something similar.
[00:20:07] And so I realized, well, wow, it’s full paying customers are out there. They can subsidize the work that we’re doing, that we want to have an impact. The best way to do that was not in a non-profit vehicle. It was going to be in a for-profit. So I shuttered the non-profit and started SEED so that we could actually have a bigger impact.
[00:20:31] Dan: Was that a moment where you said where you thought about, like, maybe I can take this other approach inside the non-profit or was there a moment where you said, okay, this really needs to be a separate business and they need to make it like, almost like a new chapter. Was there a moment where you went through that decision process?
[00:20:55] Sabrina Williams: Because it had been at that point 17, 18 years that I had [00:21:00] been running nonprofit. And that’s a very hard thing to give up when you’re doing you’re impacting in a certain way, but it was not going to be so focused on the policy work anymore, which is where you get a lot of grants and a lot of consulting work that comes in.
[00:21:17] So moving it towards this actual product, which is going to have, you know, sales and tax and different things on it. It became clear that you want to send out a bunch of units and you want investors to come on board and want to have this other way of producing income. It would have to be a for-profit enterprise.
[00:21:39] So we actually formed as a benefit corporation and we’re in the process of getting our B Corp status. And so. That whole thinking did occur. You know, how are we going to take it from it’s nonprofit, where we have this success into this other area.
[00:21:55] Dan: For those who don’t know what is a benefit corporation?
[00:21:58] Sabrina Williams: The benefit corporation in [00:22:00] California in particular, you can be an LLC and be a benefit corporation, but for C Corp status in your charter, be very clear about your obligation to serve and have an impact in some areas.
[00:22:14] So to benefit the environment, to benefit people, basically you have to have an impact on some element of people’s lives, some beneficial impact, and you have to be transparent. About the work that you’re doing. So you have to provide reports, you have to annually let the public know how you’re moving forward with this impact.
[00:22:34] Dan: It’s not a trivial undertaking, so it’s a major commitment to become a B Corp. So, so applaud you for that. So tell us, so you make this decision, you’re going to be. You’ve got the vision around what we want to build. How do you decide where to start? And I mean, there’s all these sort of decisions around, do I sell it direct?
[00:22:54] You know, what’s the product actually look like? What features does it have? Who’s the core customer that, did you [00:23:00] go through that whole exercise or was it more organic than that?
[00:23:02] Sabrina Williams: It was a little bit of both actually, because there was customer discovery, of course, because we wanted to make sure that we weren’t spinning our wheels and that we had the right group of bolts that wanted the product.
[00:23:15] A lot of that was also organic because we had already been working with a large number of people who wanted. The product there is already demand there. So it was really about taking what we knew was the demand and making sure that it matched up or aligned with a more general need, because your demand can be just local to you. But is that something that makes sense? You know, if you want to scale.
[00:23:39] Dan: Tell us a little bit about like, who’s sort of the core customer today, what is their experience look like and how they interact with the product.
[00:23:46] Sabrina Williams: There are two prime customers. First we call the retail customer, the people who will be paying full price for the product. And they’re essentially folks that are what we call the conscious [00:24:00] consumers. They’re interested in environment and social issues, and they want to grow food. Maybe they haven’t before, but they want to, they’re interested in. Creating this kind of natural food access in their lives. And a lot of them are, we call them plant parents.
[00:24:19] They’re very proud of what they’re able to grow, and they want to be able to do more of that in an easy way. So you go on vacation, your plants, aren’t going to die, all that sort of thing. We’re setting them up for success. We like to say with this. So that’s our retail customer, our other segment, which is why we got started in this in the first place are underserved farmers and growers urbanites, who also, they’ve probably been growing all their lives and have a real skill set for it out of necessity.
[00:24:53] And that group through, we call it a cross subsidy from the full retail customers. That [00:25:00] second group is now able to receive. Our product and use it the same way as you know, the other group is. So it’s creating access to this technology that would otherwise be out of reach.
[00:25:16] Dan: From a variety point of view, can you support growing any food or there are certain ones that you focus on or, or guide the customer around.
[00:25:26] Sabrina Williams: No, anything, you know, every single bit of produce that you want to grow, you can grow with the system because it is going to modify how much water is provided to a plant based upon what those plants need.
[00:25:41] So if there’s a particularly thirsty plant, it’s going to get the amount of water that it needs because the moisture sensor will say how much water should go to that plant. Of course, you know, you’re planting complimentary plants so that you don’t have thirsty. Plants that don’t need a lot of water, but that you would do that anyway, even without [00:26:00] a system.
[00:26:01] Dan: And so, I mean, you have an amazing background, but you’re not a hydration system engineer, I think. Right. So how did you come around to actually create the technology part of it? Do you have partners or folks that helped you with that?
[00:26:17] Sabrina Williams: I actually learned how to code and learn how to solder and use wires and only God sapped a few times. But I think it really goes back to some of, you know, what we were talking about early on, about in high school, taking all those different sorts of classes and thinking. Those really, you know, maybe unusual because like I said, the only girl in those classes, I’ve always liked to tinker with things and realized this new term that I was discovering maker.
[00:26:51] I really am a maker. I like to discuss. And experiment with things. So, yeah, I just created [00:27:00] a board or the micro controller and I went to town and I mean, also that tells you that it’s not like it’s rocket science either. So it was fun. And I’m responsible for that.
[00:27:14] Dan: That’s awesome. Shame on me for assuming that Sabrina couldn’t take that part on too. So. So tell us right now it’s available online. Are you thinking about other ways to do distribution or other avenues you’re pursuing around how to get more of the product out there?
[00:27:34] Sabrina Williams: So we actually were selling the, what we call a small plot irrigation system online. And one of the things that happened was we got into heavy development on this carbon sensor. And that is where we’re focusing a lot of our attention right now. So while the kids. Is for sale. It’s actually paused in manufacturing. So we are going through this whole [00:28:00] manufacturing vetting with manufacturers and that sort of thing, instead of doing them as a one-off they’re back to being done as a one-off.
[00:28:06] And we’re focusing on this carbon sensor, because that is really where that that’s where we have our intellectual property. And where the innovation is because as much as we love the irrigation system and it’s awesome and it’s helpful, the carbon sensor is a space where we’re going to have the most impact on the farmers that we want to serve.
[00:28:26] Dan: Tell us a little bit more about the carbon sensor. So what does it do? What purpose does it serve and how does it benefit farmers?
[00:28:32] Sabrina Williams: So the carbon sensor is a drill like device, so it’s portable and it has a sensor inside that will detect. The levels of carbon in the soil. And the reason you want to do that is not only to see how healthy your soil is, but it lets you determine how much carbon you’re sequestering.
[00:28:53] And carbon sequestration is of course, something that is going to benefit farmers [00:29:00] financially because the carbon credit market out there will pay them for keeping their soil healthy for keeping the carbon in the soil. And they can measure that and actually have it verified by the third-party verifiers that are out there. Now they’re going to be able to enter this arena that only large corporate farms and institutions have access to right now.
[00:29:22] Dan: Wow. I didn’t even think about it that way, but that’s an amazing aspirational aspect that could affect every farmer on the planet almost. Right.
[00:29:31] Sabrina Williams: Absolutely. And in particular, because you’ve got almost 500 million small hold farmers worldwide, and the primary beneficiary as we like to call.
[00:29:43] The numbers exceed what you have with corporate farming, you know, in the United States, people don’t know that 88% of the farms in the United States are small farms. These are the people that are bringing the diversified types of foods to your table. [00:30:00] So giving them an opportunity to join in this areas, is I think imperative.
[00:30:05] Dan: I did not know that that’s a great stat. I did not know that. So tell us Sabrina, what’s the big vision. Where’s. If this company is wildly successful in five years, say or six years, what does that look like to you? How would you define success for SEED?
[00:30:21] Sabrina Williams: looks like having not only access to these irrigation kits, but having every farmer have a portable tool that they can use in their fields to measure how much carbon they’re sequestering and making an income from that.
[00:30:37] So they’re allowed to be more productive and they’re having a financial return on their activities. So ideally all of the farmers, especially in other countries, Would actually now be able to aggregate their work and they would improve their lives, especially women and girls who are the primary farmers in a lot of these countries, you know, the less [00:31:00] time that they’re in the field, the more they’re able to go and get an education, you know? So it has this ripple effect for some of those communities. And so we see it as a sort of bigger picture. Yeah. And even just farming.
[00:31:12] Dan: I love that. And I’m actually, this is almost like Uber, Airbnb, right? Like, so you have an asset or you have something, and now all of a sudden you’re adding this extra income layer to this thing that you have super powerful. Well, we’re going to take another short break and we’ll be right back with Sabrina Williams from SEED
[00:31:33] The Plug: Who gets to be called innovative or genius? If we look at the current media landscape today, we often don’t see people of color dominating the business or tech news headlines. I’m Sherrell Dorsey, data journalist and founder of The Plug. Our work in reporting has been featured in and used by top names like ,Vice The Information, and casting directors at ABC Shark Tank. The Plug cuts out the noise to bring you news insights and analysis of trends, shaping venture capital startups, policy and ecosystems within black innovation communities. [00:32:00] Join our annual pro membership and get exclusive access to our weekly long form reporting and monthly member calls, which puts you directly at the table with leading innovators and firms around the. Also access our data libraries of indexes, such as our black owned VC firms index, where the top 100 black researchers and artificial intelligence and machine learning use code unfound to save $10 on our annual firstname.lastname@example.org that’s T as in the P as in plug insights.com
[00:32:30] Dan: So we’re back to Sabrina Williams from SEED Sabrina company, mission company. Vision is awesome. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about. Being a founder, being an entrepreneur and being a black founder and a woman founder, if you live in Los Angeles and I know you’ve been a part of the LACI program, Los Angeles, Cleantech incubator, have there been programs, people, organizations, experiences that you have felt have [00:33:00] benefited you as a black woman founder?
[00:33:03] Sabrina Williams: I really appreciate you’re mentioning LACI because they have been foundational for us. We’ve been through all of the programs that we can through that institution. And just the doors that have opened up as a result have been phenomenal because they take the issue of impact seriously. And I will, you know, always have just great words to say about LACI.
[00:33:27] And I think, you know, that we’re so young. They’re the source of the contacts that we’ve gotten and pilots we’ve been able to run with the product and really, you know, just moving forward with sort of where we’re going with this part of the discussion. It’s not been easy to find the spaces to be in, and you really do have to take advantage of the ones where the door is wide open.
[00:33:51] And so they’ve really been instrumental and they’ve been that space. The door has been opened.
[00:33:56] Dan: That’s great. And yeah, we’ve had somebody else on the [00:34:00] program who went through their programs and initiatives and had been a part of that. So that’s terrific. Are there ways that the world tries to remind you that you’re a African-American woman, founder that are frustrating and I guess the other side of that, are there ways that that feels uplifting.
[00:34:15] Sabrina Williams: Yeah, I would say that working in the environment that I’m in, I’m surrounded by people that look like me. So I don’t have a lot of the shock that some of my cohort and peers I talk to, I know that they have. And so I’ve been really fortunate to have people that really seek out my advice or seek out what I’m doing.
[00:34:39] And are ready to, to help where they can. And I think part of that is that I seek out the places where I’m welcome. I mean, if I’m going to be building something until I’m the complete, you know, in charge of the whole thing where I can make some decisions, I’m not going to set up barriers. I go where I’m [00:35:00] wanted and where I can start to get a foothold.
[00:35:03] So that’s not to say that I have. Attempted to get funding or try to, you know, become a member or do something with a group and been told, no, there’s been a lot of nos. That’s what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. And sometimes you’re not sure why someone said no, sometimes you are, but I definitely have really tried to make my research work and go into places where I can, even if it’s a tiny crack where I can make it bigger, I don’t like to waste time that way.
[00:35:36] Dan: I love that approach. That’s great. I mean, that’s very measured, very intentional. And I think that sometimes we get surprised if we take less of an intentional approach, even though we probably shouldn’t be, but hindsight tells us. Yeah, I guess if I had done a little bit more. Visibility and sleuthing around that maybe it would have been more obvious to me. Do you think of yourself often as a black [00:36:00] founder?
[00:36:02] Sabrina Williams: Wow. That is a question I hadn’t really thought about. And I would say yes, because of the work that when you do impact work, especially, especially in this day and age, I think about it more because it is something that people are looking for. So you’re kind of stepping back. Sometimes when you’re approached by folks to see if, and by folks, I meet people that want to become involved with your business, you know, as a partnership or something, not clients or customers. You want to make sure that they’re not just trying to fill some number or, you know, say that, Hey.
[00:36:37] You know what we needed on board. This person ticks the boxes, that sort of thing, because they might not be aligned with your vision. And they’re just essentially using you in what you look like, who you are. So, yeah, and this last couple of years, with a lot of the diversity equity inclusion exercises, I’ll call them that people have been going through and you do start to kind of consider yourself.
[00:36:59] And [00:37:00] what is that person reaching out to you for? And, yeah, so what I probably more think of, I’m always conscious of being a black woman, but I think there also becomes an age factor that is in play. It was interesting to me because I always thought it was going to be the first two factors that were more in play, but I find it. Time. Some of the things that are available to founders are for people under 30 or under 40, and I’m 54. So this is really it narrows down my opportunities.
[00:37:34] Dan: Yeah. That’s really interesting. And nobody will see this, but you look 34, not 54. But, yeah, it’s fascinating. I mean, again, if you look at a lot of other cultures, a lot of human history, there’s a recognition of wisdom that comes with age, right. And wisdom is the ability to, to take the shortcut. Like we don’t have to check these three different paths. We we’ve [00:38:00] already seen, this is the. And yet in the innovative economy, there is a sort of leaning towards youth. And so it’s, it’s a fascinating thing for sure. So I want to switch gears a little bit because you have such an interesting background. I did a little sleuthing myself. Tell us what is the connection between the Blues Marx and Elvis.
[00:38:20] Sabrina Williams: Yeah. So I wrote this during, uh, my legal tenure and I was very interested and I was working with low income residents and a lot of the stories that come out of poverty and struggle are fetishized, and they’re used by others to move their own agendas or move themselves forward.
[00:38:44] So one of the places you see that. With music and you saw that with Elvis, right? So they’re very good at taking that kind of blues foundation and really making something of it. Of course. So [00:39:00] that writing was all about how those things, you know, as a, as a metaphor for how folk struggles were being used by others.
[00:39:08] Dan: It’s a great title. It was V I drew me in the other question I had is I heard something about a Ska band.
[00:39:16] Sabrina Williams: Oh my goodness. Yes. You know, so we talk about this whole journey. We talk about where we gain our joy. You know, you can have a passion for your work, but you really do need to have a place to do fun things and have good things with the people that you love, because a lot of your time. When you’re doing your business is not with those people. So if you could find stuff to do with them at the same time, that’s fun. Go for it. So, yes, I am a co lead singer with my daughter at sky band. And before COVID we were out and doing music live. People we’ve started to get back into that a little bit, but it’s a, it’s just a fun thing to do. I’ve sung all my life [00:40:00] and it’s a fun thing to do with my child and my significant other and a few other people in the band. And it really just lets you release joy. It’s a great John wrote music, people get up and dabs as you know, great beats and stuff to it. So it just, it’s a fun, extra activity that I get to do with people that I care.
[00:40:21] Dan: That’s awesome. And why Ska, is that something you like you’ve grown up with or.
[00:40:25] Sabrina Williams: No, you know, that wasn’t my genre. And so, you know, listening to it though and, and getting into it, it really brings all types of people together. It’s very aligned with my world view also, and in the work that I do, but when we are out there performing. Black and brown and white and all in between, you know, people just out there having fun and dancing and it appeals to people from all generations. How my niece out there, my eight year old niece having fun with it. And so it really is just a [00:41:00] joyful genre that we enjoy bringing to people. Yeah.
[00:41:03] Dan: That’s probably a whole nother interview or maybe in a book, Ska music and food justice and how they connect.
[00:41:09] Sabrina Williams: That’s right. They do go together.
[00:41:12] Dan: So as we get ready to wrap up here, this has been such an awesome conversation. So one of the questions we like to ask is if you could go back in time to the pre entrepreneurial version of yourself, and you can say pre-SEED, or maybe even pre or your nonprofit, if you wanted to, but what’s, um, wisdom that this Sabrina would share with that Sabrina, what to do, what not to do, what to look out for?
[00:41:37] Sabrina Williams: If you don’t have people like maybe you’re not raised necessarily the people that are supportive, always find people that will be your cheerleaders. I’ve been really fortunate to have those people. Around because even though they’re biased, they’re like, yeah, you go, girl, you’re great.
[00:41:58] You need that. [00:42:00] You really do need that because they’re going to be enough people telling you, you know, this thing isn’t going to fly or knocking down, always find the cheerleader. And they’re the ones that are going to bully you and keep you going just like when you see them on the sidelines and a game, they can do that for you.
[00:42:19] And you need that. Even when you’re down zero to 58, you need a cheerleader out there because. They’re going to give you some incentive to keep going and you might just actually win. So I think just making sure that you have those folks. That’s what I would tell anybody for me, it’s been great. That it’s been my family and friends and loved ones that way, but those people are really key. I would tell anybody from the beginning.
[00:42:45] Dan: Yeah, you’re right. You need that fuel to see, because there are, especially when you do a, start-up so many naysayers and why are you doing that? And who are you? And, and so you need those folks that are just like, yeah, keep going. You’re doing great [00:43:00] things. That’s terrific. So we never want to end the episode without giving a call to action to our Unfound Nation. So what ways can our audience be helpful to you or to SEED.
[00:43:11] Sabrina Williams: We are always looking for first and foremost people to just stay in touch with what we’re doing. So we have a monthly newsletter that people can sign up for on our website, which is SEED box.systems. You know, we’re on the Instagram. So we’re always putting stories there. And calls to action, further calls to action, but because we’re really interested in helping others grow more, we really do have a passion for that. We want to hear about what are your needs for growing, because that’s going to help us grow. That’s going to help us be a better company. So it’s kind of like this customer discovery.
[00:43:46] But also we help you. So anything that is related to farming or food growing, and also if you know, any small holder farmers out there that we can connect with, that we can [00:44:00] actually bring our system to, to pilot or, you know, we’re in this early stages and we want to get as much data and information that we can. And the more people we have involved in that, that also helps us get grant funding, you know, so that we can actually develop our sensor further.
[00:44:16] Dan: Awesome. And do you want to share any specific handles or email addresses or anything if people want to find out more?
[00:44:22] Sabrina Williams: Yeah. So again, our website is you can just type in SEEDbox.systems. And then we have our social media is just Instagram, which is at SEED box systems, no dot. And then we have our Twitter handle, which is SEED box dot.
[00:44:42] Dan: Awesome. Well, Sabrina, this has been so fun and I’ve learned a lot actually, too, which is terrific. So thank you so much for taking the time to be on our show.
[00:44:50] Sabrina Williams: Thank you, Daniel. This has been great. I really appreciate your time.
[00:44:54] Dan: We’d like to thank our guests, Sabrina Williams and our sponsor The Plug.
[00:44:59] This podcast was [00:45:00] produced by me, Dan Kihanya.
[00:45:01] With audio editing and production by We Edit Podcasts.
[00:45:05] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listento. That’s listen T-O. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn @foundersunfound..
[00:45:18] Thanks so much for tuning in. I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.