Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Working outside of the norm—not regularly punching a clock for hourly wages or an annual salary—it really isn’t for everyone.
“Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing to do,” said Tracy Gray, while sitting on a recent summit panel “The Tech Ecosystem: Starting, Accelerating and Flourishing.”
“This isn’t a hobby,” she added. “You have to say to yourself ‘I’m willing to sacrifice and do the work.’”
Gray is the founder/managing partner of The 22 Fund, a venture capital firm with a job-creation mission and investment strategy.
Gray wants to provide capital to local startups or existing manufacturing companies preferably owned by women or people of color, to help them export their products. Companies which export their products have a 25 percent higher survival rate than those that do not, according to the Brookings Institution.
“Investors are looking for unicorns,” Gray said. “You want to be more than one product.”
The panel noted that a lot of women entrepreneurs shy away from applying for venture capital funds, as the process has been compared to applying for admission to an ivy league school.
Women often sell themselves short, the panel said, setting the bar too low.
“I have a friend who once said that every morning she wakes up and says ‘may I be as confident as a mediocre white man,’” Gray quoted.
“We have to think how big we can be,” she added. “Just think about doubling your projections.”
Gray is also the founder of the non-profit, We Are Enough, which has as its mission to educate all women on how to invest with a “gender lens,” endowing women-owned, for-profit businesses.
“We say whether you have $25 or $25 million, whether you have a piggy bank or own a bank, there are ways for you to invest in women,” Gray once told the Robb Report.
Prior to The 22 Fund, Gray was a senior advisor of international business and marketing for then-LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She led strategies and initiatives to help small- and medium-size enterprises expand internationally.
Her career before that included a stint as a systems engineer with a NASA contractor working on the Space Shuttle program. With her bachelor’s degree in mathematical science with an aeronautics emphasis from UC Santa Barbara, she hoped to be an astronaut, but didn’t make the height requirement at the time.
After gaining dual MBAs from Columbia University and UC Berkeley, specializing in private equity, international business and corporate social responsibility, she took a friend up on a kind of challenge to come work for his venture capital firm and learn the business.
That was in 1999—the U.S. was at the height of the dot com boom.
In 2017 Gray was featured in Chronicle Books’ “200 Women: Who will Change the Way You See the World.” The project is also an exhibition and website: www.twohundredwomen.com.
The project interviewed 200 women from different parts of the world – famous and unknown – answering five fundamental questions.
When asked “What would you change, if you could?” Gray didn’t hesitate.
“How hard people in the rest of the world have to work just for basics,” Gray said. “Why can’t everyone have healthcare; a house; their kids are healthy and safe; education—just the basics? Why is that so hard for people to be able to have?“
“Why does there need to be people who are 500 times richer than someone else?” she asked. “It just doesn’t’ make any sense. And that‘s from someone who’s a venture capitalist.
“I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money, but not at the expense of other people,” she explained. “How do you make a lot of money and see what’s happening in the rest of the world?”
Today, Gray’s 22 Fund touts itself as being “The only one of its kind,” investing in high potential women- and minority-owned, tech-based manufacturing and exporting companies. The fund‘s mission includes creating the jobs of the future in underserved communities.
“With existing, proven products and markets, these enterprises are often overlooked by traditional investors and find it difficult to scale, due to lack of access to growth capital,” the company website states.
Although there are multiple sources for startup funds: grants, crowd-funding; traditional loans; accelerators and venture capital, Gray said it’s important to find the right source for your business.
Although some entrepreneurs may turn to friends and family as investors, that doesn’t always work in minority communities.
“Friends and family are different for people of color, because people of color don’t often have a lot of money,” Gray said during the panel.
Her 22 Fund provides equity loans and royalty based investments, as well as advisory services and an international network of trade, government and service partners.
But Gray reminded the audience that you can’t just walk up to her or any venture capitalist, bank loan officer or friend and ask them for money. Good relationships with investors must be built over time.
“People want to know you first,” Gray said. “Do your homework, have your financials ready.”
Again, this kind of work isn’t for everyone.
“Entrepreneurs take a lot of risks,” Gray said, noting that it can be difficult to take that leap of faith and open your own business.
“The biggest problem in my head is me,” Gray told the audience to remind themselves. “You can do this. Someone else did it, you can do it. Be positive.”