Innovator Insights: Harlem’s Minda Harts, Founder And CEO of The Memo @myweeklymemo

Name: Minda Harts
Title: Founder and CEO
Twitter: @myweeklymemo @mindaharts

The Memo is a career development start-up for women of color, founded on Minda Harts believe that “no woman should be left behind due to the lack of access and resources in order to achieve her career goals.” Minda is a first generation college student and holds a B.A. in Communication and M.A. in Management. Prior to launching The Memo she spent over a decade in fundraising and sales. A frequent speaker at tech and diversity conferences, Minda volunteers at the New York Junior League and has been invited to The White House State of Women Summit for her devotion, determination, and passion for creating a more gender equitable world.

Me: Why are you an entrepreneur?

Minda: I’ve been a creator since I was a little girl. I’ve had side hustles from grade school through college. I have only known myself to be entrepreneurial. I used to think you couldn’t be a social entrepreneur and make money. So for a long time, I thought I would have to form a non-profit. But, companies like Toms and Kind bars — show us that you can have a thriving, innovative, and social enterprise and still get paid for it. You can do good and be profitable! And I no longer call myself a social entrepreneur. It’s one word only… Entrepreneur!

Me: What problem would you like solved?

Minda: I started The Memo to help women of color feel supported and provide them with access to better resources in order to navigate their career cycle. From salary negotiation to career transitioning, to managing workplace politics — I want to create a space for them to enhance their career development. Sort of like General Assembly is doing for non-techies. But, I also want to change the narrative. We know that diversity is a major issue in many companies. Our curriculum is not focused on why they won’t invite us to the table. The narrative is you belong at the table and here are the resources to get you ready for your seat. Why? Because they want you there, they just haven’t met you yet. Focusing on the treatment and not the diagnosis. These women need to see women that look like them leading the charge on changing this narrative.

Me: Advice you’d wished you’d had or had followed?

Minda: I had the pleasure of attending a rapid prototyping workshop with Tom Chi and it changed my life. And he said, “When you are wedded to your assumptions, you are not learning.” I had to stop assuming my customers needs and find out what they truly needed. By asking them! So we prototyped for a year, before we launched our pop up career boot camps.

Me: What does success look like for you?

Minda: I come from a household that made less than $20K a year. So for me success has a different meaning. When my mom and dad say, “Minda we are so proud of you,” that is a success point for me. When women email me or tweet us they love what we are doing and enjoy our product… I feel like MJ hitting the winning shot. But, true, true success, is when women of color feel supported in their careers. When we are no longer talking about the wage gap and how some of them are making 54 cents on the dollar. Until then, The Memo has a lot of work to do!

Me: Who are your heroes?

Minda: My mom; she was a teenage single mother and we didn’t have much, but she taught me how to have faith. And that faith has helped me through every day of my life! Nothing is impossible when you have FAITH. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ebbens. She took time with me and saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She taught me that despite my socio-economics — that doesn’t define my future. About five years ago, I wrote her a letter thanking her. She was a game changer! And, Edith Cooper at Goldman Sachs. The first woman partner (and woman of color ) at Goldman Sachs. Talk about defying the odds. The day I met Edith, I cried. It was the first time in my life I’d ever met a woman that looked like me in a position of influence in Corporate America. It was a moment I will never forget.

Me: What is your best discovery?

Minda: My best discovery is building a game-changing network. I have always been good at staying in touch with the people I’ve met over the years and remembering birthdays and kid’s graduations. That set me apart from others. Listening to what matters and showing up for people when it mattered most. I had to create a board of directors for my life. And if you honor and cherish relationship building — those people will be there when it matters most to you.

Me: What would the title of your biography be?

Minda: 6 inch heels: How to stand out in a crowded room

Me: What makes the Harlem entrepreneurial ecosystem unique?

Minda: What makes Harlem’s ecosystem so unique is…its history! Since the 1930’s, The Harlem Renaissance sparked a social and cultural explosion. Decades later we’re seeing this explosion through entrepreneurship! The streets of Harlem have always been comprised of men and women with the spirit of natural born hustlers. At any given time, you can go to 125th street and see entrepreneurship from a grass roots level, all the way to Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster to co-working spaces at Creative Workspace at HBA. We have the spirit of Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes — true innovators of their time. Our generation is picking up the baton and taking innovation a step further. We are exposing a new era heroes and creating a financial framework that serve our communities in ways that will affect generations to come.

Me: If a Shark Tank investor asked “why should I invest in Harlem?, what’s your answer?

Minda: New York City is one of the most innovative cities in the world. Harlem is part of NYC. It’s comprised of diverse minds that are working on problems that could help other communities with similar socio-economic issues. For example, take Marjora Carter in the Bronx. There has always been innovation in the Bronx, but she shed light on the possibilities. The real estate market already sees the potential in Harlem. In my neighborhood alone, five condo buildings are going up. The time is now to invest in the human capital that is Harlem. Harlem has the talent, now we need the resources.

Me: From meetups to co-working to networking events, what are your top recommendations for someone just stepping into the Harlem startup ecosystem?

Minda: I would say attend a few co-working session. Weleet is a great way to meet other entrepreneurs in Harlem. I would also reach out to other entrepreneurs in Harlem and find out more about the ecosystem. Mike Street is a well known go to person in Harlem and knows everyone. Also, connecting with the Harlem Chamber of Commerce is beneficial.

Me: Anything else we should know about?

Minda: I’m launching college career boot camps this Fall at ten historically Black universities and colleges in North Carolina, aimed at helping women in their last two years of college successfully transition from campus to career. We are working with two corporate sponsors who will provide some of these young women with internships.

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