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Lioness Powerbrokers: Yasmin Ferrine of Visible Hands

How can we encourage diversity in tech? Visible Hands provides direct support for underrepresented founders.

When looking for funding, Black women need to meet with seven times the number of possible investors compared to other non-diverse entrepreneurs. It brings to mind the Charlotte Whitton quote – “Whatever women do, they need to be twice as good as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” But it is difficult. The struggle will wear you down. The extra time and effort takes your attention away from your day-to-day business. That’s why tech fellowship Visible Hands provides support and investment – up to $200,000 for each member.

“We wanted to unlock the potential and the market opportunity of overlooked founders,” said Co-Founder and General Partner Yasmin Ferrine. “It’s well known that venture capital helps new job creation and the quality of jobs. Despite that, the majority of the funding goes to one archetype. Our mission is to prove the genius and the market opportunity that exists here.”

An unlikely path to the startup world

Immediately after college, Ferrine gained investment experience managing a $700 million public equity mutual fund. The repeatable, analytic task was a formative part of her career. She also worked in community investment strategy, sustainable investing and with an investment management firm. All very different from the world of startups.

That changed when she worked for a presidential campaign in 2020. 

“I saw that I could manage the resource constraints. Like building Everest in two days. Running through brick walls is something that everyone is expected to do. There’s no weekend or no evening. That’s when I experienced the entrepreneurial pace. I haven’t looked back since.”

Visible Hands focuses on underrepresented founders

“We are singularly focused on underrepresented founders,” Ferrine said. Visible Hands tries to address some of the systemic issues in investments with a targeted support system intended for racial and gender minorities within tech.

“The research shows that Black women have to meet with seven times the amount of potential investors as their non-diverse counterparts. Many, many times, we see a situation where founders finally get to Series A, but they’re exhausted. You have to sit through failures and little ‘paper cuts’ that add up. That’s not what Visible Hands is about. We create a community of support and accountability to set our founders up for success.”

Funding is crucial, but the program extends deeper than that. In the 14-week fellowship program, fellows receive $25,000 upfront to provide a safety net as they transition to working on their business full-time. 

Investors get to know the founders, working with them to validate their idea and build a team. Afterward, founders receive $150,000 to $175,000 as another investment. Visible Hands then spends nine months helping companies fundraise, connect with executives and find customers.

Working with founders

With such a large prize and an active support system, it’s hardly surprising that Visible Hands received a flood of applications – 910 – for its first cohort. Ultimately, Visible Hands chose 44 founders. According to Ferrine, 60 percent were women and 60 percent were Black or Latino. Almost half of the applicants called themselves designers, engineers or product managers. The remaining were all subject matter experts and had useful market skills.

The startups were clustered around some specific themes: aging, reimaging family, augmented and virtual reality and health tech.

Changes in the investing world

Ferrine highlighted other women pushing for change in investing: Elizabeth Yin of Hustle Fund, Maria Salamanca at Unshackled and Lolita Taub of The Community Fund. (Interested in learning more about funding opportunities? Check out our Finding Funding channel.)

“There are so many women who have become general partners in the last few years, like me. I’m really excited by the peer community,” Ferrine said.

Looking for funding? Think about this first

“Be specific about your customer. Get customer feedback and validation before you fully build out a tech solution. It’s like night and day if you talk to a founder who knows their customer. You need customer feedback to step outside of your own experience. Having that makes you a completely different investment prospect,” Ferrine said. “If you just say, ‘I have a vision,’ that’s the starting point. You have a long way to go before you have insights that will unlock market opportunities. It’s great to have that big vision, but be able to articulate everything possible about your customer.”

To learn more about Ferrine’s experience or why Visible Hands doesn’t host demo days, watch our full interview.

Lolita Taub invests in community-driven companies. Learn more on Lioness.

About the author

Laura Grant

As Managing Editor of Lioness, Laura Grant works with the editorial team and a slew of freelancers and regular contributors to produce a publication that offers equal parts inspiration and information. Laura is a graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Communications. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day. Before joining Lioness full-time, Laura was a freelancer herself and wrote many stories for the magazine.

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