Following Census 2021’s Community Hero Campaign , Roar interviewed one of the members of the jury panel – Deborah Okenla, Founder and CEO of Your Startup, Your Story (YSYS). In the interview Deborah shared more about her startup community and her experience as a Black woman in the tech industry.
Your Startup, Your Story (YSYS) is an organisation that connects people from diverse backgrounds with various opportunities in the world of tech. They are doing this through various programs, events and initiatives, aimed at people from BAME societies or marginalised groups and those coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Deborah founded YSYS in 2017 following her own experience of hardships when first seeking opportunities in the tech industry. She shares that:
“Navigating around the industry as a Black woman who was trying to get into tech, and wanted to learn from others was a very hard task. I was also quite shy, so I ended up messaging people on Instagram and other similar platforms. Some people replied back and we slowly started networking. We connected and started helping each other. At some point we realised that we were trying to get over there, but there were always some barriers. And we didn’t know how to get rid of them because one might be Black or a woman, or from a lower socioeconomic background. We joined together to navigate and challenge those barriers.”
Deborah also shares she never gave up because she was thinking about the society she had been representing:
“Any time felt shy, I was thinking about how would my community want me to respond. How could I represent my community in the best possible light? How would they want me to represent them? And the second thing is that the thing that makes you feel different, is actually your superpower. So if you think a company won’t like you because of this, that’s the thing you should use. That is what makes you unique and makes you stand out from everyone else.”
Following her own advice, she founded YSYS, a community now working with a number of well-recognised partners, such as the Mayor of London and companies like Google, J.P.Morgan, Niantic and other. They have developed a few shorter term initiatives, but two of their most successful programs are Founders Door and Talent Door. The former is aimed at individuals who are making their first steps in the area of startups and investment, while the latter provides opportunities to further develop one’s career. Both programs include sessions with professionals from the industry, training, access to certain events and networking opportunities.
Deborah also proudly shares the launching of their newest initiative #YSYS2023:
“This is our bold mission to connect 100,000 diverse individuals to startup and career opportunities in tech by 2023.”
Following their past success with previous programs and initiatives and the great interest in past events, Deborah shares to feel optimistic about #YSYS2023 and encourages everyone who needs support or knows someone who might benefit from the program, to apply. Her goal, which is reflected by the work conducted at YSYS, is to make sure companies keep diversifying their teams, as “no one wants to be the only one”. She strives for more opportunities in the tech industry for everyone, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background and believes this is achievable through initiatives similar to the ones her community launches.
Find out how to apply for or join their programs here.