Diversity and inclusion is a problem in every industry – especially in the STEM space.
Studies show that gaps in STEM achievement begin early in a person’s life, typically during their childhood years. Sadly, the gag is, in the STEM space, people of color are often underserved and not represented. LaToya, a Black high school student from northern Virginia, shared that she loved science but didn’t always feel welcome where her teacher was white, and the pictures in her textbook were of white scientists. “Sometimes, I don’t feel like I belong in science,” she wrote in a survey that was shared on parentmap.com.
Bukola Somide “aka” CompSci Bae as she refers to herself on social media, grew up having a love for science and has worked tirelessly to promote the opportunities of working in STEM to people of color. After graduating college with her Computer Science degree, and a Master’s in Technology Management, she went on to pursue a career in software engineering, and after that became an author of the storybook series, “Somi The Computer Scientist,” which later became a doll. Outside of that, she runs her own nonprofit CompSci ABC (Computer Science Awareness in Black Communities), and her for-profit, Innovant Technologies LLC, in parallel.
Recently, we caught up with Bukola and learned about her journey in STEM and her tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.
How did you get into software engineering?
It was by fate that I decided to pursue a computer science degree back in 10th grade of High School. I knew nothing about this industry (not even programming) but was intrigued by the idea. I loved science, and I believed computers were the way of the future at the time. In the summer preceding my first semester in college, I took my first programming course, “C Programming,” while attending a summer program hosted by the BRIDGE. The BRIDGE program supports minorities in STEM at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I have always had a desire to run my own business. I like to take the initiative, lead by example, and accomplish a task. I founded my first company, SomiTech Solutions, in 2008. We provided website development and graphic design services, but due to a lacking business model and a clear purpose, I closed the business officially in 2012. In 2014, I birthed the idea for my nonprofit, CompSci ABC, because I had a constant desire to live a more fulfilled life and give back to my community, so I found a need. CompSci ABC was officially incorporated in 2017, so it was my for-profit, Innovant Technologies LLC (InnovantTech). InnovantTech was primarily created to support the mission and vision of my nonprofit. With my for-profit, I can research and develop (R&D) innovative Computer Science educational products to service the needs of our target audience.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey?
Like a child learning to walk for the first time. I set a goal. I aim for it. If I miss, I regroup, learn from it, re-strategize, and try again. I now walk by faith, not by sight. #PurposeDriven #Vision
What inspired you to create the Somi doll?
I pondered ways to grab a child’s attention, to keep them entertained, yet educating them about Computer Science concepts at the same time. A doll is an excellent way to show a representation of people of color in this industry, in hopes to inspire and reshape the perspective of a child of color. This way, they could grow up having already shattered a mental glass ceiling and believe in pursuing their dreams.
What was the process like creating the Somi doll?
Exciting and hopeful but at times frustrating. Having to communicate my vision multiple times in various ways to ensure the illustrator, designer, and manufacturer got it. Honestly, the final prototype is still a work in progress. As an entrepreneur, it’s good to know when to keep going and, most importantly, when to pause/stop. When your efforts start to generate a negative return on investment (ROI), it may be time to stop. My “Somi Doll” prototype was not perfect, but it had passed my internal “A-level” test.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to raise money?
I wanted to leverage the benefits of a crowdfunding campaign to help ease the costs for my goal to manufacture 1,000 Computer Science interactive dolls. At the time, I had supported other successful creative projects on Kickstarter’s platform. I liked the platform’s mass appeal and structure. I needed an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign model, as I couldn’t order less than 1,000 dolls.
What marketing tactics and strategies did you use to raise money in your Kickstarter campaign?
I’m not a marketing expert, and I did not have the marketing budget required, so I consulted with a close friend of mine who is more versed than I in advertising and public relations. I leveraged social media ads (Facebook primarily) and, most effectively, got our article published on Black News media (blacknews.com) then the popularity of my ground-breaking, unique story (with a captivating epic headline) combined with social media ads took off. Other black news media outlets, journalists, and bloggers showed interest after that. Due to a great ad copy (image and message), many of our target audiences were pleased to share our story naturally.
What advice can you give to others wanting to follow a similar path like yourself?
Find your purpose; what you were born to do. It’s a combination of your talents plus your passion. What you’re created to do is always to help others more than yourself. Once you’ve found it (it may require multiple efforts till you get it right), then pursue it wholeheartedly with all you have. Learn to love yourself healthily, and it would guide you on how to love others around you, so you develop a heart of gratitude and giving. This would help you live a fulfilled and impactful life.
Where can people go to purchase the Somi doll?
People that would like to support this project and/or preorder our unique Somi Doll should visit our website at www.innovant-tech.com.