Venture Atlanta is a proud, long-time partner to Launchpad2X, a founder-to-CEO training organization for women. Founded by Bernie Dixon as a way to empower the female entrepreneurship community, Launchpad2X aims to close the gender gap when it comes to venture capital funding.
Advocating for female entrepreneurs is something we’re incredibly passionate about, and we strive to support the women who want to take their ideas and vision to the next level. Venture Atlanta’s partnership with Launchpad2X includes providing year-round support, attending and promoting the organization’s events throughout the year, and issuing scholarship money for a female founder to participate in the full Launchpad2X 3-Day Core Program.
Additionally, every year Launchpad2X hosts a pitch competition for local female entrepreneurs, and the winner secures an automatic spot to pitch at Venture Atlanta. This year was especially competitive and featured an incredible level of talent that included rising entrepreneurs and top companies to watch:
Ashlee Ammons & Kerry Schrader of Mixtroz:
An innovative software that increases peer-to-peer engagement and collects useful data in real-time, both live and virtually.
Lauren Longo of Talli:
Simple apps for tracking health — providing better info for your doctor and peace of mind for you.
Elizabeth Clubb of CareSix:
CareSix is a FinTech solution that empowers older adults to manage their expenses, connect their Circle of Care, and protect against fraud.
Delphine Carter of Boulo Solutions:
A platform designed to connect professional women with goal-driven companies who want to hire talent on a short-term or part-time basis.
Sheffie Robinson of WPClover:
A website design and hosting platform for businesses of all sizes.
Leslie Becker of :30BP:
A blood pressure health app that bridges the gap between patient and provider.
Veronica Woodruff of Travelsist:
A service that hand-selects travel products and delivers them to vacationing families upon their arrivals.
Kristi Frank of Clutch Creations:
A functional fashion brand centered around their patented product, "The Clutch Strap," a stylish leather strap that attaches to your phone and allows for easy carry.
In fact, this year’s roster of companies was so impressive that Venture Atlanta decided to not only award the winner a spot to present live on the Venture AtlantaLive Online studio stage but also gave the two runners-up a spot in the VA Showcase.
After the Launchpad2X event, we sat down with winners Ashlee Ammons and her business partner (who also happens to be her mom) Kerry Schrader to learn more about why they started Mixtroz, what they’re looking forward to at Venture Atlanta, and what it means to be Black female entrepreneurs in the current market and cultural state.
Where were you when Mixtroz went from just an idea to something you knew was going to be a successful business?
Ashlee: We both saw the problem one weekend [after attending a conference and a social event], and that’s what did it. If just one of us had seen the need, it wouldn’t have worked. But we both came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to help the right people collide when they’re somewhere. We started researching, and we couldn't find a product doing it the way we wanted it to be done. And really within 24 hours, we were like, this could be something. And the name Mixtroz was born — the words ‘mixer’ and ‘introduction’ smushed together.
What was it like getting started and pursuing clients in the beginning?
Ashlee: It was tough, to be completely honest. Our customers came from hustle and grit — nothing was given over here. It has been an arduous process, and you think that your business network will help to push your business forward and it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Friends and colleagues want to congratulate you, not understanding that a contract would be more fruitful. You’re always thinking about the business, and it can feel like [when you’re pitching] you're always teetering on the cusp of annoying people. But you have to do it — as a founder, your job is to push your business to its fullest potential, no matter the outcome.
But now when I pitch Mixtroz to people, it is rare for somebody to not say “yes, I get it” or to see the value in what we’re doing. I'm at the point with demos where, at about 15 minutes in, I can stop talking and the customer is just pontificating and dreaming up ways that they can use the platform.
So those early customers, they are literally just a result of hustle; a result of the fact that Kerry and I wouldn't stop.
Let’s talk a little bit about your virtual event, ‘Mixtroz Imperfect Conversations.’
Kerry: We held a nationwide conversation centered around bringing people together for uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. We put everyone into groups using the Mixtroz Virtual platform to get people talking.
The funny thing is, we don't really do this. This is not our thing [hosting events]. But with our platform founders being people of color, we needed to. We called it “Mixtroz Imperfect Conversations: A Time for Collision, Community & Connection.” People got in these groups and just went crazy in a good way — engaging for over an hour and half when we planned on only 30 minutes. Some of the groups have even contacted us to say, “We're actually going to meet in person in future.”
So much of what Mixtroz is about is centered around those types of conversations. What kind of conversations do you want to be having with those around you?
Kerry: At the end of the day, I'm always focused on three things: growing our team — which as of today, Ashlee and I are our only FTEs — client acquisition, and raising funding. The more strategic team members we have, the faster we reach and close clients in our funnel, and the more attractive we look for fundraising. All these actions feed one another.
At the same time, I have always been an excellent steward of the capital raised. I'm not getting into a situation where we are ever running so low on capital that we have to consider giving away our company because we were desperate for investment. This focus, which has a lot to do with my background as an HR executive, is why we have been able to stay ahead of the curve, even with COVID.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while pursuing investment?
Ashlee: Some of the pushback that we'll hear more often than not is that we’re entering a crowded space. To me, if Lyft and Uber and so many other ride sharing companies can exist together in a space, it seems like the market can hold for a product like Mixtroz. We have a huge TAM and we are just scratching the surface in events, enterprise, and education.
We’ve also been asked things like, “how big do you think Mixtroz can be?”, and I think women — specifically women of color — have been conditioned to answer those questions very conservatively. In the past, if you answered in a way that was [too grandiose], then investors will think you’re crazy. They think that’s unrealistic, and they’ll close the book on you. But then on the other hand, if you don't say something just completely out there, then you’re not thinking big enough.
So it is honestly a “damned if you do, damned if you don't” situation. The thing about Mixtroz, though, is that we’re building a great company that provides utility, and we are focused on getting to profitability. Data doesn’t lie and that's what we will use to drive this business forward. I'm going to work this business as hard as I can and I'm going to give it all the hustle I've got — win, lose, or draw. I will walk away from this experience knowing that we’ve changed perspectives over the course of this journey for what entrepreneurship can and should look like from a color perspective, an age perspective, and a gender perspective.
Can you talk about the importance of diversity and creating space for Black women and other POC in the industry?
Kerry: At the end of the day, we hope that we have made this journey more accessible and a little easier for people of color and different genders to come after us.
Ashlee: We're aware of the culture of the world right now, and coupled with user behavior, who we are as founders, what we've built, and what we've been able to do presents a great opportunity for us. We're certainly at an inflection point, and the lucky thing for us is that people are seeing it.
When did Launchpad2X come on your radar?
Kerry: Last September. After a new connection and LP2X alum, Roz Lemieux, recommended that I apply [to the upcoming cohort], I did, and the rest is history. It was a great experience. I was able to learn directly from Bernie, meet some great founders, and was able to increase my confidence in my role.
Ashlee: It's been great pitching at LaunchpadX2. I've pitched so many times at this point, but back in 2017, I remember I had a bit of a meltdown. I gave a pitch and I expected to win — and I didn't. And I had a complete mental nervous breakdown because this was just after moving from New York to Nashville — it was hard to have so many changes happening at once and not feel like I was moving Mixtroz forward. But now, it has really come full circle; it takes time.
Why do you know that you're going to be successful?
Kerry: Because we have a kick-ass product! We have kick-ass developers, people on our team that are there because they, too, believe in the product.
Ashlee: I look at the delight from the customer — and not just from the primary customer, the one that pays, but also the secondary customer, the person who uses. We built this product to help people find their people, and over and over, customers reinforce that the utility we built Mixtroz for is exactly what it does — and that's valuable.
We believe that when people go somewhere, be it live or virtual, everyone deserves a level playing field to connect. And so when the customer states that back to me without being prompted, I'm like, “yeah!”, it makes a whole lot of sense. We're not just trying to build a software just for the sake of building a software — we built a software because we saw a need.
About Venture Atlanta Live Online:
Venture Atlanta Live Online is taking place October 21-22, 2020. Register today to see Mixtroz and other top emerging tech companies from the southeast. Interested in getting screen time for your own startup? We are currently accepting applications to pitch live on our studio stage or in our showcase. Apply by August 28th.