‘A Big Delta’ in Tech
When Ammons and Schrader decided to launch Mixtroz in 2014, they faced a long journey to getting the organization up and running. “We really started functioning like a business in 2018,” Ammons said, as funding for the project wasn’t easy to come by. In the early years of building the company, Schrader was on sabbatical — the first professional break of her career — and Ammons was still with Strategic Group until 2016, at which point she left New York to join her mother in Nashville, dedicating herself full-time to Mixtroz. “When we’re looking at people who were starting companies — white males — they were raising a million dollars. At the same stage, a Black female was raising $36,000,” Ammons said. “There is that big delta between how much people were raising at a certain stage, and my mom and I had no idea of this; we just thought people who are entrepreneurs are able to push it forward. We were just very naive.”
Funding the company was the result of “pounding the pavement,” Ammons said, something that paid off when Mixtroz was accepted into Alabama’s Velocity Accelerator program in 2018. Neither cofounder had visited the state before, but Ammons explained that their family history began in Alabama at a plantation outside of Birmingham. Her mother, Ammons said, “often says that we are indeed our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
The mother/daughter team picked up from Nashville and moved their operation to Birmingham during the 14-week program. Throughout the program, Ammons said she and her mother “started to have a better understanding of our business” — what worked about it, what clients would love about it, and how they could better pitch it to raise funding.
That same year, a pitch competition hosted by former AOL CEO and chairman, Steve Case, serendipitously came through the Birmingham area. Ammons and Schrader won the competition, marking their first $100,000-investment into their company. Over the next six months, thanks to connections they had made in Birmingham, the team raised $1 million, making Ammons and Schrader the 37th and 38th Black female founders to raise $1 million or more in the United States. Even more notable: According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women only hold 25 percent of computing roles, and of that small percentage, Black women account for just three percent.
“We’re part of this, unfortunately, small cohort of women of color who have achieved that,” Ammons said. “We’re reducing the stigma, and changing the way that people invest. Women can do it, people of color can do it, LGBTQIA people can do it. Entrepreneurship should be colorblind, because anybody from anywhere can have an idea, and if the idea is valid, they should be able to push that idea forward. So we’re happy about that, but at the same time, it’s just very staggering.”
As a Black woman, Ammons found breaking into the tech industry particularly difficult. “People just used to — not so much anymore because of all of the societal things that have happened,” she said, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement, “but certainly before that, people just told us outright, ‘You are two Black ladies in the South, you can’t code, there is no way that you two are going to be able to get the funds.’”
Though Ammons thinks that their non-technical background was positive in creating their company “because we didn’t build with the tech constraints in mind,” repeatedly hearing these comments started to “suck the life” out of them, she said.
“Because after you hear ‘you can’t’ for so long, how long does it take before that actually starts to seep into your own psyche?” Ammons said. “I feel like things started to change when my mom and I stopped trying to fit into other people’s box of what they thought a tech entrepreneur was.”
For example, Ammons recalled a time when they avoided wearing their natural hair to make “older, white males comfortable when we walked into a room and asked them for funding.” The moment they started living authentically — “which is loud and bold; we’re talkative and we get along with everyone,” Ammons said — did their company start to take off. Soon, Mixtroz started landing customers like Amazon, Johns Hopkins University, and the Kellogg and Kauffman Foundations.
“To anybody who’s reading this, maybe from an underrepresented group and they’re trying to start something: Do not adjust for whatever the status quo is in that market. Be yourself, and everybody else can adjust to you.”
A Mother/Daughter Team
Throughout the years-long journey of building Mixtroz from the ground up, Ammons said there is no one she would’ve chosen to do it with other than her mother, who lends her experience in the corporate world to Ammons’ events background.
“I honestly hope she doesn’t read this because I don’t like complimenting her — it really goes to her head,” Ammons joked, “but she is the best person I know. My mom is someone in my life who has always had my best interests at heart, and I know that in my bones. And that is the person — the only person — that you can start a business with because starting a business is rough,” she said. “If I was doing it by myself, when things happened, good or bad, my mom is on the list of the top two people I would call first to explain the problem to, to seek advice from, to celebrate with. And so it’s pretty awesome that I don’t have to do that — because she’s usually there with me.”
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.