Erika Lucas is the Owner and Co-Founder of StitchCrew, an Oklahoma tech accelerator that helps startups grow and scale their business in the Midwest. Erika and her husband started StitchCrew as a consulting agency but saw the need for change in the way the traditional policy was tackling the most pressing challenges facing their state. Entrepreneurs with great ideas were leaving the state to find funding and better, more collaborative environments.
Erika and her family had the chance to leave the state for better opportunities as well. However, they decided to stay in order to create better opportunities for founders. But, what really motivates Erika is opening doors for female and minority founders. She knows the struggle first hand. As a first generation immigrant from Mexico, she has battled stereotypes throughout her career, both in Gov’t and in the Private sector.
StitchCrew connects traditionally overlooked founders with capital, resources and social networks. StitchCrew also works with communities as they cultivate innovation ecosystems in their region. In partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder, StitchCrew runs an accelerator program to help founders launch and scale startups.
What inspired you and your husband to start StitchCrew?
It wasn’t really inspiration but frustration that led us to launch StitchCrew. We kept seeing founders leave the Midwest in search of capital and more collaborative environments. It became painful to think we were losing some of our best thinkers, problem solvers and change makers to other markets.
“A firm aiming to democratize access to resources and social capital to increase entrepreneurial participation in underrepresented communities.’’
Who are the underrepresented communities?
Groups of individuals that are often underestimated due not to a lack of potential and ability but because they don’t have access to resources, adequate support systems and social capital – Women, African Americans, Latinx, LGBT, veterans, immigrants, founders in rural communities.
Any great story of a client?
Yes! Sean Akadiri is the Founder of AgBoost an agtech company helping ranchers breed superior animals through genetics and health data analytics. Sean’s struggle story was a major contributor in pushing Chris and I to launch StitchCrew. Originally from Nigeria, Sean migrated to the U.S. to attend college. When we met Sean he shared with us how often local investors and others in the community told him he would never be able to penetrate the Ag market because of the color of his skin, foreign accent and the fact that he doesn’t wear wranglers and boots. AgBoost is doing incredible things for the industry with ranchers from all over the world posting online about the efficiency his platform is bringing to their operation. AgBoost is now post-revenue and doing business internationally with customers in Mexico, Argentina, U.K., and Uruguay.
Who or what influences you?
Women who know what they want and don’t require validation from anyone.
‘’As a first generation immigrant from Mexico, you have battled stereotypes throughout your career, both in Gov’t and in the Private sector. ‘’ How?
Of course. I was often the only woman in what I like to call bright rooms (rooms full of white men) and the recipient of a lot of back-handed compliments. From “you don’t look or sound Mexican” to awkward questions regarding my citizenship during job interviews – in fact, I now introduce myself as “Hi my name is Erika Lucas, born and raised in Mexico, migrated here when I was little but don’t worry I’m now here legally” – so we can skip small talk and go straight to business.
How are you motivated to open doors for female and minority founders?
The biggest barrier to entry for entrepreneurs is lack of capital and social networks. We want to eliminate those barriers by democratizing access and making it cheaper to start a venture. We also want to contribute to closing the funding gap. Despite the increase in awareness on the economic and social benefits of having diverse founders in investment portfolios, there is still an absence of representation in decision-making roles within the investing community. This leads to financing practices and a bias that is costing America more than 1 million minority-owned businesses. In addition to investors, I want policy makers, business and civic leaders to know we are foregoing 9 million potential jobs and $300 billion in collective national income as a result of this trend.
What sacrifices have you had to make during life as an entrepreneur?
I left a six-figure job and what some may call a stable position. So we definitely had to adjust our expenses and cut back on just about everything. Although I did feel deprived in the beginning, this transition made me realize how much money we were wasting on stuff that we didn’t’ really need. We’ve also turned down tempting job opportunities in an effort to build opportunity here.
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
It depends on what you mean by entrepreneurial. In the typical sense, of starting businesses, no. I was born into a family of entrepreneurs. I saw the stress and struggle of having to eat what you kill. My single mom was an entrepreneur, she owned a baby clothing store and flower shop. When I was around 10 years old, she decided to migrate to the U.S. with my sister and I. We left everything behind and had to start from scratch. I desperately craved stability and a sense of security, so I was determined to climb the corporate ladder instead and have a paycheck every month. However, I’ve always been one to create new things. I get bored if I’m not. Every job I’ve ever had, I reinvented my role and created at least one new division or program. I don’t get scared easily and I’m comfortable navigating in unknown environments and adapting to new places – probably due to my experience immigrating to America. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve circumstances and disrupt the status quo.
What 5 steps would you advise and give our ladies who starting their own business?
1. Overcome self-doubt. This is a must. You can easily let your talent and ideas go to waste if you lack confidence. So fake it until you become it. Otherwise someone else less capable will bypass you simply because they believed in themselves more.
2. Visualize your optimal self and start showing up as her. Remind yourself of this every day, in the morning, during your drive and in the board room.
3. Be very clear about what type of business you want to build and why. I see a lot of entrepreneurs build businesses based on a model they never understood, just because everyone else was doing it that way.
4. Surround yourself with winners, mimic their patterns and create winning habits.
5. Avoid shiny distractions. Focus is the new IQ and as an entrepreneur it’s easy to get persuaded by vanity metrics and things that really don’t help us achieve our goals. Attending mega conferences or researching how to pitch media when you don’t even have a product to show are great examples. Just focus on building a product or service the media, customers, and competitors can’t ignore.
We are only one percent done. We are looking into non-traditional funding vehicles and mechanisms that will enable us to provide more options and choice to founders looking for early stage capital. We are also looking at partnerships and intersections between entrepreneurship, policy and education, all critical pillars of building a thriving innovation ecosystem in the Midwest.