Tech Talks: Mackenzie

A recent dual-degree graduate of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, Mackenzie Loy seeks to utilize technology, entrepreneurship and community investment to close the racial and gender wealth. We chatted with Mackenzie about her two start-ups, the impact of equity investing and working in a white, male-dominated field while holding marginalized identities. 

You’re the founder and CEO of two different start-ups based in Washington DC: homemade in DC and The New Majority. Can you talk a bit about each one and how they connect?

Homemade in DC is an online marketplace that connects local food entrepreneurs to businesses; our products include corporate catering and custom gift boxes. All of the products we use are sourced from local food entrepreneurs who are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ. The idea for it really started with wanting to use existing resources; entrepreneurs can do this as a side hustle or potentially, a full-time job. The idea is to help those communities get their messages – and their delicious food – out into the world. 

The New Majority aims to make it easier for everyday new majority investors to invest directly into founders who look like them. Eventually, we’d like to be an equity crowdfunding platform that focuses on new majority investors and new majority founders. So the mission for both [start-ups] is to close the racial and gender wealth gap through food entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship and investing. Everything I’m doing is tech-based; both of them would be remote companies, because I think there’s an immense opportunity for all different kinds of people to get involved in this next kind of wave of remote working and technology. 

What exactly is equity crowdfunding and how does it relate to closing the racial and gender wealth gap?

The policy was made into law through the 2012 JOBS Act, but was only implemented in 2016 by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Essentially, equity crowdfunding allows “everyday investors,” those who are non-accredited, to invest in companies; this includes private companies like startups, but also smaller businesses such as coffee shops or breweries. If I love the local coffee shop I go to every morning, I could also own a piece of it. It’s a non-voting piece – I’m not going to have majority ownership or anything – but I’m a little more invested in it. 

Investing in startups can be super risky. But it’s also opening up a whole new class of investments… If you have a little extra money, you can invest in something that aligns with your values. I want to invest in companies that shape the world that I want to live in. And if it’s only the accredited investors making those decisions – who are typically white men – then perhaps that’s how we get companies like Facebook and Twitter. That’s not the world that we live in. 

I think [equity crowdfunding] is super cool; it’s a way that tech is opening up investing in private companies to a newer audience that is more diverse than who we typically see funding private companies and startups. As we are more likely to invest in those who look like us, this should lead to more diverse founders funded. However this won’t happen without intention. Most of the equity crowdfunding platforms out there think that democratizing investment opportunities will immediately bring positive change. But initial funding data on these platforms shows there’s still a huge funding gap with women and people of color. If you don’t focus on the marginalized communities, on the folks who are underrepresented, then the racial and gender wealth gap will widen. 

That’s where The New Majority comes in. How has it been to work with those with marginalized identities in a field where such folks are often excluded?

The joy of working [in equity crowdfunding] is that I get to meet so many interesting and mission-driven people who are building incredible things. And based on the nature of what I’m doing, it is mostly women or people of color. Women leaders and founders are overlooked, undervalued and they outperform – why wouldn’t we invest in them? Women and people of color – especially women of color, such as Black women – are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in entrepreneurship. And yet, they receive less than 1 or 2% of venture capital funding. 

I put together a Women in Tech panel at a company I used to work for. I had the idea when either Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos was launching a rocket and everyone was standing around the monitor watching. I looked at the group of my colleagues and started counting; of the maybe 30 people there, 28 were men, 25 of whom were white. I remember thinking, this just doesn’t feel right. So I created a Women in Tech panel that explored, not only how do we hire more women, but how do we retain them? How do we support them while they’re here so they can grow? It was interesting having to fight for that panel to exist. To me it felt like a no-brainer, but I had to justify it not only from a business perspective, but how would [the panel] be good for the brand, for the company culture?

As a woman, as a person of color, you’re always the minority in sales and tech. So it’s been freeing and fun to start building my own companies, to ask questions like what culture do I want to create? Who am I going to hire? How can we live our mission, both in what we do and inside the company itself? I’m currently asking myself those questions. 

Thinking about accessibility within technology — what changes do you wish could or should be made to make tech more accessible for those who may not be as fluent?

That’s a good question. Within homemade in DC and The New Majority, design is so important. This is also true from a policy perspective — you could create the best policy, but if no one knows about it or can’t access it, the policy doesn’t matter. For both start-ups, we’re trying to make our website designs — which might eventually be apps — as accessible as possible. By saying that, I mean very intuitive and easy to use. We can make sure it’s intuitive by gathering customers and focus groups from a variety of backgrounds and tech levels to make sure it works for everyone. I tend to have a human-centered design approach by thinking about who the customer or community member you’re trying to engage is, and then talking to them! Ask them what they want. There’s too many big and immediate problems in our society to waste time building something that no one will use.

Mackenzie can be reached via email at mackenzie@thenewmajority.co or through her LinkedIn profile.