FWD Collective & The Tech Unicorn Want to Know If You’ve Taken Action?

As amazing as the FWD Collective Chicago 2017 Summit was, it's time to reflect on what's next. What did you take away from it? Has your perspective changed? Has your paradigm shifted or have you impacted others since the FWD Collective Chicago 2017 Summit?  Michael and I would like to know if you've taken action!

Well, yours truly got a chance to sit down and recap with the Founder of FWD Collective, Michael Donnelly. We had a candid chat about everything from empowering women and minorities, to what we believe makes Chicago great! Michael has been on the Chicago start-up scene for quite some time, she was an early employee at Techweek helping to grow the conference from 1 to 5 cities in two years and went on to start Red Suede Shoes, her event management and consulting company that has worked with startups and established enterprises throughout the country. After attending and hosting events with clients, Michael co-founded  VentureFWD, a summit that focused on creating space for facilitating connections to investment capital and opportunity for women, POC, and underrepresented communities.  Michael realized that investment capital was only part of the overarching issues around diversity and inclusion Michael risked it all to venture out  (pun intended) on her own and grow VentureFWD into the FWD Collective, not only would her mission include venture capital, I would expand to be inclusive of the significant barriers that exist for entrepreneurs and professionals from diverse backgrounds.

For those of you late to the party, FWD Collective is the acronym "For Women and Diversity" which can also be considered short for the word "Forward". FWD Collective host summits internationally featuring women, people of color and underrepresented communities. Each event focuses on professional inclusion, business development, venture capital,  building teams, and beyond.

On September 15th, 2017, FWD Collective hosted various diversity leaders from the Chicago community! I along with many others, left inspired and impressed with FWD Collective’s commitment and investment in Chicago.

Our chat went a little something like this:

Jamila: What was your initial vision and goal for the FWD Collective?

Michael: The theme, mission and  goal of FWD is to bring women, people of color, and underrepresented communities to the forefront.  Our conversation is not just on professional inclusion, that's just the underlying mission and  the theme that leads everything.  We discuss funding, meditating, starting your company and staying motivated. We even address getting gritty, wearing every single hat and building your business everyday!

When I originally started the transition between VentureFWD and FWD Collective, I realized that although the conversations regarding Venture Capital Funding of women and minority owned business is incredibly important, that's not the only issue. The conversations need to stem from a standpoint of professional inclusion, FWD Collective is meant to bring together all the separate groups that are working to empower, inspire and innovate others that are like them.  All of our speakers up to this point have been women and people of color and underrepresented communities.  Looking forward ( pun intended :-)) that might not always be the case because inherently with inclusion everyone has to be included. I want FWD Collective to be the connector for all of the separate groups with incredible and diverse backgrounds. I see great leaders championing diversity but it is critical that we are all talking and moving in the right direction together. There are so many amazing organizations addressing diversity but we all have to coordinate and move forward as one to bring about change.


Jamila : Tell us about your journey! Many of us are inspired by your courage to break away on your own to create FWD Collective!  

Michael: Much of it had to do with me rarely seeing others that looked like me on stage at events and if there were,  it was on a ‘women’s panel’ or a ‘diversity panel’ and not actually addressing or speaking to their expertise. I wanted to change that. I want my peers and the young people entering the professional world to see people like them speaking on stages, setting trends, and making an impact.  I'm white and I am a woman, I understand my experience is  different than yours and different than others. I've always grown up with friends of all different colors and backgrounds and want to see opportunity created for everybody.  In addition, we’ve all seen the divisiveness and political atmosphere since last year's election. There have been issues highlighted and brought to the forefront that were innately there but not always seen bringing divisiveness to the forefront, I wouldn’t say what is happening is good but it's definitely eye opening. Many of the issues that plague this country have to be brought to the forefront in order for it to be addressed and for us to make a change.

Jamila: What makes the Chicago Tech Scene so special? What advice do you have for those at a crossroads or pivot point in their careers or entrepreneurship journey?

Michael: Chicago has a great supportive ecosystem, our city is unique in the sense of company structures and milestones that tech companies are targeting. I agree with the sentiment that it is hard to secure investment in the Midwest because venture capital isn’t as prevalent here. It takes a lot more to prove yourself as a Chicago Start Up.

I've gotten my bumps and bruises along the way and I've navigated the smoke and mirrors.  A piece of advice I would offer to others, be careful not to be too “Midwestern nice”, everyone may not have your best interest at heart or have your back but that’s everywhere. When you are navigating entrepreneurship, be sure you are not the only one working really hard, find people who match your passion. Be aware, but don’t be afraid, and be open to trying again and working to find what makes sense for you...

Jamila: Although it seems like the Chicago Summit was yesterday, some time has went by since we’ve all broken out and went our separate ways to champion diversity and inclusion. We all want to know what's next for FWD Collective? What is the next call to action?

Michael: We want to hear from you, we’re a community! Email me, contact me, I’m pretty approachable. It's because of you and everyone doing incredible work in our community that FWD Collective exists. We have a lot of exciting things in the works that we will be announcing as 2017 wraps up BUT give us your thoughts and feedback on what you would like to see! Send me an email  michael[at]fwdcollective.io or hit me up Instagram or Twitter @realmdonnelly! Our community will continue to grow thanks to all of you, the FWD Collective Summit was not meant to be a memory or just a feel good moment. Our purpose is to create an experience that challenges you to be the best version of yourself whether you are in the corporate or entrepreneurship space and continue to provide opportunities to engage.

We have a few new cities on the horizon as we wrap up the year and go into 2018.  We are actively meeting with and looking forward to partnering with other great organizations locally in Chicago and in the other cities we host FWD  to implement regular events and check ins. There are so many great things going on, FWD Collective is looking to support what is already in place. What are you doing? Can we help? How can we work together to create value?  FWD Collective will continue to support all of the moving pieces that are already up and running!

Jamila: Well, Thank you Michael for taking the time to sit down with me to recap FWD Collective's Chicago Summit! I am so excited for what's next!  Thank you for everything that you do!


Get the latest on FWD Collective and what's next by joining their mailing list at http://fwdcollective.io

Be sure to follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @FWDCollectiveio

Jamila ParhamComment