Diversity & Inclusion

Representation Matters: “It’s Great to See People Who Look Like Me on Their Entrepreneurial Journey”

The evening of May 25, 2020 will forever be etched in the memory of millions of people around the world.

Tony Rice II

“I didn’t know if the program was just performative or something authentic.” – Tony Rice II, founder of Unarmed

The police killing of a 46-year-old unarmed Black man named George Perry Floyd, Jr. on Memorial Day was a watershed moment in the history of the city of Minneapolis, the State of Minnesota, the United States and the entire international community.

It was also a significant turning point for Tony Rice II.

Until that moment, Tony had employed laser-like focus as the founder and CEO of LA-based Archer Street – a technology, strategy, and human capital consulting firm committed to bringing unconventional, yet pragmatic solutions to public sector and education clients.

But the circumstances surrounding Mr. Floyd’s death fueled a fire in him that he hasn’t been able to extinguish.

What Tony found particularly disturbing was the fact that Mr. Floyd was unarmed, handcuffed, lying face-down in the street and presented no conceivable threat to police officers, the general public or himself. Despite this, the police still applied fatal force to Mr. Floyd, which resulted in his death.

Policing the police

The problem, says Tony, is that Black people are disproportionately impacted by fatal police encounters. The NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet reads: “While white people make up a little over 60% of the population, they only make up about 41% of fatal police shootings.

“Black people make up 13.4% of the population, but make up 22% of fatal police shootings.”

Motivated by the racial injustice demonstrated by the murder of George Floyd, Tony is hopeful that his technology platform, Unarmed, will create a safer world for every civilian.

“Unarmed is a software as a service (SaaS) platform that manages compliments and complaints about law enforcement. It won’t solve racial injustice, but it will help ensure that people are heard,” he says.

With a vision for Unarmed to become the “global leader in civilian-focused solutions,” Tony hopes his product will result in an “increase in transparency of city services including, but not limited to law enforcement starting in the U.S. and expanding across the world.”

Aligning with allies

Although Tony started his first company when he was just 17 years old, he never really felt part of the entrepreneurial community.

But his sense of belonging improved exponentially over the course of the Mentorship Circle program at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.

“It was great to be part of a cohort of people who look like me in various stages of their entrepreneurial journey,” says Tony.

“It was good to have a forum to meet other Black people who are doing good things alongside the opportunity to go on our journey together.”

It was good to have a forum to meet other Black people who are doing good things alongside the opportunity to go on our journey together.

Although his experience on the program was a positive one, Tony admits that he did have reservations about it.

“We’re living in an interesting time, especially in the Black community. So, I didn’t know if the program was just performative or something authentic.

“Ultimately, my experience on the program was that the mentors were genuinely interested in helping Black founders get their ideas out into the world, which was refreshing,” he says.

“A couple of the mentors told us their personal stories,” he says.

“It was disarming to hear just how vulnerable they were, which made me realize that they were serious about helping Black founders and entrepreneurs.”

Furthermore, Tony says the program organizers were very thoughtful when it came to selecting the panel of speakers: “Not only did the Center set the right tone initially, but it was also consistent throughout the program.”

Collaborating to conquer

One organic feature of the program, which stood out for Tony, was the palpable presence of a collaborative spirit among his peers and the notable absence of a competitive one.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur for a very long time. I’ve also been to business school. But there were still things I just didn’t know – for example, from a branding perspective.

“Just knowing that, although some of my peers were further along in the entrepreneurial process than I was, we were all trying to figure things out together,” he says.

Before joining the program, Tony was undecided about whether incubating Unarmed in his consulting firm or “spinning it out into a new company” was the best route to attract talent and funding.

“Having a support system in terms of advice from my peers, the mentors and the program organizers told me that spinning out Unarmed into its own entity was definitely the way to go. So, that’s what I did,” he says.

During the program, Tony created the beta version of the Unarmed website and scheduled multiple sales meetings with potential pilot customers.

“I’m now considering scaling down my consultancy work in order to pursue Unarmed in more of a full-time capacity,” he says.

The program “surpassed any expectations” Tony may have had. His advice to other founders and entrepreneurs contemplating participating in a mentorship program: “Be ready to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. Even if you have previous entrepreneurship experience, the journey is something you can’t predict or prepare for.”

For Tony, the keys to a successful mentoring relationship are honesty, trust and communication. This includes receiving constructive feedback, “which may not always be nice.”

The trick is for mentees to be receptive to feedback and communicate how they feel about it. “I think that’s really important,” says Tony.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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