Visionary leadership comes in beautiful, intelligent packages. CEO Candice Matthews Brackeen has brilliantly demonstrated that by birthing several financial and educational businesses in the tech space. Her tech advocacy has allowed her to demonstrate her superpowers at Lighthouse Capital, Lighthouse Foundation and Black Tech Week.
As a co-general partner of Lightship Capital venture capital fund, along with her husband Brian Brackeen, the power couple focuses on supporting underrepresented, early-stage, transformational businesses. Her role involves finding and funding high-growth, minority-led companies operating in underserved ecosystems throughout the Midwest.
Brackeen also wears the hat of founder and CEO at Lightship Foundation, an inclusion-focused entrepreneur enrichment program. The foundation provides guidance to minority founders, offering instruction in product development, brand building, leveraging artificial intelligence for business, and fundraising.
One of her most significant contributions to the tech community was bringing Black Tech Week to Cincinnati. Brackeen and her husband decided to acquire the annual conference from the original founders, Felicia Hatcher and Derek Pearson, to ensure it continues to serve as an on-ramp for Black founders. Black Tech Week is currently taking place from July 18-20 in Cincinnati.
Rolling out spoke to Brackeen during Black Tech Week about being a Black woman founder, what she considers to be her superpower and more.
How does it feel to be here at Black Tech Week?
There are so many people out there already, and the difference between the beginning of last year and this year is it’s just epic. There are so many people in the crowd, so I’m excited about what is to come this week.
What do you want attendees to take away from this experience?
I want them to take away that Black tech is tech. We are part of it, and we’ve been innovating since the very beginning. I want them to take away a new group of friends, a new network, maybe a bag, so maybe they can find a VC to fund their company.
What is it like being a woman founder?
It is different, and I think people say that there isn’t a difference between the genders but I happen to do it all. I’m a mom, I run a business, and it does require some special superpowers, but it’s nothing that I couldn’t handle.
What would you say is your superpower?
I just don’t quit, I can run through a brick wall. If I can do this, I can do anything, and this has been some of the hardest work of my life.
Since the beginning, what has been the biggest accomplishment thus far?
When we started this thing in 2017 just as a small foundation, it was just me investing in three little companies. There are 3,000 people that are going to be at Black Tech Week this week. The accomplishment, on my end, is being able to put a good team together. This couldn’t happen without them. I think what I’m most proud of, is the ability to grow a really amazing team,
What advice do you have for the young men and women looking up to you?
I don’t share my story much, but you can do it. You really can. I come from a pretty humble upbringing, and if you look it up, you can see just how humble it was. You have the ability to get there too, it doesn’t matter the circumstances, it just matters to find a group of people that will help you along the way.
Why is tech needed in 2023?
It’s a way to differentiate yourself. It’s a way to give yourself a leg up. If you are going to be early days in ChatGPT you’re going to allow yourself to do more work, better over time. There are lots of little things like that, that can help you to expand your career horizons.
How is media leading the way for people in the tech world?
It’s so necessary to tell the stories of founders. I think over and over we’re seeing the stories of Mark Zuckerberg and what he’s doing, the things happening around the founder of Tesla, and we hear the story over and over about Steve Jobs. These are kind of important parts of society, the iPhone has changed the world but we’re also building groundbreaking things. I think it’s necessary for the media to tell that story so that a Black person is top of mind when you think of a great tech founder.
Which Black women has helped you get here today?
It’s the Black women on my team. They’ve helped me get to where I am today. There are a lot of women that I love watching every day and watching them grow in their careers, but I wouldn’t be standing right here today if it wasn’t for those women to push this mission forward.
What advice do you have for students or business professionals considering tech?
You don’t have to be a founder to be in tech and you don’t have to start your own business to be here. You can work in the art department, you can be a designer, you can be in marketing, or any of those things to be in a tech business. You can also work in a corporation in a tech department in a tech role. All those things are possible, and at any point, you want to pivot and start your own business, go for it. It will be the hardest thing you’re ever going to do, but it’s absolutely possible. The opportunities are really endless.
How does it make you feel to put others in a position to be successful in tech?
Last year, a woman stopped me in the foyer at Music Hall during Black Tech Week. She said, “Someone called me and told me you told my son’s story on the stage.” I said, “What,” and she goes, “I’m Ed’s mom.” Ed was working in a clerk typist role for a corporation here in town. I started hosting a meet-up and at that meetup, people were teaching other people how to code and be junior engineers, and he got his first junior engineering role from that. He now works for a startup that is making tens of millions of dollars a year. We miss him here in Cincinnati, but I think about Ed and his story every day and there are a lot of people like that. I get messages all the time like, “Hey, you inspired me too,” and those are the things that matter to me because I was that person. My parents were those people. It takes giving people an opportunity. The thing that I love about my work is I’m giving people an opportunity that I and many people in my family didn’t have.