Sevetri Wilson is CEO and founder of ExemptMeNow, an online platform that simplifies the process of creating and maintaining a nonprofit.
By Alexia McKay
Earlier this year, she became the first black woman from Louisiana to raise over $2 million in venture capital for her company. The Louisiana State University graduate started ExemptMeNow after realizing the need for the service from her clients, while working in the public and private sector.
“I was experiencing the disruption of tech in everything I was doing and in many ways I was a part of it as I was often the person introducing new technology to our clients,” she told Black Enterprise in an July interview. “Productizing” a service that I felt was very manual, labor-intensive, and time-consuming was how ExemptMeNow came about.”
The NOLA native is also the CEO and founder of communications firm, SGI Cares and the CEO of Solid Ground Innovation’s, LLC. SGI offers services such as branding, event planning and promotion, marketing and public relations; as well as non-profit services such as setting up a 501c3, fundraising, grant writing and capital campaign creations. The success of SGI is what prompted Wilson to start ExemptMeNow.
This past November, Wilson was a featured speaker at AfroTech. The annual event brings together over 3,000 tech founders and entrepreneurs of color each year. She shared a few secrets behind the success of her companies and the millions behind it with Essence Magazine.
One tip she offered was you have to be social. Step out of that bubble of comfort zone and let yourself be known.
“You have to go out — attend events, networking conferences and summits,” she told Essence. “Even if it’s your local business entrepreneur summit. Start somewhere. You have to try to get in front of people.”
Also when you do meet a contact follow-up. Wilson recalled a time she attended a conference of 500 women, black women. The speaker shared his expertise and resources and offered his contact information. Two weeks went by before Wilson reached out to him and he told him out of the 500 women he spoke to, she was the only one who followed up and reached out to him.
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Teach your daughters to worry less about fitting into glass slippers, and more about shattering glass ceilings. . If you know me, then you know I stan for black women. I saved a poem that @adagoodly shared a while ago that said, “You call me ‘sis’ not because you are my blood but because you understand the type of tragedies we both have endured to come back into loving ourselves again & again.” . So inspired by the many women I got to meet, dine with and watch present their companies this past weekend @heatherahiles @valeisha @jotakaeaddy @moniqueidlett @mandelash @danielleleslie @melissarbutler @chanelrosegold @janeyagriffin @jakeybakeyc and more . Thank you to @morgandebaun for the invitation, and @poetryaaron for the warm welcome. Congratulations on manifesting a vision that continues to grow year after year. We’re all rooting for y’all. . #afrotech #sanfrancisco #femalefounders #techstartup #stackmymoneyfast #blksintech #finalrecap
NOTE: Networking is everything. Business cards are meant to be used, not pocketed. You never know what opportunities or blessings you are denying yourself by pocketing a business card.
Wilson shared that the process to raise over $2 million in capital was everything but easy. As a matter of act it was tough, very tough. When she first started promoting for ExemptMeNow, many people did not know who she was.
“When I went out, I would be met with a, ‘Oh, who are you?’ Because the majority of Black people aren’t in Silicon Valley, so we’re trying to build companies in the south and all across the country,” she told Essence. “It’s easy to turn us down because people are like, ‘oh, I’m not going to see you again.’ And surprise! people saw me come back.”
She added, “People can be what you are for, and still not be for you. We were preaching to rooms of all white men. You go in from a negative position. So you have to work yourself to just the foundation. And we’re not saying this because we feel like everybody’s against Black people or we have a chip on our shoulders — no, this is reality. And it’s not a coincidence that my story looks like her story and we all look alike. Some of us hadn’t even met each other, yet we have the same identical stories? There’s a barrier that’s there for Black women and it’s deeper than the tech that we’re building. We have to really break through that. It’s tough.”
Her tips for black women looking to raise venture capital for their companies are staying encouraged, having the right village of supporters around you and when you get knocked down, to have the courage to get back up.
“I really do believe that for Black women, at least for people of color in general, our breakthrough is on the other end of disappointment; on the other end of failure; on the other end of setbacks,” she said.
“In addition to that, I think it’s also important to have the right people around you,” she continued. “If you don’t have those people — because not everyone has a strong support system — you have to go out and build it. Go and [find] the people that you need to talk to. Who are the people that can give you advice? People who’ve been there and done that. Those who have had successes and failures. You can learn from both, in order to be successful.”