This post originally appeared on The Distillery, a New Orleans-based editorial platform that tells the real stories of entrepreneurs and what it’s really like to start and grow a company.
There are a few words that come to mind after meeting Sevetri Wilson – thoughtful, bold, charismatic, brilliant. Wilson has a southern flair deeply rooted in progressivism. After a conversation with her, one might find it hard to leave the room without feeling that you aren’t doing enough to better the world.
Her peers call her the “Olivia Pope sans the scandal”. Now they can add a new title to that rank, since Wilson just became the first black woman from Louisiana to raise over 2M in venture capital. Wilson is the founder and CEO of ExemptMeNow, a software that allows non-profits and startups to streamline and speed up the incorporation, management, and compliance process. With a deep understanding of the public sector, it is fitting that Wilson’s newest venture is targeted at disrupting the space through technology.
In her dual role as founder of SGI, the strategic communications firm that Wilson founded at 22, she received the Nobel Prize for Public Service, and has helped elect major public officials to office including the first African-American, female mayor of Baton Rouge. When Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards took office, he appointed her to his Economic Development Transition team.
Wilson is still on the fundraising road for ExemptMeNow, and showing no signs of slowing down. From here, it’s scaling the company, and taking it to the next level. On the way, Wilson insists that she is determined to turn eyes to New Orleans as a premiere destination for tech talent.
Tell me about ExemptMeNow.
ExemptMeNow is a SaaS platform that simplifies the creation, management and compliance processes for startups and existing nonprofits. Say you are thinking about starting a charter school, health clinic, private foundation or mentoring organization for example. You can come onto our website, incorporate, and file for tax-exemption. We’ve created the most cost efficient, time saving method available without ever having to leave our site.
Some people like to equate it to Turbo Tax as far as the ease of filing goes. For existing nonprofits, they can subscribe to our base or premium compliance and maintenance platform. We essentially took everything we knew about being consultants in this space, productized it and delivered it on demand for our customers. It’s like having a consultant at your fingertips 24/7.
Can you explain the Enterprise subscription?
Our Enterprise subscription caters to those who deploy capital such as cities, private foundations and corporations. It does everything our B2B subscription does with added features designed with them in mind.
Take a city for example, if you’ve ever worked in government you may have found it to be very tech adverse which makes it prime to be disrupted in a really impactful way. In government, you have this incredible amount of responsibility as you are deploying millions of dollars in capital into projects, initiatives and to nonprofits to accomplish whatever the objective or goals are. With little capacity and often times little oversight, it’s very difficult to manage and ensure compliance around all parties involved. Our software does the hard work and effectively collects data that can be measured to determine future reinvestment.
How is ExemptMeNow reshaping the civic and Govtech space?
Our products speak to each other in a way that allows for collective impact to happen ultimately allowing for complex, large-scale social issues to be tackled and problems to be solved faster. Stanford University has in many ways led the conversation around collective impact for well over a decade. It is where I first came across the concept and adopted it in my own work years ago. Often times those who are deploying capital and those who receive it are working in silos with little to no information and data sharing. We are literally creating an ecosystem to disrupt this.
What are you most proud of?
I don’t think there is one thing I’m most proud of, but I am proud of my ability to build good companies and execute a vision. I’m also proud of where I come from.
Can you tell us a little about your background? What has inspired you?
I was raised about 45 minutes outside of New Orleans where my family is from. I grew up in a more rural area in Louisiana with no access to public transportation and one very small community library. I’m also a first-generation college student that was raised by a single mother in a household of 5. When I was growing up, I knew that my mother wouldn’t be able to afford to send me to college, so early in high school I started applying for scholarships. Although I received many, the most life changing was the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship.
Being a Gates Scholar also sparked my initial interest in technology. The way he the Gates used his success in tech to bring about change throughout the world was inspiring to me, and played a role in my own success in college and how I approach my work today. From that point on, I knew I wanted to have a major impact on people’s lives similarly.
You’ve raised $2M to date for your startup company. What’s next?
We are still raising another million dollars for ExemptMeNow which will close our seed round. Raising money has been one of the most challenging processes I’ve encountered in business, and trust me I’ve encountered many challenging events. We have a clear understanding of what’s in front of us and what we need to do next. In short, the use of capital will contribute to our ability to scale faster, build out the next version of our technology and create capacity where it is lacking.
There is a lot of talk around labeling. Do you think there will be a time you won’t be called a “black female founder”? Does it matter?
When people ask me how do I feel about being called a Black Female Founder. I don’t feel a certain type of way. I’m black, aren’t I? I’m a woman, aren’t I? The bigger issue is what people may or maybe not be subconsciously attributing to this. For example, the rhetoric around black women and raising capital.
“There are a lot of people speaking on behalf of black female founders who aren’t black female founders themselves. We aren’t out here asking for charity. I want you to invest in my company because we are hitting our target numbers, because our customer success associates are backlogged weeks out and we need to increase capacity, because our growth is evident in our actual revenue, and we have the most capable team to solve a massive problem. That’s why you need to invest in my company and the other black female founders in similar situations who are not receiving capital.”
Can you share some candid advice about being a woman in business? What have you learned that you would share with others?
I’ve learned a lot about business with my first company and what it takes to grow a company from $0 to a million and beyond. Starting anything, staying committed and focused is important. You have to have a lot of grit and the desire to continue getting up after being knocked down over and over again. Respect the journey, trust the process along the way and remember why you started, because that’s the most important thing.