When Chekema (Keyma) Prince (PhD ’14) stood on a stage in 2016 to accept a $25,000 award for her startup, she was hopeful: “I felt that I was standing on that stage as a representation of what entrepreneurs would look like in the future.”
Five years later, she acknowledges there are “not many entrepreneurs who look like me, particularly in the technology space,” but she remains optimistic.
I would personally love to see other entrepreneurs like me – a Black woman engineer working in the technology space. I don’t see that trifecta very often around me. It would be great, not only in Waterloo but everywhere else around the world, to see more representation.
“I would personally love to see other entrepreneurs like me – a Black woman engineer working in the technology space. I don’t see that trifecta very often around me. It would be great, not only in Waterloo but everywhere else around the world, to see more representation.”
Prince knows there’s always more work to be done when it comes to diversity and authentic representation in entrepreneurship and STEM-related industries. She hopes to broaden the field by coaching student entrepreneurs through Concept, the University of Waterloo’s experiential entrepreneurship program.
“There were mentors who took the time to explain the challenges to be faced with growing a startup,” she says. And now, as a mentor, coach and experienced entrepreneur, Prince embraces the chance to be that person for others. “I can teach those of the next generation, so they don’t have to fall into the same pitfalls that I did,” she says.
Building ventures that improve lives
My work directly connects to the patient whose life is being saved.
Prince hopes to inspire students to tackle problems that make a difference in people’s lives. She says it’s important to provide something a consumer can truly benefit from. “How can I be impactful in the lives of the consumers who will use the products that I develop?” she says. “My work directly connects to the patient whose life is being saved. It directly connects to that clinician who will be saving that life and using the products that I will create.”
In her own journey, Prince didn’t have a role model to work with directly. A mechanical engineer by training, her own startup, Pression, uses compression technology for medical therapy and athletic performance enhancement.
As she developed her company, she often called on her own resolve in order to succeed. When facing challenges, she says: “I had to take it upon myself, each time there was a barrier, and say, ‘Okay, how do I chip away at this one piece at a time?’”
Prince wants students to understand they are “not stymied or stalled where they are. There’s always a pivot point they can follow.”
On potential role models for diverse entrepreneurs, she says: “The ‘who’ doesn’t have to necessarily be someone who looks like me. But it’s someone who I’ve identified as being knowledgeable in a particular area who could help me build stepping stones to get over an identified barrier.”
Prince encourages those who feel alone on their journey to remain determined to succeed and reach out for mentorship. “They should keep pushing. They should keep striving, keep trying to get over those barriers and there’ll be people like me there to help them.”