Blockchain Startups: How CTO Barbara Bickham Helps Grow Gender-Balanced and Sustainable Businesses

Blockchain Startups: How CTO Barbara Bickham Helps Grow Gender-Balanced and Sustainable Businesses

The blockchain technology space is undergoing rapid growth. It is in part due to the support that the ecosystem has been receiving from a myriad of investors and other stakeholders. From top universities in the world like University of California at Berkeley, to large public companies such as Amazon, Deloitte and Fidelity, organizations and individuals have been launching accelerators to provide blockchain entrepreneurs and firms the necessary tools and funding. Some of these accelerators are also pursuing other goals. The Women’s Innovation Fund Accelerator, for example, is striving to support gender-balanced, sustainable organizations within the Qualified Opportunity Zones in the US.

We sat down with Barbara Bickham, the founder and Managing Partner of the Women’s Innovation Fund Accelerator (WIF AX), to discuss blockchain entrepreneurship, the motivations that drove her to start the accelerator, and the services that the accelerator provides. Barbara is a founder and CTO of Trailyn Ventures, a blockchain advisory company, and a startup advisor with a wealth of technology and entrepreneurship experience and a passion for blockchain.

Image courtesy of Barbara Bickham

Barbara, how did you get into blockchain? What makes you passionate about this new technology?

I was introduced to blockchain tech in 2012. Back then, when I first learned about the digital ledger, the distributed network, and the tokens, I couldn’t believe that something could be made out of “nothing” and thought it was not real. But then I got hooked, and even tried to write smart contracts myself. Today, I count many pioneers in the space among my friends, and focus on what I do best – examining the needs of tech companies and using fundraising to reach their objectives.

You currently advise several businesses in the blockchain space. Are you working with exciting projects worth mentioning?

Most definitely. A great example is Aclyd Project. It is a P2P payment processing, security management, and identify verification platform designed for the alcohol industry. It is really logistics in reverse, since supply chains are transparent and we know where the product comes from. What we want to know is what happens after we deliver it. We use blockchain tech to increase transparency and the speed of processing of payments, while also keeping alcohol out of the minors’ hands by verifying consumers’ identity. What adds to the appeal of Aclyd is its CEO Jessica Contreras’ fascinating story: she transformed her grandmother’s Mexican tequila operations into a US importer/wholesaler of alcohol, succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated business.

Barbara often speaks at blockchain industry events. Image courtesy of Barbara Bickham.

You founded the Women’s Innovation Fund Accelerator in the beginning of 2019. Please tell us a bit about it.

The accelerator’s goal is to fund growth, equality, and sustainability within the qualified opportunity zones. We accelerate growth by using a mix of incubation, shared workspace, and business finance while requiring participants to have a C-suite made up of at least 50% women and operational plans that contain environmental sustainability considerations. Investing in real estate in economically distressed communities in the United States allows us to reduce the taxes we pay on capital gains, enhancing our returns. The real estate is either built or renovated with sustainability in mind. We also plan to launch a carbon-trading program. Our business accelerator is currently virtual. We have 64 companies in the pipeline – all sustainability- and tech- focused – from blockchain to IoT. Half of our start-ups are based in the United States, but we are also welcoming businesses from other countries.  We continue to accept applications from businesses and will be launching the next batch in the fall of 2019. The accelerator offers a variety of services to the companies we take on, from helping train them in white papers and pitch preparation, to ensuring that they are ready for the due diligence process beyond simple financials. We also offer them financial support and prepare them for carbon trading.  

Why focus on women-run businesses? What are you trying to accomplish?

In addition to making money and contributing to the growth of the tech ecosystem, we would like to level the playing field. It is not a secret that there are simply not enough women in tech, that there are not enough women executives at the C-level, that there is not enough diversity on companies’ Boards. We aim to change that one start-up at a time. To set the standard we ensured that our own team is very diverse, embodying what the United States should look like. This is very exciting and I am sure that it is going to be the most important thing I do in my life!

Barbara taught at one of the first Crypto Kids Camps. Image courtesy of Barbara Bickham.

What is your advice to blockchain entrepreneurs?

I have 3 pieces of valuable advice. First of all, differentiate your company’s offerings from those in the rest of the market. Second, ensure that you have at least one expert in your market on your team. And finally, put together a budget with milestones. It is good to see that you have planned for future revenue growth, but what about your spending on business expansion that goes along with it?

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Maria Birger