LOS ANGELES — When it comes to designing workout wear, details matter to entrepreneur Mitchella Gilbert.
“We have flat seams that really help prevent chafing,” she said, holding up a pair of leggings she designed.
What you need to know
- Mitchella Gilbert is the CEO of OYA Femtech Apparel, a company she co-founded while studying for an MBA at UCLA Anderson School of Management
- The active wear uses natural ventilation to prevent the growth of bacteria and skin irritation
- Gilbert has grown the business over the years and has raised over $1 million dollars in venture capital
- Organizations like Plug In South LA advise promising Black and Latinx starting entrepreneurs
Gilbert is the CEO of OYA Femtech Apparel, a company she co-founded while studying for an MBA at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
The active wear uses natural ventilation to prevent the growth of bacteria and skin irritation – problems Gilbert experienced as a college rugby player when she wore leggings and contracted many fungal infections.
“It took me years to gather the courage to actually talk about it. But when she finally went to the doctor, she told me to stop wearing leggings, and I was like, you know, I’m not sure what else I should wear,” she said.
Gilbert says spandex in most leggings traps moisture, so she designed her own.
Gilbert has grown the company rapidly in recent years and has raised more than $1 million dollars in venture capital. She says only about 200 black women have ever done that.
“What this often means is that I have to be very conscious about getting the right allies in the room because the rooms where venture capital decisions are made aren’t really where people like me are invited or they’re not rooms where we have a lot of power, ‘she said.
Gilbert, who grew up in Philadelphia, says less than 0.5 percent of venture capital-backed founders grew up in a working-class inner-city family, as she did. But it’s an evolving landscape, thanks in part to organizations like Plug In South LA, which advises promising Black and Latinx startup entrepreneurs.
Founder Derek Smith says they go beyond just developing successful CEOs.
“There’s a lot of good coming along that we want to be a part of that we want to help engineer in the long run and I think that’s the north star, right? We want the next Google to come from communities like South LA,” he said.
Smith says Gilbert graduated from their annual Tech Accelerator program, which is currently accepting applications. The program teaches entrepreneurs practical skills for growing a business and connects participants with investors.
“If you look at the total amount of venture capital raised in Los Angeles in 2022, almost $10 million went to early-stage startups,” he said. “In 2023 and 2022, black and brown founders will still make up less than 3% of venture capital dollars.”
Smith says this is because investors may overlook founders who don’t fit a certain profile.
“Investors have a preference for what a profile of a successful entrepreneur looks like and they expect that if you go to Stanford or if you drop out of Harvard you have a better chance of building a startup that is going to be successful,” he said. “So many investors are writing checks to founders who fit a certain profile and not every diverse founder matches that profile and so we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities.”
Gilbert says she’s just starting to grow her multimillion-dollar business, but at its core she’s empowering women to be healthy and that starts with the right equipment.
“I think brands like OYA and the amount of support we’ve received from not just women but also men, you know, around creating a more equitable future for women is important and I’m excited to be a part of that journey ,” she said. .