Women’s Innovation Fund Accelerator (WIF AX) founded by Barbara Bickham in 2019, is a similar QOF, only it’s designed to be a ‘women-balanced’ and ‘sustainable’ organization within Qualified Opportunity Zone’s (QOZ) nationwide. WIF AX accelerates 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 which contain sustainability considerations. “The management team and advisors for the fund, reflect our mission. First, we are gender-balanced. We have more women than men advising us. Second, sustainable. We use the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic to help create jobs, serve under-served communities and create wealth. Third, high-tech entrepreneurs. We are looking for the next generation of entrepreneurs solving hard problems impacting many people,” elaborates Barbara Bickham, Founder and Managing Partner of WIF AX.
So WIF AX, a 50 million dollars fund, provides investors with the opportunity to take exception from taxes on capital gains by devoting funds in corporations (that fall into QOZ and whose C-suite is comprised of at least 50% women). With the aid of seed-accelerator method similar to 500 start-ups, they anticipate vesting interest and the return in 200 QOZ, and balance stable investments in real estate while pursuing a method of tapping into America’s aggressive growth industries which benefit from a shared economy. Hence, their main focus remains on real estate, innovation, and advanced technology-led businesses that offer favorable surplus-value and tax incentives through various financing opportunities that avail emerging economies in the US directly while sponsoring equality in the workplace. WIF AX’s main location lies in Arizona along with a working office at Los Angeles, CA.
Barbara’s career arc doesn’t fit that of a typical Silicon Valley venture investor. Barbara also really went out of her depth when not being on the traditional path she decided to be an entrepreneur. She had many people around her who were nay-sayers, friends and family alike. “I just had to ignore all that, since I know this was right for me. My path and my choice,” says Barbara boldly.
After completing her CS degree from Berkeley and contributing almost 15 years in Architect & Designing Systems and management, Barbara was running a company for 9 years now. In this time, she also got an opportunity to lead an angel group. Subsequently, she invested one year doing PE, four years with a global company and the last four years as CTO of Trailyn Ventures. On this journey, Barbara and her co-founder Jessica Contreras observed several gaps in the marketplace. They saw a lack of funding for underserved areas that eventually disabled entrepreneurship in these communities. She realized that most opportunity zones concentrated only on housing, and it is important, but her mind boggled on the fact that without consistent income how people will ever be able to sustain these housings. Culminating all her experiences and these observations, Barbara eventually launched WIF AX. Now her purpose of the action is to raise the WIF AX fund, help talented entrepreneurs realize their dreams and help their companies grow and scale.
In order to do so, Barbara stresses the importance of getting the right people in the team and choosing good partners. When it comes to hiring people for her firm, Barbara says there are two parameters to look at, “(1) Are they a fit culturally and (2) what are their strengths. When we look at those two things, then we can gauge if they will be successful within what we’re building. Playing to everyone’s strengths is important, most people want to do a great job and we must empower them to be the best version of themselves. Empathy and compassion for the people you work with and lead are important.” Barbara adds. “Similar goes for the partners- If the synergy and value add are not there, we don’t partner.” By being naturally curious and keen to learning, she is open to continuing growing and stretching herself and therefore, promotes the culture of creative thinking, open discussions, and spirited debates at work. In order to ensure her strategic plans become reality, Barbara takes this approach: “Execute,” says Barbara. “Once the strategy is in place, we deploy resources in order to have it come to fruition. Sometimes, we need to look at the strategy again and change it or add to it. The strategy is not stagnant, and a company needs to make sure that its strategy is evolving and being executed on as well.” Most importantly according to Barbara, the secret to leadership success is to be authentic. “Being authentic, true to who you are is important since people can spot posers.”
Barbara like many fierce leaders today also admits to struggles with the balance. She says, “I ask a question to myself every week. What should I say ‘yes’ to? There are so many awesome projects and people to work with. What does that look like and how do you choose? Then how do you balance that with your time and energy? It’s important to take time to decompress, think, or relax.” Therefore, outside work, she chooses to spend her time in self-indulgence by watching movies, reading, meditating, volunteering, mentoring, exercising, and going for hikes. “Having a morning routine is very important. It helps set up your day. Exercise is important as well, that keeps your mind alert,” carries on Barbara. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is her favorite book. “I liked it because it’s a reminder that you can make small changes and get a big impact,” says Barbara. And the quotation from the book — “You can only be you when you do your best. When you don’t do your best, you are denying yourself the right to be you” — has always stayed close to her. “Always do your best. If you are doing your best, you are striving for the best version of yourself and what you can contribute to that moment. Powerful to remember that,” smiles Barbara. She also eagerly listens to other great leaders to explore motivation and new perspectives.
As for the generation of women behind her, seeking to be leaders, Barbara’s words of wisdom are truly noteworthy. “We should strive for balance. It’s important for women to support women. We also need the support of men as well. In order to balance the C level, we need the men that are there, to help foster and grow some female leaders as well. The way to solve the challenge is to start that company, get on that board – public or non-profit, strive to be the best version of yourself,” says Barbara. “Just do it. Find the best and the brightest to work with. Try different types of jobs and positions to gain experience. Learn about all kinds of people and cultures. Keep learning and growing. Be strong and courageous. Be a champion and fearless. Stay humble.” …. and that’s what she did…