Tanya Sam of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” had an unconventional start in the tech world. Now, she’s launched her own investment company focused on leveling the playing field in an industry that disproportionately rewards straight white men.
With Ambition Fund, she wants people from various backgrounds to have the courage to start their own business by assisting women and minority founders across industries.
“Technology companies have impacted everything from the way we shop, how we eat, and how we get our groceries,” Sam said.
Sam originally joined the workforce as a nurse following the path of family members in successful medical jobs. Sam’s mother also worked as a nurse, while her father served as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Toronto.
Sam has worked in Atlanta and New York assisting in bone marrow transplants. She began dating her now-fiancé Dr. Paul Judge in the Big Apple, which sparked her interest in the startup industry.
Judge is a co-founder of Pindrop, a voice security, and authentication startup, that has raised more than $250 million in funding since launching in 2011.
One date derailed when Judge needed to take a call and focus on one of his businesses. The situation could have easily put a damper on Sam’s night out, but it turned into a chance for her to learn the insides of entrepreneurship.
As Sam and Judge’s relationship developed, she began to take on more responsibilities with Judge’s ventures along with Pindrop.
“I was learning on the fly,” Sam said. “It was like a real-life business degree.”
Sam assisted with operational tasks, sales, developing pitch materials, and other content for Pindrop, giving her the hands-on experience that would later help her start her own company.
“There is a real future for women and minorities in tech, and it doesn’t mean that you have to have a P.h.D in computer science,” Sam said.
Judge is also a founding partner of TechSquare Labs where Sam now serves as the director of partnerships. TechSquare Labs is another investment fund in Atlanta that targets early-stage companies. Sam has helped invest in over 50 companies at TechSquare Labs that have generated a total of over $100 million in revenue.
“Atlanta changed the landscape of where people should build companies,” Sam said. “We naturally attracted a very diverse crowd and community.”
Sam hopes to bring that culture along with her to the Ambition Fund, where she plans to continue to mentor and scale minority-led companies.
“Being able to lay down the infrastructure to help these founders build successful businesses is crucial,” Sam said. “Oftentimes they don’t have access, but they have the hustle and grit to be entrepreneurs.”
Sam juggles being a cast member, entrepreneur and investor. She has become a fan favorite on the hit show while also managing to stay out of the drama.
“People ask me all the time why I would want to be on the show,” Sam said. “But there are not a lot of programs that show Black women and strong black couples that are working together in the technology scene.”
She wants to be a positive role model for students and other Black women who want to have their own businesses. Sam does this through her work as the co-lead of Ascend 2020 Atlanta — a program that mentors minority and female founders and her business accelerator, BuiltxWomen.
Her newest baby, The Ambition Fund, continues her push for more inclusion in tech despite a looming economic recession. The fund is hosting a Business Battle Pitch Competition during the A3C Festival & Conference in October. The winner will receive a $25,000 investment to help scale their company.
“When we go into recessions, it’s harder for early-stage entrepreneurs to get funding, but the strong entrepreneurs grinded through that,” Sam said. “Scared money don’t make no money.”