How This Founder is Using Storytelling to End Racism and Sexism
Villy Wang had a crazy dream: to create a new kind of social enterprise that helps kids who, like her, grew up in housing projects. Raised by an immigrant single mother in New York City, Villy’s desire to tell her story forged a passion for using the digital media arts to capture stories untold and to create social change. That’s why she founded BAYCAT, leveraging her impressive 25-year background in education, arts programming, nonprofit business and law.
Stephanie Newman: Could you give readers a brief overview of why you founded BAYCAT?
Villy Wang: It’s this idea of starting a business to end racism, sexism, and all the negative “-isms” through story. The heart of storytelling is about our own identities and how we engage with the rest of the world. Through media and social media, we give tools to young people so they can find that their story matters, tell stories from their point of view and create content that comes from traditionally underserved, misrepresented and underrepresented people. I do believe the end of “-isms” will come from education, knowledge and engagement. We want to create the pathway to the representation of diverse voices in the tech, media and creative industries.
Films traditionally were made by primarily white men, so all decisions about what a story is going to be, what conflict is going to be resolved and in what way, come from that male dominated role. And we're all consumers of media. Whether it's film, short videos or commercials, we are being bombarded by these messages every moment. That's why we want to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘It is important. If, once upon a time there were no stories being told by people of color or women, we need to put more content into the system.’ These other points of view and stories need to be reflected, but also need to be honored. We want our young people to not just be consumers. We want them to be the creators.
Newman: Why did you decide to start a two-sided business, where you both train people through BAYCAT Academy and then also hire them to make films with BAYCAT Studio?
Wang: Ultimately, it came from my journey. I was a banker on Wall Street at age 20 and was in love with business. When you look at typical nonprofits, you start patting people on the back, saying, ‘Oh, that's so nice. You're helping to educate kids.’ It’s this patronizing perception of what nonprofits do. I didn't want Baycat to be a charity; I wanted it to be a business. Everyone knows the value of education, but as a kid, access to education is only a first step. You need access to employment. That's why I created Baycat to be this hybrid model.
There are a lot of believers in the business world who want to do good. But in corporate America, you often see the Corporate Social Responsibility department as separate from the Diversity and Inclusion or HR groups that try to build diversity. Separate from that is your advertising, marketing and communications. And separate from that might be community relations or public relations. At the end of the day, our hybrid model allows us to build relationships with other businesses in a multi-faceted way. We get to work across departments, which is exactly the kind of conversation that needs to happen to fight these giant “-isms.” Everybody has to see the equity issue as a centerpiece in each of their departments. And to the extent corporations may not naturally do that, by working with BAYCAT, we get to make that value statement and mission statement first and foremost, as part of building the relationship.
Newman: When you were a brand new entrepreneur, what were some of the initial challenges you faced? How would you advise other young women starting companies to overcome similar challenges?
Wang: One big challenge starts from within, which is self-doubt. Especially in the beginning, you get sideways glances that feel like people asking, ‘Who the heck are you? Where did you come from? What do you have to do with this? How are you an expert in this?’ You're constantly having to prove yourself. There were days when I would have so much self-doubt and wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this going to happen?’ So stay true to yourself and find your allies. Find people you are not afraid to talk to. As self-doubt seeps into any founder, especially during that critical ‘Am I going to fail, or am I going to succeed?’ moment, you need people around you who believe in you.
In the beginning, my wishlist for BAYCAT was much longer. I wanted to serve people from ages 8 to 80. I wanted to help seniors and tell intergenerational stories. That was a lot to throw at people. One of the hardest things is to learn to focus and say no. As you're doing that initial search for starting partners and investors, you have to be true to your values and what you want your business to be. You can't just cater to where the money is. At the end of the day, you have to say, ‘What truly are the needs and problems that I'm solving? And does this business model really solve it?’