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Hidden Gems: Meet Erika Lucas of StitchCrew and VEST

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Lucas.

Hi Erika, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
My career background is unscripted, just like me. I started my career in Mexico, helping multinational companies offshore. Upon coming to the U.S. I served in Government, working with US-based companies doing business internationally and global companies exploring the possibility of investing in the U.S. This ultimately led me to Private Equity and investing in later stage Aerospace and Defense companies.

It wasn’t really inspiration but frustration that led us to launch StitchCrew and now VEST. Although I was “comfortable” in my role, I kept seeing founders leave the middle of the country in search of capital and more collaborative environments. I also became aware of the lack of funding and bias towards women and people of color wanting to start high-growth businesses. That’s ultimately what led me to where we are today.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Good Lord, no. I mean, my role is to convince people to invest in entrepreneurs in the middle of the country, particularly women and people of color, while being a Latina based in Oklahoma City. I had to build my network in the regions where early-stage capital was flowing, California, New York and Massachusetts, all while building a program and securing local and regional stakeholders. Oh, and by the way, we also had to convince entrepreneurs we weren’t just another program promising to help but not really doing so.

A lot of people dismissed me as a “passionate” Latina wanting to do yet another charity, particularly when it came time to address the funding gap that exists for women and people of color. I think that alone has been one of the biggest barriers, getting people to not just see the data but to accept it. Multiple studies now show that Investing in women and diverse led companies is not a charity. It’s actually a great way to mitigate risk, given that diverse-led companies are more likely to produce higher returns. People see the data, yet very few act upon it.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Last year, as a result of the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had in women in the workplace, a few other women and I came together and launched VEST, a private network and coaching platform for women. Although women represent half of the U.S. population, labor force and businesses, we are underrepresented in rooms where decisions are being made and where women’s voices desperately need to be heard. The pandemic has made it even more clear that women, particularly women of color, are suffering the repercussions of a system that still treats us unequally. VEST connects women across industry sectors and career levels so that we can support each other through our career journey, while working together to expedite the pipeline of more women in positions of power and influence.

What matters most to you?
Building a more inclusive and equitable economy. As the gaps between the haves and have nots keep getting wider, the cost of inequality keeps going up. This problem is only going to get worse as technology continues to take over some of our industries in the middle of the country and makes a large portion of the workforce obsolete. I also happen to be the proud mom of two beautiful Mexican-American girls. I want to make sure that in the future, when they are ready to go into the workforce, they have the same access to opportunities as their male peers. Regardless of their gender, background, or socio-economic status.

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