As a passionate believer in the maxim that there is no single story, it always gives me great pleasure when I meet or speak to someone (especially women) who repudiate a single narrative and live my personal mantra out loud.
Meet my new girl crush and tech s-hero Tosin Durotoye, the badass at the helm of GreenHouse Lab. The women-focused accelerator aiming to ‘build world class, women-led technology companies by equipping entrepreneurs with the skills, resources and support needed to rapidly grow and scale their companies in emerging African markets.’
She’s a poster child for women who demand to enjoy every facet of themselves. She’s smart, pretty and knows her onions, as well as a low-key adventurer and a member of the #JetFuelAbuser club. Tosin is in millenial speak, #Goals.
Committed to championing women in technology and business, her move to Nigeria from the US was tumultuous and from an anecdote she shared on Instagram – clearly not an easy one. Yet, here she is at a time that Nigeria seems to be on the brink (of greatness or ruin, the jury’s still out). She enjoys fashion, beauty and has a fulfilling career – fresh off a huge professional win (Greenhouse Lab is the first accelerator on the continent to be powered by Google) she took a few minutes out of her schedule to speak to BN Style and walked us through her inspiring, impact-driven journey.
BNS: Tell me a bit about your journey. How did you end up at the helm of Greenhouse Lab?
To be honest, my path has been an interesting and winding one – but that’s been the beauty of it. I moved to Nigeria in late 2016 with a U.S. based job in hand that allowed me to telework from Lagos. It was the perfect “soft landing” but after a year and a half, I quickly realized the job and the travel demands were not a good fit for what I wanted for myself – which was to spend more time in Nigeria while building a network and figuring out how I could contribute to my country.
I finally took a leap of faith and left the U.S. job last year December. I decided to take a “mini-retirement” while I figured out what I wanted to do next (read: I watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of carbs and slept like no man’s business — just luxuriating really). During this time, I maintained my professional relationships and checked in with my networks to explore available options but I refused to feel pressured into jumping into the next thing.
I really wanted to be strategic and make sure my next move would be something that would align with my core passions and values. One thing I know about myself is that I can only work in a role that’s focused on public impact and over the past few years, I’ve also grown very passionate about working in spaces that elevate, promote and empower women. I wasn’t sure how to merge these two interests but God was clearly many steps ahead of me. Four months into my mini-retirement, I was approached by Nichole Yembra, the CFO at Venture Garden Group and she asked me to come on board to set up and run the first female-focused tech accelerator program in Nigeria. That’s how GreenHouse Lab was born and I’m really excited and honored to lead such an important effort.
BNS:Where did you work before now?
I worked as the Director of Partnerships for an EduTech company based in Boston
BNS:Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?
I was born in Nigeria but spent nearly 24 years living in the U.S. I received my bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina and later went on to receive my master’s degree in city planning from New York University’s (NYU) Wagner School of Public Service.
BNS:What does a typical weekday look like for you?
I’m a night owl (that’s when I get my best work done) so mornings are ALWAYS a struggle for me. I usually hit the snooze button a few times then eventually drag myself out of bed, turn on one of my favorite crime shows to run in the background (I’m obsessed with Discovery ID) and get ready for work. I never eat breakfast (I’m not sure if this is good or bad..but probably bad) but I always try and drink an entire bottle of water to get me started since I also don’t drink coffee. I then head to the office where I usually stay until the early evening before heading back home.
I’ve also grown very passionate about working in spaces that elevate, promote and empower women
BNS:How do you manage your team ?
I work with really, really talented people and I’m thankful for this. I believe in setting weekly or daily goals as necessary and then checking in on the status periodically. I don’t believe in micro-managing people so I usually limit my management to setting my expectations and then tracking that deliverable dates will be met.
BNS:How do you find talented and valuable women led startups?
To be honest, when we opened up the application portal for GreenHouse Lab, I wasn’t sure what the response would be. I knew there was a need: women led-startups received only 2.2% of all available venture capital dollars last year and women account for just 25% of the tech workforce and nearly 50% report that they don’t have support or mentoring in the tech industry. GreenHouse Lab was founded to address all of these issues and more. The application portal was open for three-weeks and we received over 100 applications from 8 different countries and in 16 different sectors. To say I was positively overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement. I now know for a fact that there is indeed a great need for what we’re doing and there are talented women across Africa who are ready to play on the technology field.
BNS:Have you ever come across startups you’d like to invest in but they weren’t investor ready or were just wary of the process? What did you do?
Yes, I’ve ran into a few such ventures. I think the key is to always offer constructive feedback to better prepare them to be investment ready.
BNS:What advice you would give female startup founders or investors
I would tell female tech startup founders to go confidently in the direction of their dreams. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. However, knowing what we know about the playing field, female founders must also be ready to build the most airtight venture they can. Knowing that we are subject to greater scrutiny means we must also be prepared to obsessively cross all of our T’s and dot all of our I’s. Your business must be super tight to attract investors. For the investors, I would say that there needs to be a greater and more deliberate effort to overcome the implicit biases that are impacting how women are perceived in the male dominated technology space. Give female founders audience, hear them out, give feedback and when you find one that’s investment ready — be willing to make the bet. And guess what? It’ll probably be a great bet because women-led companies have been found to produce a 30% higher return on investment. We’re winners.
BNS:What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
RELAX. Everything is on track and is unfolding as it should. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy the ride.
BNS:What talent or passion have you been able to use in your career in an unexpected or unorthodox way?
I’m a curious person by nature so I love meeting and getting to know people and learning new things. I’ve found that my ability to make connections in many different settings has helped me grow in my career and has given me the ability to navigate different industries, roles and spaces in a way that has benefited me greatly. I’ve met many of my mentors and developed my professional circles by just building organic relationships.
What is the one thing that influenced your career today? When was the moment when you realized you were on the right path?
I’m not sure there’s been one single moment that has defined my career. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that I’ve always made sure I did the absolute best I could at every single job I’ve ever held and the next next rung of the ladder has always appeared just at the right time. In terms of career (and life in general), I believe the key is to always hold up your end of the bargain no matter what and the rest will unfold as it should. I’m also grateful for those who have bet on me, supported and recommended me for all the roles I’ve held over the years. I’m still on the path and I’m always excited to see what’s next.
BNS:What does “confidence at every age” mean to you? Do you feel you’ve “found it”?
For me, “confidence at every age” means that you wholeheartedly embrace every stage of your life without regrets. To do this, you must remain open-minded to discovering new parts of yourself (we’re all evolving – we’re not static), grow through what you go through, enjoy what you’re supposed to enjoy, and remain true to yourself through it all. “Confidence at every age” is not the absence of self-doubt but being courageous enough to work through it and coming out on the other side as a better version of yourself. Based on this, I’d say I’ve absolutely found my confidence.
BNS:How do you think your style has evolved over time?
My style is probably still evolving to be honest but generally speaking, I wear what I like, what suits my body type and what I feel comfortable in. That’s about it. Oh. And black. Black makes up about 90% of my wardrobe because it’s the proven and fastest way to look and feel chic (there must be a science somewhere to support this). I always say “I’ll stop wearing black when someone invents a darker color”[Like fashion icon Emannuelle Alt]. We can blame my years of living in NY for this.
BNS:Favourite African designer?
I love Lisa Folawiyo, Maki Oh and Tsemaye Binitie‘s work. They all inspire me in different ways with their approach to design.
BNS:Favourite workwear brand?
Zara is my go to – easy to wear and mix with other high or low end brands.
BNS:Go to ‘Boss Lady’ look?
Black sheath dress, black duster jacket, black heels and all gold accessories. Remember: women who wear all black lead colorful lives 🙂
BNS:Speed round! What makes you happy?
A great cocktail after a long work week. Is it Friday yet?
Favorite curse word?
all the F’s
Bali and Pilates Class
Heels or flats?
Flats but I keep buying heels
The one thing you can’t leave home without?
Favorite junk food?
Do plantain chips count?
Favorite healthy food?
Avocados and cherry tomatoes
Pilates reformer and aerial pilates!
Airline tickets to see new places (I’m obsessed with traveling. Save me.)
Anything ratchet. The more ratchet and obnoxious the better.
Favorite thing about your appearance?
My legs because I hated how tall I was growing up and would always hide them.
First thing you do when you wake up?
Hit that snooze button
Last thing you do before going to bed?
Listen to a podcast or catch up on the news