LOS ANGELES — When it comes to designing workout clothes, details matter for entrepreneur Mitchella Gilbert.
“We have flat-locked seams which really help prevent irritation,” she said while holding up a pair of leggings she designed.
What You Need To Know
- Mitchella Gilbert is the CEO of OYA Femtech Apparel, a company she co-founded while studying for her MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management
- The active wear uses natural ventilation to help prevent bacteria growth and skin irritation
- Gilbert has grown the company in the past couple of years, raising over $1 million dollars in venture capital
- Organizations like Plug In South LA advises promising Black and Latinx startup entrepreneurs
Gilbert is the CEO of OYA Femtech Apparel, a company she co-founded while studying for her MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
The active wear uses natural ventilation to help prevent bacteria growth and skin irritation — issues Gilbert experienced as a rugby player in college when she wore leggings and got many yeast infections.
“It took me years to work up the courage to really talk about it. But eventually going to the doctor, she told me to stop wearing leggings, and I was like, you know, I am not sure what else I’m supposed to wear,” she said.
Gilbert says Spandex in most leggings trap moisture, so she designed her own.
Gilbert has grown the company quickly in the past couple of years, raising over $1 million dollars in venture capital. She says only about 200 Black women have ever done that.
“What this means a lot of time is that I have to be very intentional about getting the right allies in the room because the rooms where venture capital decisions are being made aren’t really where people like me are invited or they are not rooms where we have a lot of power,” she said.
Gilbert, who grew up in Philadelphia, says less than 0.5% percent of venture capital-backed founders grew up in a working-class family from the inner city, like she did. But it’s an evolving landscape thanks in part to organizations like Plug In South LA, which advises promising Black and Latinx startup entrepreneurs.
Founder Derek Smith says they’re going beyond just developing successful CEOs.
“There is a whole lot of good that comes with that we want to be a part of, that we want to help engineer over the long-term and I think that is north star, right? We want to see the next Google come out of communities like South LA,” he said.
Smith says Gilbert graduated from their annual Tech Accelerator program, which is currently accepting applications. The program teaches entrepreneurs real-world skills for growing a company and connects participants to investors.
“If you look at the total amount of venture capital that was raised in Los Angeles in 2022, close to $10 million dollars went into early stage start-ups,” he said. “In 2023 and 2022, black and brown founders still make up less than 3% of venture capital dollars.”
Smith says that’s because investors may overlook founders that don’t fit a certain profile.
“Investors have a bias toward what a profile of a successful entrepreneur looks like and they expect that if you went to Stanford or if you dropped out of Harvard, you have a higher chance of building a startup that is going to be successful,” he said. “So a lot of investors write checks to founders who fit a certain profile and not every diverse founder matches up with that profile and so we lose out on a lot of opportunities.”
Gilbert says she’s just getting started growing her multi-million dollar business, but at the core, she’s empowering women to be healthy and it starts with the right gear.
“I think brands like OYA and the amount of support we’ve received from not just women but also men, you know, around creating a more equitable future for women is important and I am excited to be part of that journey,” she said.