MSU alumna encourages shopping from women-owned brands, supports underrepresented communities
Erica Kangas, MSU class of 2010, is the vice president of engineering and a founding team member at Dough, a mission-backed startup with more than $1million dollars in venture capital funding that's quickly growing, in part, due to the application of the knowledge and skills she acquired as a double major in mathematics and economics and member of the Honors College at Michigan State University.
“Dough's mission is to drive consumer purchase power towards women-owned businesses,” Kangas says. “Our co-founders Vanessa and Anna created Dough out of their own experiences, grappling with the unique challenges that many women face in building successful companies and raising capital to grow their businesses. Before COVID, only something like 2.7 percent of investment dollars went to women-owned businesses. And since then, that number has actually shrunk to 1 percent. Meanwhile, only something like 20 women have founded and led a company that has gone public.
“With Dough, they really wanted to create a bottom-up approach to addressing the barriers we face in growing businesses and raising capital because our collective purchase power as everyday shoppers is massive. If everyone in the U.S. spent $20 a month at a woman-owned business, we'd drag nearly $5 billion towards women-led companies each month. And that kind of capital would move mountains in advancing women-owned businesses, ensuring that they have what they need for their businesses to grow and thrive.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are hallmarks of Dough’s mission.
“The tech industry can be notorious for being pretty hostile to those of us from underrepresented backgrounds. There's an inherent moral imperative behind DEI. Removing systemic barriers so that we have an industry that's able to not just accommodate, but actually embrace and foster multiple pathways for people from a range of backgrounds and experiences is just the right thing to do.
“Another reason DEI in tech is so important is the increasing influence of technology in our lives. For many people in our country, technology plays a critical role in how we work, how we live, and how we learn. As a society, we are in the midst of tackling so many complex problems whether it's addressing poverty, health, systemic racism, climate, the list goes on, right? But when you have an industry that's not diverse, and it either never gets or it loses people from a diversity of backgrounds due to the lack of equitable systems or inclusive environments, you really lose out on the perspectives and experiences that have an incredibly valuable role to play in solving the big issues of our day.”
Kangas defines conscious consumerism as “the practice of making purchase or product decisions that are really grounded in this awareness of the impact of the products you use. This could be knowing how the people who make your products are treated or compensated. This could be knowing the environmental impact of how a product was made or even which communities you're supporting with the money you spend. There are so many possible dimensions that shoppers may take into account that really fall under this conscious consumer umbrella.”
And you also talk about more equitable technology towards social impact. What do you mean?
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core to our mission and our practice at Dough. We are not succeeding unless we are moving the needle on outcomes and making an impact for women entrepreneurs. So far we've featured over 600 women owned-businesses, but for us, it's not just about how far we're able to reach. Diversity and inclusion and who we bring along with us also deeply matters. Many of the e-commerce systems that we engage with as shoppers actually can result in inequitable systems where often it's winner take all. So only a very few merchants take in a disproportionate majority of consumer sales on a given platform and vertical. So at Dough, we want to be intentional to ensure that we're doing as much as possible to ensure that the technology we build fosters more equitable dynamics and outcomes.
“When we say we want to build more equitable technology towards social impact, that really means that we measure and analyze who on our platform gets exposure to marketplace and sales opportunities, where the money is going, and how it's distributed so that we're aware of who may be falling through the cracks and if there's an opportunity for us to uplift and do something about it.
“The biggest opportunity I think we have in front of us is impact. Our team is dedicated to playing a meaningful role in the success of our brands, and we invite everyone to come and join us in supporting women-owned businesses. We work with so many incredible women doing incredible work, and there are so many women starting and growing small business ventures. Our collective purchase power is huge, and to bring that level of capital to these businesses and bring about that level of impact that we seek, it's going to be an amazing thing to see.”
Kangas says her time at MSU helped launch her career aspirations.
“My time at Michigan State really prepared me to feel like I could tackle anything and everything I would pursue. MSU has so much to offer. And for me, it was like this playground where not only would I be able to pursue my degrees in math and economics, but I would also have the opportunity to gain experience as a student advocate through my time in student government all the way to honing public speaking skills through my time with the mock trial team. So not only did I pick up the STEM education that was the groundwork for my early career in research and evaluation and eventually in technology, but it also served as this way to develop these other experiences that are really pillars to how I approach all of the non-technical aspects to my work over the years.”
In summary, Kangas says “I would love people to join us on this journey to support women-owned businesses. There are so many incredible women doing incredible work and building incredible companies. Supporting women-owned goes miles in supporting these businesses to have what they need to grow and thrive.”