Tino Rutanhira & Weiwei Wang / VT PoC

Start Here Podcast | Episode #83 | 11/9/2023

The BIPOC community is the fastest-growing demographic in the state, with a 112% increase over the last decade. Tino and Weiwei are actively working to build generational wealth for BIPOC-identifying individuals, but their approach is not financial—it’s social. They are opening doors, sharing resources, and nurturing a network that will leave a lasting impact on the BIPOC community for generations to come. Today, we introduce Tino and Weiwei, the Co-Executive Directors of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them motivational speakers, this episode left us moved.

Are you interested in learning more about Vermont’s entrepreneurial success? Make sure you check out our Instagram and LinkedIn, or simply get the scoop from our newsletter!


Tino Rutanhira  00:00

For me, it’s really about the fact that BIPOC is the fastest growing demographic in the state. The state faces some serious and significant demographic challenges, but BIPOC grew by 112% between 2010 and 2020. If you’re looking at answers to solve the demographic issues in the states, then part of that solution lies in the BIPOC community.


Sam RG  00:24

From Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, it’s Start Here a podcast sharing the stories of active aspiring and accidental entrepreneurs. Today we sit down with Tino Rutaniro and Weiwei Wang, co executive directors of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network. Welcome. This is Sam Roach-Gerber David Bradbury recording from the Consolidated Communications Technology hub in downtown Burlington, Vermont, Tino Weiwei, hi we are so happy to have you here sharing a mic being very co executive directory.


David Bradbury  00:58

Seriously, the first test of CO Executive Director, the man handle the or woman handle the mic here. So


Weiwei Wang  01:05

good luck, human handle.


David Bradbury 01:07

That’s even better way to do it. Yeah. Well,


Tino Rutanhira  01:11

look at the mic slightly pointed towards Weiwei so.


David Bradbury 01:16

Well, we’ll run with it. We’ll see how we do. Oh I love human handle.


Sam RG  01:18

I absolutely did that on purpose. Just a little bit towards Weiwei. Okay, I wanted to start in here a little bit about each of you as individuals. Who are you? Where are you from? Why did we get so lucky to have you here today. So Weiwei, let’s start with you.


Weiwei Wang  01:35

Okay, great. So Weiwei Wang, she/her pronouns. And so I am originally from Beijing, China, I moved here when I was about five years old, because my father was at the University of Vermont. And at the time, you know, I grew up, raised her until I was about 12, went to Utah, and then came back, and really didn’t feel like I was connected to the Vermont community. As an immigrant, as a Chinese person. There weren’t too many folks who I identified with, teachers at my school people on the street. The most connection that we had was a Chinese school and some professors at UVM, and also restaurant owners. And I remember thinking in high school, I need to leave this place I need to get out, I graduated early, I came back after college work for a couple of years. And I could not stay here. So when I did end up coming back in 2014, my intention was not to stay, it was to leave Vermont again for graduate program. And I ended up staying, went to the University of Vermont’s Community Development and Applied Economics program, and started to understand what it was to connect with community to be part of community. And to understand that I could do more for Vermont by being here than by leaving. So I started to engage more with civic engagement opportunities in the city of Burlington and otherwise, and really trying to find communities, specifically the Asian community. And that’s actually how I got connected to Tino is our third co founder Petk Mone Vaughn, who’s working at the City of Burlington at the time, connected us, and brought us together for the sake of creating a youth focused event in the city of Burlington. But one of my reasons for being part of this organization, the driver for my passion is, you know, when my father came to this country, to UVM, in 1985, he got here in January, and there was nobody to support him. He didn’t even know where the grocery stores were. Nobody told him anything and he ate out of a vending machine for two weeks, until school started. And then somebody was like, Oh, hey, maybe you need to know where the grocery store is. I don’t want anyone to feel like they don’t have access to information or a community to support them. So that was a huge driver.


Sam RG  04:05

Or people to ask, right? Or, you know, mentors and people say, Hey, not only can you make it work here, you can thrive.


Weiwei Wang  04:13

Yeah. And we’ve been able to see that. More and more now. But I’ll turn it to Tino.


Tino Rutanhira  04:20

what was the question again? Yeah, so you know, Tinotenda Rutanhira I am originally from Zimbabwe, and I have been here in the United States. I came here in the year 2000. I was 26. At the time. I I mean, the story behind everything of mine as podcasts on its own, but I’ll kind of make it short. I came here with a university degree but because of my my refugee status, and the fact that I spoke with an accent and, you know, had two names, one of which was as Sean My name which people couldn’t pronounce and so on. Nobody wanted to hire me at the time. And so one lesson of one of the first lessons I learned while here in the United States was the importance of making a good sandwich. And so I was working multiple jobs at the time. low paying jobs of course I was working at the Radisson No, the Hilton at the time, working on fine liens at the mall working at a daycare. And I also was working at Anythings Pastable, which was a sandwich shop, which is where the with with a restaurant that’s there now was the Whiskey Room. Yes. And so anyway, long story short, I made killer sandwiches, and this gentleman at Chittenden bank at the time, took a liking to my sandwiches wouldn’t eat sandwiches made by anybody else, he then got to find like, find out what my story was. He was educated or smart, hardworking, took care in making sandwiches. And so he decided that he wanted somebody like me working for to the bank. And so I got a basically, like, within two weeks off, having sort of applied for a job, I was given a teller position. And then from that point on, I was doing a computer systems engineering course, at some quests at the time. And the helpdesk manager was like, hey, I want you on my team. And so from there, I just sort of started moving up the ladder. And for me, that was sort of the one thing that showed me that you just need people to take a chance on you to open doors for you. And I wanted to do that for other people. The second lesson that I learned in my stay here that led to also the formation of this organization, is that you might think you are nobody, but somebody out there thinks you’re somebody, and I was mentoring a young man who looked up to me, this is now years later, like in 2015 or so. And he I didn’t think I was anyone. But he looked at me and saw that I had a house, I had a car, you know, I was moving up the career ladder. And he wanted to be like me. And so I saw this through conversations with him and how I had inspired him and thought to myself, like, there’s other people that are looking at me, even though I don’t think I am anything, and I suddenly had made it. But they still thought I was like doing things. And so I thought that he had those two things really were the genesis of why I went into figuring out like, How can I create something that can help open doors for people and also use my status in the community, which I still even today don’t think it’s that much. But you know, to to help people and to navigate help them navigate, you know, their career and professional development.


Weiwei Wang  08:11

I mean, that’s something that you talk about often Tino is like, we’re here to open the doors, because we’ve had those experiences. And so others shouldn’t have to encounter the same barriers, or at least have a helping hand through those barriers, so that it doesn’t take as much time to get through them. Right. Yeah.


David Bradbury 08:27

It’s really great. Um, so maybe you could just help explain what the purpose or mission is of the Vermont Professionals, of Color Network? Weiwei.


Weiwei Wang  08:39

yeah, so our mission is to advance the prosperity of BIPOC Vermonters across the state. And that could be economically, socially, definitely for the community.


Sam RG  08:50

sometimes the social has to come before the economics Right. Like exactly i and i love you all do such an amazing job sharing information and telling stories and one thing that I love about it is there’s just as much celebration and joy as there are resources and having hard conversations and I think that is what makes it feel like more than just a resource but a community. I just want to go back a second because just both of you such powerful stories, and so inspiring, Tino I can’t help but think about you being so underutilized when you came here right working three or four jobs getting paid very little. What kept you motivated, like, you know, until you met the right person at the right moment, like what, what kept you here? What kept you not giving up? Because, man, I’m like, so weak, there’s no way I would last doing four jobs and being underpaid. I, you know, so I’ve just I want to think about the people that are in that right now. What kept you motivated?


Tino Rutanhira  09:58

I think just knowing your value and knowing what you’re worth, I knew I had a college degree, I knew that I just had to showcase my skills to the right people. And so it was when I met this gentleman, and, you know, I wish I would say his name, but I don’t know if you would want that. But he was the one that sort of opened that first door. And for me, then from that point, then I was able to then showcase my skills, then, you know, the helpdesk manager then saw me, and then the manager for the engineering department saw me. And then from there, I was managing part of Chittendens insurance team, or insurance group their IT and the then president of the insurance division saw me and then introduced me to Rich Tarrant. And at the time, he was starting my web grocer, or at least had started it and was looking for people to join. So it was that that sort of like, people opening doors, and then really sort of gave me inspiration that like that, that is what it is, it’s like, and, you know, when I, when I think about Sorry, I’m gonna go on a little. When I think about like, generational wealth, people think about it in terms of just finances. But I think of it in terms of access. And I think of it in terms of the ability to find people that will open doors for you, that will give you a chance to showcase what you’re capable of doing. And for me, that’s what I want to do for the BIPOC community is to start to build that generational wealth, because it’s not just about making money, it’s about then having the right connections, the people that open doors and so on,


David Bradbury 11:47

and the value, the networks are just so tough to build tough to get. But once you have them, it’s like that snowball it forms, it gets bigger and bigger. And you all are doing that when really great.


Sam RG  12:00

When I started at Northeastern, I remember the first you know, the your sophomore year, you do a co op, which is essentially an extended internship. And I remember these students with generational wealth, getting their uncle to recommend them for whatever position and I just remember being like cheaters, you know, like, no, is literally my point of view of like, cheaters. And I’ve since learned, you know, you know, use your network, like sure they had the privilege to get them there. But everyone needs to use their network, and everyone should have the right to that network, right and creating that. And so I completely agree that that access is, is so much more powerful, you know, given a certain stage, but that’s what matters. That’s what makes a difference between, you know, a decent job and in a position of leadership, right? Yeah,


Weiwei Wang  12:55

absolutely. And sometimes it’s the small gestures, you know, of just saying, Hey, I believe in you. And that’s often what we’re doing as an organization for the bipoc small business owner community for the small business or for the bipoc professional community, right? We’re talking to a couple of business owners now. And we’re getting some of that feedback of saying, hey, all I needed was for you to tell me about this resource. And I applied for it, I got funding, or I got that loan, or I got that position. Just that opened that door, because otherwise they’re like, I’m not sure the best direction to go to because there are so many options sometimes. And maybe it’s not even that clear. Yeah, or


Sam RG  13:41

having the right language, right. Like, for me, that’s a huge one as well. And like demystifying these steps, and like knowing that not everyone has it figured out too, because I think that’s a big thing is, oh, this other person got this thing, they must have it all figured out, right? When they really don’t. Right. So


David Bradbury 13:58

I’m really interested in how you took your personal experiences, the barriers of frustration, and then formed an organization like, that was a pretty brave step, or how did that just come together? Was it over a coffee? Or was it over a years or months? Like just that Genesis of how you came about with an organization? Tino, why don’t you take that one?


Tino Rutanhira  14:21

Well, is this now you’re asking me to like dig back into my memory banks? Because I think we’re just talking about the other day, like how we actually met and couldn’t really quite pinpoint, but it was really,


Weiwei Wang  14:32

I remember, but you go ahead!


Tino Rutanhira  14:36

but really, for me, the young men that I was mentoring. I was trying to figure out like, How can I you know, when you think about how can I find people that professionals are color that can help him sort of in the same way that I’ve been able to help him but when we were looking at trying to figure out like, who are the professionals of color, you know, we didn’t know them.


David Bradbury 15:00

It wasn’t an email list, you could not get a network. Yeah, yeah.


Tino Rutanhira  15:05

So and, and at that point, it was really like, when we are thinking about maybe helping young people and finding mentors for them. When you think about sort of when you’re in an airplane, and they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting it on a child, that’s really what happened to us. We realized, like, we don’t know, how can I recommend somebody to a journalist, when young mentee to a journalist when I don’t even know could the bipoc journalists? How do I tell people about, you know, the healthcare industry when I don’t know, professionals of color that are in the healthcare industry. So really, we needed to put the mask on ourselves first, and start to create a network of professionals that that can then go and start to,


Sam RG  15:52

like, keep taking a step back and step back, like, Wait, we don’t have this problem solved. Or this problem, right? Yeah. Wait, wait, how


David Bradbury 15:58

Weiwei how do you remember it?


Weiwei Wang  15:59

Oh, it was definitely like that, where Tino was coming from it. From that point of view, I was thinking about youth of color, I was working at UVM at the time and thinking about students who wanted to get into the creative industry, right, like artists and musicians. And from my point of view, thinking, Okay, I know a bunch of artists who are bipoc identified, I love to get them together and showcase them so that students can see there is a viable career in this in these fields. And that they can do that here in Vermont. And that’s what I find really beautiful about the joining of Tino and myself is pit saw that we both essentially wanted the same thing to connect these young people of color in the city of Burlington, around Burlington, to these professionals, whether they’re a graphic or a graphic designer, or a computer programmer, or a banker, etc. And she brought us together, and that’s where things started to form. And it was off with this idea of an event, which became another event, specifically for networking. 100 people came BIPOC identified to that first event. This is before we even had a formal name. That’s cool. We didn’t even come up with an event or a name until about I think it was February of the following year, because it was around MLK Day, I remember. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we had been planning events we had done two in 2019. And then 2020, we had one more before COVID, Shut, shut everything down. What


Sam RG  17:37

did what did the energy in that room feel like that first event must have been? I mean, obviously, for you to build an organization afterwards, it must have been so incredibly powerful.


Weiwei Wang  17:47



Tino Rutanhira  17:48

Yeah, the energy was just insane. I mean, everybody was so excited. And we had, I mean, 100 people for an event that maybe we had thought would get, like 20 tops. It was amazing. And everybody kept saying, like, why haven’t we done this before? And we just kept thinking about like, yeah, why haven’t we done this before. And so even with the next events that happened, everybody just kept saying, like, this is amazing. We love getting together and meeting. And I think the greatest thing that maybe happened to us as an organization was COVID. Because we were on this, like, riding this momentum train of events. And like, we didn’t see the possibilities, really, that were open to us, because we were just like, this is another event. This is another event, and yet the writing was on the wall, but we’re so busy enjoying the success. We didn’t see what really, we were supposed to be and


David Bradbury 18:53

y’all had full time professional. Yeah. This was, this was a side hustle that kept getting bigger and bigger. Got it. Yeah, exactly. So


Tino Rutanhira  19:02

during COVID, that’s when everything went to a halt. And it forced us to take pause and just just see the success we had had. And then to then try and figure out like, what is it that we want to be when we grow up? We started, like re hearing or the conversations we had had and all these events where people were saying like, I need a mentor, I need a job or I need to learn like can you can help connect me with with folks. And you know, I went to CVOEO and I’m so confused about what exactly I’m supposed to be doing all these things. It’s



like a customer discovery process or the empathy, right, we just hear and listen and distill it. Yeah,


Weiwei Wang  19:43

I mean, these are the things that people have been talking about in separate like circles before, like smaller circles. And to have it in one room to say here people all say the same things over and over and over again, and the joy that it brought to everyone In those moments, and that they could ride on that high there after just after that one meeting for a while until the next meeting. I mean, that’s really a huge part of it.


Break  20:14

You’re listening to start here, a podcast from Vermont Center for Emerging technologies. VCET is a public benefit corporation serving Vermont businesses from start to scale. We provide a no cost strategic business advising for any business owner, regardless of stage or industry, as well as venture capital for early stage tech or tech enabled businesses. You can find us online at vcet.co, that’s V C E T dot co. If you like what you’re hearing, please help us out and rate review and subscribe to our podcast today. Now, back to the show.


Sam RG  20:55

So let’s talk about the sort of formalization of things. So COVID hit. And I think a lot of organizations experienced the same like, Oh, this is actually, you know, good for us in many ways. Can you talk about like, the, you know, the first sort of funding, building your team, like those first kind of baby steps towards what you are today?


Weiwei Wang  21:18

Yeah, um, so I think so going off of Tino, when COVID hit, we kind of took that step back. And we’re supporting other organizations at first. And then we ended up doing a strategy meeting, I think, the summer of 2020, because we started to attract interest in the work that we were doing, because the folks were coming to our events, were talking about us about what we were doing about what they got out of it. And so we did get interest from Northfield Savings Bank Foundation, they came to us, and we’re like, we want to support you in what you’re doing, because we clearly need more of it. And then we also got interest from from Vermont Community Foundation. So we got really fortunate that folks were coming to us with the funding, they said, like, what do you need, and we said, we want to be a 501 C three, we want to build an organization that is supporting BIPOC folks across the state in whatever way they need it. And so they said, okay, here are our capacity grants to do just that. And we did get money to get our 501 C three status kicked off. And in the process of that, we also started managing the bipoc vaccination clinics here in Burlington, that was one of like four or five different vaccine clinics, specifically supporting bipoc folks across the state, ALV, Rutland and Windham NAACP is we’re doing it. And that actually also got our names out there more that we were supporting that we were there for the community, not just in that professional sense, but also just like in that human sense.


Sam RG  22:57

And health equity is such a big piece of that. So, so funding started to come in. And you know, thank God for operational use, right? Like, that is massive, especially as you’re trying to figure out what you are right. I mean, that was a big piece of it. So talk to us a little bit about your team.


Weiwei Wang  23:19

We started, we started off with an intern, we knew, I think, towards the end of 2020, we realized we needed somebody to support us because it was getting so big. We were creating strategy, etc. And so we hired an intern still with us, Charlotte, Santiago Graf, who is currently our marketing specialist. She’s amazing. And she was a senior at UVM at the time, and we hired her part time, and she ended up being a critical part of our team because everything that you see visually today, she was the one who started it. So a lot of credit has to go to her and her vision of what it could be. We did all we had was a little logo and she really ramped it up a logo that Belan Antensaye. Our board member now she created a Word document. Hey, Belan. And then I came on in June of 2021. I was very fortunate, I talked with Tino and Pitt and talked about just how quickly our organization was growing and the fact that I had the opportunity to make that jump. So and we all believed in it. And I think I was the only one at the time who was able to make that jump. So I did it. And I’m so glad that I did. Because I’ve learned so much over that time, just like in terms of like because I was the one who had to submit the 501 C three documents and all that and


David Bradbury 24:50

which isn’t easy stuff. I’ve done it a number of times and it’s daunting


Weiwei Wang  24:53

and we weren’t able to use the easy form at all. We weren’t because we had just enough funding that we were over that threshold, I was like, dammit, why did we get so much funding? No I’m kidding.


David Bradbury 25:06

You’ll Never say that again.


Weiwei Wang  25:07

No I will never say that again. No, in the moment, I did feel that way. But


Sam RG  25:11

I feel like even just doing all that it’s like, oh, this is why we’re setting this up to help people do this again, right?


Weiwei Wang  25:18

Absolutely. The number of times that I’ve been asked a question, how do you set up a 501, c three. And I’ve been able to consult with those organizations like the yoga equity project relief collective, being able to help other bipoc organizations get to that level. And because we can’t all do it all on our own right? We need those others around us who are who have the same or similar vision. So being able to help them has been incredible. So


Sam RG  25:43



Tino Rutanhira  25:44

I think part of the challenge, too, was learning about all these things that I think as an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily think about like, getting insurance, like, what is workman’s comp? What is the type of insurance I need? What about payroll like, because now Weiwei’s on payroll, like working with a payroll company, and we got burnt a couple of times with that, and, you know, there’s just so many other things like, Oh, we got to get our website, we got to get a phone, we got to get email set up. Are we using Google? Are we using? So just these procedural things.


David Bradbury 26:21

there’s right? You need four numbers in the state of Vermont, right? You need your state ID, the Unemployment Insurance Number, the worker’s comp number, and then I guess, then the federal number, and it’s


Tino Rutanhira  26:31

Yeah, and all the time. Like, am I setting this up right? Like, are we gonna one day find out like, we didn’t have this one piece of thing that we’ve been operating for five years, and now we gotta like, so it’s just scary.


David Bradbury 26:44

so can I ask you about your you’ve got it organized? Now you’re set up, you’re having events that are massive. And what was the reaction? Or what’s the relationship with some of the existing business or civic organization like was just welcomed or threatening in some way? Or was it collaborative?


Tino Rutanhira  27:03

I think one really good part about it is that organizations in Vermont have been very welcoming of us as an organization. I think people see what we’re doing, and the reason why we’re doing it, I think, inherently people are good. Even though some may argue corporations are bad, but I think the people within them see that, you know, there is a need for us to rewrite some of the injustices that have been done, particularly people of color. When sometimes, when I think about it, and think like, let’s say the business community, why, what are the challenges that the bipoc business community is having? Those challenges are not unique to the BIPOC, people starting a business, you know, it’s not, you know, everybody’s gonna go through those problems of not knowing what to do, we’re not having, you know, enough information, etc. But I think what makes it different for us is, maybe think of a business and put on top of that, it’s a woman owned business. So you’ve got all those challenges. And then that woman happens to be from, you know, happens to a person of color. She’s Brown, you know, and so you put on top, so the race component, and then that woman is also from Afghanistan, so she speaks with an Afghani accent. So if you take all of those and put them on top of a situation where in Vermont, it’s a second whitest state in the country, that presents a challenge, or somebody trying to maybe sell you tell you that they build websites, or they have, you know, a particular apparatus that you know, they are using as a service, it’s hard to make that sell if you’ve got all those layers, challenging your perception of what you can offer as a service dog person. And so I think it’s been great that we’ve had organizations like the Vermont Business Roundtable, giving us finance, giving us grants and giving us not just grants but giving us access to the people and, and, and helping us through some of the challenges that we’ve had. And, and even with the money that they’ve given us, some of it is unrestricted. So it allows us to, for example, pay our employees and use the money for for stuff that we don’t necessarily have to account for what we’re using it for. It’s just a pot of money that we can we can utilize. And that has been incredibly, incredibly helpful to get us off the ground. Because if we were talking to venture capitalists, something would have to prove in I think in a far larger way, why we needed that money and where the money was going and to show a return on that investment. My hope is that The Return of that investment for organizations that have invested in us is that we can showcase what we are doing in the Vermont landscape and really making generational impact that will not just be beneficial for BIPOC Vermonters, but will be beneficial for Vermont as a whole.


David Bradbury 30:19

wasn’t it? I think we met at in Manchester, Vermont, at the business roundtable meeting. Remember that freezing room they had a sitting was awful?


Sam RG  30:30

Well, I think, you know, that speaks to just what a massive problem you’re solving for Vermont. And, you know, I think many organizations recognize that and are just like, Thank God, someone’s doing this, right. I mean, it was just, there was so much low hanging fruit. And I know, you know, we’ve had that conversation before where it’s like, there’s so much opportunity, like, where do you even start? So I definitely want to jump to like sort of more tactical, like, you know, for, you know, aspiring bipoc business owners or professionals that are listening right now, like, what are the services that you provide? And how can they engage with you? Yeah,


Weiwei Wang  31:09

can I just also say, to your earlier point, we’re not the only ones doing this, I do want to acknowledge that we’re not the only bipoc organization in this space, I want to acknowledge ALV and the incredible work that they’re doing. I want to acknowledge Racial Justice Alliance, relief, collective community resilience organizations, that’s in Central Vermont. The NAACP is there are a lot of other organizations in this space. And we are working together as a collective whole, we are partnered with them. Because we can’t do this alone. It’s not just like a one organization problem. So I don’t ever want us to be like the only organization to be recognized in this work.


Sam RG  31:50

Totally. Yeah.


Weiwei Wang  31:51

Thank you for pointing that out. Yeah. And, and to Dave’s point earlier, we are working with them. And I think it’s been very beautifully collaborative with these other organizations who are bipoc identified as well. In terms of services that we offer, wow, we were doing a lot. I think in terms of small businesses, I’ll say we offer what we were terming as technical assistance, but now we’re framing as community support, because we want to make sure that the community understands that we’re supporting them. And that ranges from making sure that people have information about existing resources, that’s a big deal. Oftentimes, these the resources that are available, it’s not reaching the community of color, and it’s not reaching them in a timely manner, especially if there are deadlines involved, if there are grant application, deadlines, etc. So we’re making sure that I will acknowledge that we’re not everywhere right now. And that’s part of our strategy moving in this next year is to make sure that we are touching the deeper corners of Vermont, right. But in terms of providing services, making sure that people know about it, and then once they know about it, making sure that they have all the tools that they need in order to go for what they want within that existing resource. So if it means, you know, Sam, if you were one of our members, making sure hey, are you good with this resource? You’re like, Yeah, I’m good. I’m gonna apply for it. I’m set, I’ll let you know. Great. If there are other folks like maybe Dave is a member. And Dave is like, hey, I need more hand holding, I need you to actually walk through this with it with me. Because I’m not sure about the steps. We absolutely do that. So it’s that whole range. And you know, Erin Shaw, who is our current Community Support Coordinator, Yeah, she’s amazing. And she’s based in Thetford. She’s been supporting small businesses that have been dealing with flood, flood recovery and working on the B gap, working on other applications, whether it’s unemployment, etc. And really diving deep with them, like 60 hours per person, really. So going back to Montpelier every single week to make sure that people have everything that they need, you know, be on the phone with them on a Sunday night, if needed. So in terms of small businesses, there’s like a wide range. And we’re we have a contract with the ACCD right now. And part of that is to provide that assistance to both the business and professional community. And in terms of professional development. We’re building out that strategy but the team including Krystal Sanchez, who’s our project program and Events Manager, we can’t do anything without her. And we also have Mimi Duong who grew up in St. Johnsbury went to UVM. And we were able to keep her here.


Sam RG  35:05

Awesome article on Mimi too.


David Bradbury 35:08

National Public Radio, Vermont Publlic,


Weiwei Wang  35:11

Yeah so now all the visuals are via Mimi. Anyway. Um, so Aaron and I have been supporting some professionals in terms of like, okay, where do you want to go working with Champlain College a lot? Because Pat over there is asking us questions. Okay, I have the student who is trying to get connected. Do you know of any resources and just working with them, working with them one on one. And I think something important to know is that we are very high touch with our community members, we make sure that we’re engaging with them on a deeper level to make sure that we know exactly what they need, just like Tina was talking about making sure like, Okay, you need a job. Okay, here are the connections. If you want us to be in the room, we’ll be in the room with you.


David Bradbury 35:56

How do you How have you been able to take this menu of need, right? And just sort of prioritize or drill down? I mean, obviously, you respond to floods and COVID. Right. And but you know, you had the four pillars, I think, originally, are those still the guideposts knowing that technical assistance we call community support now, but yeah, yeah, what are the other three?


Tino Rutanhira  36:23

So if you put your house foundation is networking, and why is networking in the foundation is because that’s what builds the community, that’s what makes people feel connected, like they belong, like they’re part of something. So for us, that’s the most important piece of the whole thing is building that sense of belonging from there are three other pillars. The first one, think of like a Roman Colosseum, I guess. One of those pillars is promoting bipoc entrepreneurship, which Weiwei always talked about with the with businesses and stuff, we want to try and help entrepreneurs and bipoc to grow and to, you know, become the next deal on our comms and stuff. But even if they want to stay a small, you know, mom and pop shops, that’s fine, but we want to help them have the sort of the economic strength and resilience to stick to stay in and be prosperous. The, the second pillar is promoting bipoc professional development. And so it’s, like we said, helping people in their professional growth, all the way from entry level through, you know, VP level in the C suite. And then the third pillar is empowering bipoc youth. And that really is just about making sure that we have we give young people ages like 18 to 22, the mentorship or menteeship opportunities that they need to kind of aspire to be more than what they think of themselves. And then also to get the experiential opportunities that they need to allow them to get into professional paying jobs by hitting the ground running. So making sure that they get internships while they’re still in college. And having somebody kind of walk them through that process.


Sam RG  38:12

I just think about like, 18 year old Weiwei, like if you had had this resource, you know, I think Vermont would have been on the table sooner, which is really kind of beautiful. And I think it says a lot, you know, the fact that you pause the podcast, like wait, let me acknowledge all the other groups that are out here doing this, like, you all have the best reputation in the state, I think because you’re so aware of what other folks are doing and trying to empower those groups as well. So the foundation being networking absolutely makes perfect sense to me. I just We unfortunately have to wrap up I was hoping this would be like a two day podcast, but yes. Oh my god, please. No, it please.


Tino Rutanhira  38:52

The reason why I think was so important. And this is kind of saying something to your listeners. Why focus on bipoc Because there’s so many other areas of interest from from for me, it’s really about the fact that BIPOC is the fasted growing demographic in the state. The state faces some serious and significant demographic challenges. But bipoc grew by 112% between 2010 and 2020. So if you’re looking at answers to solve the demographic issues in the state, then part of that solution lies in the BIPOC community. This rapidly growing segment of the state is going to be your future doctors is going to be your future accountants. It’s going to be your future bankers. It’s going to be your future teachers and so on, politicians. So if we’re not going to invest in this fastest growing demographic in the state, and get them ready and prepared to be in that position of responsibility in the future, then I mean this this state is going to be introuble. And, and so that for me is sort of the thing that I would want to say to your audience today who might be questioning while there’s so many other things that could be doing but that is absolutely for me the reason they should be focused on that.


Sam RG  40:17

So glad you brought that up. Yes. Sorry. I I just like, I’m sorry. Why haven’t I been calling Tino for my motivational speeches?


Weiwei Wang  40:41

Let’s just acknowledge that Tino is doing a lot of this for his daughter, right? Like, we want her to come back to the state because she’s, she’s fucking amazing. She interned for us this summer. And I was like, Are you fucking kidding me?


Sam RG  40:57

Is she available this summer because we’re looking for interns.


David Bradbury 41:04

No stealing. I do want to ask like, what can people individually or organizations do to help? Your your, your purpose, your mission, your programs? Is it Is it money time resources, like just just lay out the top three or four things? Yeah, it’s time


Tino Rutanhira  41:25

by giving us like giving all like entrepreneur entrepreneurs and business owners go into their businesses and spending their money with them. If you’ve got, you know, capacity may be helping bipoc business understand things like accounting or you know, legal services and stuff, you know, that sort of thing. For us as an organization, money, you know, money is a sensitive topic. But the reason I think money is important is for us as an organization is all the stuff that we’ve listed has to be paid for in some way or another. And for us to then send out to hire folks and send them out to evangelize this gospel of bipoc, prosperity and economic development and career development and all that stuff. We cannot then be paying somebody, you know, $30,000 to go and then pretend that they’re excited about this. We want to get the best and brightest people working for us, pay them a competitive salary, and help them grow the state of Vermont.


Sam RG  42:31

Yes, yeah. Yes.


Weiwei Wang  42:32

Can I speak to that? I mean, VTPOC is growing to be a public asset. You know, we’re not only helping the bipoc community, we’re really helping to Tinos point the entire state of Vermont, you know, pulling it up. And we also do need space. It would be great to to have a location for us if somebody wants to donate a space. But also we have a lot of events, and we’re always looking for spaces across the state, not just in Chittenden County. So


David Bradbury 43:01

if someone could donate a space and pick up the food and beverage, would that go a long way?


Weiwei Wang  43:07

Okay, that would absolutely yeah, they just need to be set for this space. Yeah, VCET has been a huge donor, not only in terms of advising us as an organization, giving us the opportunity to have space where we can meet as, as a team, and also to meet others here too. You know, opening it up to, you know, Shaneall, one of our members is now a member here. We met Rashid and talking to him this week on Wednesday. So really excited at what VCET has to offer. I’m so appreciative of the culture here of the community here at the support here.


Sam RG  43:45

Well thank you for being here. And it it, you know, it’s a two way street here, having y’all in here doing your work in here. You know, Rashid is a great example. He’s like, Who are these folks? What do they do? And I’m like, You should probably meet them. They’re pretty great. But it’s, you know, it’s been nothing but incredibly valuable for us to have you all in here. And we’re so grateful. Thank you.


David Bradbury 44:06

Yeah, I can’t wait to see what goes on in the next couple years.


Weiwei Wang  44:09

Oh, you don’t even know.


David Bradbury 44:12

You’re all just getting going. I mean, this is really neat. You make all your mistakes and the stuff in the first couple years, you tune it, and now you scale it, and you seem to be in that scaling mode.


Weiwei Wang  44:20

We are and that’s why it’s so cool. We didn’t touch on this, but Tino just joined the team full time recently. So excited and now we’re like CO EDs and like to have worked with Tino on weekends and evenings, like when it’s like fucking want to just sleep like, do you know sometimes it’s like, Are you sure you want it me? Like, I am, like,


Sam RG  44:41

I need to talk to you. You’re like fine, but I’m bringing my dog. Yeah, basically, basically,


Weiwei Wang  44:46

um, and so now be able to have the VCET space to meet regularly and to just elevate what we’re doing like already. I feel that sense of ease and I think that’s another podcast in itself. This co leadership model. I have, like, it’s really fucking lonely at the top, it’s lonely. And to be able to share that with somebody is really incredible. I’m very fortunate. I think we’re both really fortunate


David Bradbury 45:12

to be continued to the last question. All right,


Sam RG  45:15

we’re gonna hit you with our magic wand question. We’ll give each of you your own answer. I suppose. If you could change one thing in Vermont today, what would you change? Magic wand.


Tino Rutanhira  45:29

Oh, I thought about this before. I would change the population in the state of Vermont, I would increase it the state is in trouble in terms of demographics. We are the third least most populated states and 49th in population growth rate. And unless if we grow the state, we are going to have a bunch of old people and nobody actually doing any work.


Weiwei Wang  45:56

yeah, so important. For me, it’s health care access, especially for our small business owners. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, you know, with our bipoc community, I get a lot of questions around how do I access health care? How do I even get dental care? Can I do this if I’m a sole proprietor, so making healthcare accessible, making it inexpensive for small business owners so that they can scale up to Tinos point, right,


Sam RG  46:23

And not have that be the factor that they’re not like the reason they’re not


Weiwei Wang  46:27

yeah. So that’s something that’s really challenging. And we talked about this weekend when I was with a group of small business owners who are bipoc identified, you know, wanting to have health care, wanting to be able to get mental health care, especially, you know, that’s a that’s a big thing. Amazing,


Sam RG  46:42

such good answers. Before we close out real quick, there is a bipoc business directory on your website. Yes. And an a link to donate. Is that correct?


Weiwei Wang  46:53

There is and also a jobs board for bipoc professionals who want to look for expanding the career.


Sam RG  46:58

Amazing. Thank you both so much for your time. Really, really happy to have you here. Thank you both for having You’re smart. And I like you. I like you too.


David Bradbury 47:11

This has been start here a podcast sharing the stories of active aspiring accidental entrepreneurs. The series is supported by the Vermont Technology Council and Consolidated Communications. Let’s get back to work.