Common Characteristics Among Successful Entrepreneurs, Finding a Balance Between Vulnerability, Courage and Persistence

Brief Background

Marketing Associate

Silicon Valley Education Foundation

Associate Project Manager

DDB Worldwide

Senior Interactive Publications Design Specialist


Married, mother of two

Hometown: Washington D.C.

Hadiyah Fain is a charismatic and dynamic woman applying her creativity and business mind to help entrepreneurs succeed at Plug and Play Tech Center in the Bay Area. A fierce and determined leader, she has had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age having won her first business model competition at 16 in high school. Fain’s methodological approach enables her to provide innovators a sounding board and more importantly, offer practical advice to propel them forward. Married and a mother of 2, she’s passionate about the aging population and gadgets that help them access and their families and healthcare delivery systems provide better care. Our Program Manager, Sharon Mwale, chatted with Fain about successful entrepreneurs and the common characteristics that exist among them.

What makes a good leader? Is a leader born or can he/she be shaped? Is there a common thread among the leaders you work with?

From my experience and what we see at my current company, most leaders are shaped into becoming good leaders. At our organization we see founders coming back for their 2nd, 3rd ventures and it’s not until the 5th company they start that one hits it big. They have failed in the past. Because we are stage agnostic, we work with teams that may have revenues and some that only have a good idea but don’t know how to start and/or run a company. Support from our organization and the ecosystem of corporations and startups we have offers them an opportunity to learn from various peers and advisors. The common thread is that all the founders and leaders of startups believe in what they are doing, that is going to create change. It takes guts and bravery to take that extra step forward to pursue creating a company to solve the issue they have identified. Many of the women entrepreneurs I come across say they came up with their idea from talking to a group of girlfriends and they are the only one who had the courage to carry out that idea and believe they could create a company from it.

Talk about a challenging time through which you had to lead –was there a defining moment? Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

As a child I originally wanted to go to school to become an engineer, my father wanted me to become an engineer. I was accepted into a prestigious science and technology high school on the East Coast where majority of the student population went on to work at NASA or become doctors. In the program, early on, I knew that I wasn’t happy, I was capable and had the ability to do the school work required but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. This led to a lot of self-sabotaging behavior and with no one to walk me through what I was feeling, I ended up getting kicked out of school. At the time it was devastating and felt detrimental to my future career. However, at the next school I attended I was exposed to entrepreneurship and had the option to pursue a program crafted for students interested in that path. I was 15 or 16 years old when I wrote my first business plan for which I won the schoolwide competition, regionals and reached the Statewide level. The following two years I was Vice President and President, respectively, of the Entrepreneurship Program. I worked to organize trips to NYC to learn more about sole proprietorship and entrepreneurship and continued to enter business plan competitions.

It was during this experience, as a child, that I really felt I knew who I was and what I wanted to do in life. I learned what it took to start something different and that my family wouldn’t approve of and didn't understand. My mom died at such an early age, but I learned later in life that she had started her own business and it validated my pursuit of this path. I discovered through failing at the first school and being exposed to new options for a career that entrepreneurship was something I wanted to pursue. It’s ok to try and fail because you only need to win once and when you try and succeed it gets rid of all the other times you failed

What are the traits that have served you well during crises? (Patience? Grit? Willpower? etc.)

Risk mitigation and dealing with crisis doesn’t have anything to do with persistence and courage. It has more to do with being in a consistent state of learning because when you hit a panic moment, we tend to also hit a panic button. This means going off of what you know and trying to solve a problem as fast as possible with what you have at hand. However, crisis is an opportunity to learn. What I’m experiencing now, in my current position, is launching into different markets, cities and planning a successful program. It really depends on our understanding of the environment that we are entering – the culture and structures of each new place. Leading these initiatives, I have to be comfortable to learn the [entrepreneurship and innovation] landscape all over again, what works, what doesn’t work and learn how to solve problems in a way which I’ve never done before. Being vulnerable, admitting you need help, learning from others about their successes and failures is invaluable skill and can save time and resources. Being bull headed and pushing forward doesn’t serve well, especially in moments of crisis, strategy needs to switch up within a leadership role and requires humility.

Today, and with each passing day, we strive to do more—with less. How do you in your organizations or personally leverage technology or improve processes to make healthcare work better, faster, smarter, more efficient, and/or less expensive?

I’m not directly saving anyone’s life in my position, but the tools and product ideas that come across my desk that I’m very passionate about are related to solving problems for the aging population. The technologies I’ve seen include IoT home monitoring systems, glucose meters without a need for needle pricks, key reminders, help with hygiene and preventing slips and falls at home. These products have the potential to solve issues with a growing addressable market, but no one wants to talk about aging and death, but they have me in awe. What happens when you’re caring for a sick, older loved one? What if you still have a young family, husband and career you care about, how do you manage to still care for those elder population? For this reason, they have my utmost attention. I use technology to create a platform for products that are very practical and useful but unfortunately don’t have a sexy story. I seek to promote them through article features, events and pushing them to the forefront of conversations when I have that opportunity. The market is there, but not many people are looking for these types of technologies. I use technology to help me help others, empower those solving real problems within the aging population. I’m not an inventor, but I’m giving a microphone to those who don’t have a voice.

From your experience, what has changed the least, yet still has major impact regarding gender parity within entrepreneurship, technology and healthcare?

Things have changed, and women are taking ownership of changing gender parity on their own. For example, Serena Williams said, “I’m going to give money to women entrepreneurs.” Because of similar statements said by other investors, some would say that the conversation has shifted significantly into action and there is no longer any disparity for women in receiving funding. That is no truer than Obama becoming president and that suddenly eradicating racism in the States. However, it seems as if since he left office, it’s come back with a vengeance.

The news and media attention [on gender parity in innovation and entrepreneurship] has been great. It’s catalyzed a movement of people, not just women, stepping forward and speaking out. However, it seems, without being discouraging, we’re still so far away from women having significant power in this space. It starts with representation, women being on boards of major healthcare organizations, general partners at investment funds, and other similar leadership positions. Unfortunately, we see a lot of ‘ra ra ra’ around women receiving funding, but the boards aren’t changing, the number of women who have the power to write a check isn’t changing. The balance of perspective is very key! I met a woman at the hair salon who works at Google on their autonomous vehicle program and we shared our experiences of constantly being one out of practically no one within our departments/ respective companies. We don’t have a tribe in Silicon Valley. A level of comfort goes a long way because it relieves stress of making mistakes and allows for grace. Unfortunately, in a lot of situations when we have a peer in the organization, another woman of color or a woman in general, we are pitted against one another instead of encouraged to work together. Comfort is important because it relieves the stress of making mistakes and allows for grace when it happens.

What is your advice to women and what actionable steps can they take as leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs in the health & tech industries?

The key character difference of a woman entrepreneur is courage to pursue their idea to create something bigger. They are ok with hearing ‘no’ multiple times and asking multiple times. The common saying in Silicon Valley is that ‘opportunity is only a matter of time.’ Everyone knows everyone, and opportunities are largely by chance [– right place, right time]. For the female entrepreneur and specifically African American entrepreneur and/or leader, looking to succeed in this space/industry: visibility and persistence really makes a difference. Make yourself known, go to company events, sit in front of their offices! Making moves efficiently and quickly, making the right moves. Essentially allocating your time precisely is important. This is not to say opportunities are endless or that there is a secrete sauce. People sometimes get their ideas stolen or only start getting traction after employing a white male CEO and/or co-founder. But persistence and bravery are a common theme of characteristics that I see work here.

Lecky’s Final Thoughts

Authentically following one’s dreams is to really know thyself. Hadiyah’s courage to follow her academic dreams early in life demonstrates that when you follow your dreams, you experience the incredible person you are capable of being and the incredible things that you are capable of doing. By doing what you are destined to do and not what others expect, inspires others to follow their dreams. Inspiration is contagious!

If you would like to recommend a female entrepreneur in healthcare technology to be featured, we encourage you to contact us.

Contact information:
Sharon Mwale       Program Manager        [email protected]