Q&A with Crystal Wallace on 2021 Ask the Expert Series


Founders Go Big (FGB) is a program created by Launch NY in 2020 to promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Upstate NY startup ecosystem. FGB provides capital, mentorship and programming to support the growth of minority- and women-owned startups, while creating a community in which underrepresented individuals can be empowered to transform the local economy.


This year, FGB Project Manager and Board Member Crystal Wallace, alongside Launch NY President and CEO Marnie LaVigne, introduced the “Ask the Expert” Series—virtual, real-time Q&A sessions with subject-matter experts (SMEs) in such areas as finance, accounting, intellectual property and more, as well as BIPOC founders who are taking their businesses big!


In nine “Ask the Expert” sessions held since last August, more than 445 participant and 200 underrepresented business owners gained valuable information and helpful tips about how to successfully grow their businesses—and were inspired to continue their own “Go Big” journey.


We sat down with Crystal Wallace to learn more about the 2021 Ask the Expert Series and what is to come for Founders Go Big in 2022.


Q1: Hi Crystal, thank you for joining us today. To start can tell us how and why The Founders Go Big Ask the Expert Series got started this year?


  • Founders Go Big initially started off with clients within our existing mentorship program who were interested in the additional programming and support offered. However, we quickly knew that in order to Identify, Educate, Inspire and Engage, we’d need to create awareness and a platform for interaction in the communities we serve.  Enlisting the help of Duncan Kirkwood, Resilience Advocate and Community Organizer, we began brainstorming on the most effective way to connect, encourage and inform underrepresented founders in our community that High Growth Entrepreneurship exists and is possible for all.  Thus, Ask the Expert was born!


Q2: What were the main goals you strived to accomplish from the Ask the Expert Series?


  • LNY FGB seeks to Identify, Educate Inspire and Engage potential BIPOC, Women, Veteran and/or otherwise underrepresented founders on what it takes to become high-growth founders with scalable businesses that reach $8-10 Mil in 5-7 years.
    • As it was first formed, we hoped to create greater awareness around the Launch NY FGB program within both underserved communities in our Western NY footprint, and within the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.
    • We wanted to provide representative examples of BIPOC. Woman, Veteran and/or otherwise underrepresented founders who are on their “Going Big” journey, and allow others to hear their stories and shift perceptions of what High Growth entrepreneurship “looks like.”
    • We also wanted to provide these founders access to SMEs with expertise in areas that directly impact entrepreneurs—finance, accounting, business law, intellectual property, marketing… the list goes on. The sessions allowed for very interactive Q&A and founders leaving with support and answers.


Q3: How did you select your speakers for the Series?

  • Again, representation and expertise were the key components. Speakers ranged from up-and-coming founders, SMEs and organizations that directly support startups, and business owners that may be potential vendors or service providers for founders. There was a ton of intersectionality across these ranges; further amplifying the power of representation. As much as possible, we wanted to spotlight guests who have shared experiences, visible and relevant examples of triumph and perseverance, and the ability to provide real support to our guests.


Q4: Where there any moments you really remember about the ask the expert series in particular?

  • In Session 4, LNY Client Khadesha Okwudili shared her amazing journey as the high-growth founder of the Agape relationship-building app. She started with literally no background in app development or human development! She just had an idea! Her viral success on TikTok really catapulted her business.


  • In session 6, we met with a true ally of underserved and underrepresented founders—Brian Gerling, Executive Director of the Syracuse University Innovation Law Center. His over 20-years of experience in Patent Law made him huge hit with our guests! We had to stop Q&A as we ran over time. However, we were able to bring him back for another event with our ecosystem partners, Capital Connect NY (capitalconnectny.org), and will be planning more programming with him and surrounding this topic.


Q5: What kinds of reactions/responses have you received from participants?


  • We received so many great responses from our participants including:
    • “I am so moved by hearing Kenyana David’s story.”
    • “Thank you so much for theinspiration and motivation.”
    • “Good night everyone.  Glad to be in this space. Thank you Kadie!!  You are inspiring.”
    • “I feel that I am in theright place for guidance as well as motivation.”



Q6: How is the Ask the Expert Series serving the underrepresented business owners in Upstate NY?

  • We’re providing a platform that impacts all founders—the information and experiences shared in each session are relevant to any entrepreneur. However, we also amplify the message of what High Growth Entrepreneurship is, how it is accessible, ways to be successful, and how to connect with LNY to support high growth endeavors.
  • We also connect business that are more “Main Street” with our numerous ecosystem partners. The goal is that everyone has the opportunity to be impacted and assisted.


Q7: What is your plan for 2022, will you continue on with the ask the expert series and if so what can we expect?

  • I’m excited for “Ask the Expert” in 2022! We are being even more intentional with our platform—with both live sessions from SMEs and on-demand content spotlighting founders. More emphasis will be placed on defining the high-growth pathway, entrepreneurial networking, and allowing time for selected founders to do 60 second pitches. We will begin in February 2022!


Q8: Other than the ask the expert series what can we expect to see from the Launch NYs FGB this year?

  • Much of our attention is focused on supporting our existing and incoming FGB membership! We expect to see more successful FGB client pitches—meaning more funding going to amazing start-ups. We are adding additional programming and tools to our Founders Go Big Resource Center, including more fireside chats and roundtable discussions with industry experts from our Mentor Network. FGB looks forward to supporting its founders through the next round of the LNY Customer Discovery Workshop. FGB will offer more targeted mentorship in collaboration with LNY’s Fast Forward Mentor Panel program to some of our later-stage FGB clients. All in all, Founders Go Big is maintaining its commitment to Educate, Inspire and Engage!


Tags: 2021 Ask the Expert Series, Launch NY, Crystal Wallace, Q&A, entrepreneurship, startup advice, business growth, expert insights, small business tips, entrepreneurial journey, startup community, funding strategies, mentorship, business development, entrepreneurial resources