Google Black Founders Fund recipient Deborah Choi has lived on three continents and brings a global perspective to her business ventures.
Born in Nigeria, Deborah’s parents emigrated to the U.S. during her formative years. Watching her immigrant parents juggle multiple jobs, Deborah learned her work ethic early on. “My career path has been very untraditional,” Choi says.
The University of Chicago alum stumbled upon her first startup in college. After scaling the online vintage store over five years and exiting through an acquisition, Deborah had caught the bug; “entrepreneurship felt like my calling” she says. Since then, Choi has worked in media and marketing, before embarking on Horticure, which merged with tech-based plant company Bosque, last year.
Founding Horticure in 2018, Deborah built Horticure’s success by “seeking a better way to bring nature inside.” Buying plants from the “wrong places” Choi saw a gap in this $50 billion market with an annual growth rate of 15%.
Horticure was founded as an Uber for plants; providing plant care services through technology. Post-pandemic, Choi decided to pivot Horticure’s direction. Horticure became a direct consumer player; sourcing and selling plants. This brought Horticure into direct competition with erstwhile partner Bosque, it was their shared values and visions that brought Bosque founders into a discussion with Choi. The resulting merger occurred at the end of 2020. Since then it has been a tale of “growth and integration” for the two companies. Bosque operates currently in Berlin and Hamburg, expanding nationwide in Germany over the coming months. Continental Europe is part of the future road map.
When asked about the successes of her career, Choi cites advice given to her by Andrea Fernandez, co-founder of Alice. “Fernandez taught me to think of my whole career as a platform; think of where I am headed as building blocks, thinking about how I place each individual block to form a bigger picture.”
Choi is motivated by work that maintains her curiosity. Moving through business development, sales and marketing have given Choi a strong belief in her resilience. “I can figure it out, I have the confidence to ask for help”. Deborah affirms the importance of trusting in herself as a founder. Having been at the early stage of start-ups various times over, Choi understands the importance of needing to put on a hat that you don’t know how to wear, and “being able to get comfortable with that.”
Co-founder of Alice, Andrea “Fernandez taught me to think of my whole career as a platform; think of where I am headed as building blocks, thinking about how I place each individual block to form a bigger picture.”
Choi is committed to paying her success forward to empower other women and minority founders. Telling UrbanGeekz about the origins of TechinColour (which rebranded this summer as Founderland over summer) Choi describes meeting co-founder Alina, an Indian-British founder, on a previous Google accelerator program. Choi says that their collective experiences had led them to “say enough is enough”. Deborah describes how as “the only two women of color on the scheme, we gravitated towards each other.” Able to be more open about their experiences and struggles when surrounded by like-minded women of color, Choi and Alina were motivated to search for an accelerator or hub for women of color. “It was never our plan to found anything like Founderland, but when we couldn’t find anything similar, we decided to step up and create something.”
Founderland connects female founders of color all across Europe and the UK, helping them gain access to funding and capital without bias. One of their main missions is to create visibility for women of color, building a blueprint for other organizations to follow with or after Founderland. As a mother, Deborah thinks about what kind of representation she is giving to her daughter: “I have to live that for her to see that.”
Having already done one accelerator program with Google for Startups, Choi sees it as a “game-changer” to be part of this grouping of black founders in Europe. She admits being “fangirl nervous” to be speaking to Rachael Palmer and hearing the news that she had been accepted. With a splash in publications like Forbes and TechCrunch, no doubt being the recipient of such an award increases visibility for both Choi and Bosque. Deborah admits being most “excited about the support and the community,” telling us that the 39 founders across 30 start-ups are already cheering each other on in their WhatsApp group.
The first cohort of its kind in Europe, the Google Black Founders Fund has auspicious beginnings in the U.S. Last year recipients raised $40 million from a $5 million fund in the six months after receiving the award. Deborah is excited because Bosque is fundraising next year, and Google will be there along with them; “it’s like Christmas, it’s such a gift to receive this at this time in Bosque’s growth.”
Although brick and mortar isn’t off the table for Bosque, the current plan is to continue as a digital player with physical goods, finding ways to grow out into that space. As Bosque expands, its vision of sustainability will remain front and center. Bosque’s commitment to climate neutrality was one of the things that attracted Deborah to the company. Choi laments the fact that over £1 billion worth of plants is thrown away every year in the UK alone. Deborah sees Bosque at the fore of a third major wave in consumption, one concerned with sustainability. “I hope this is driving where the whole industry is going. With Bosque we’re sticking our neck out, but I hope we won’t be alone for too long.” Deborah hopes that Bosque’s focus on plastic-free, low-impact shipping although innovative now, won’t be in a few years. It takes innovators to brave the exciting, messy early stages to create norms. Bosque is changing consumer plant care one fiddle fig leaf at a time.