Williams has a BA in sociology with a minor in African American studies.
Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Kimberlee Williams C’97 leads a marketing firm in Newark.

August 2016 – Standing on a stage alone—any stage, even the small, semicircular one that Kimberlee Williams occupied for a TED Residency talk in New York City—can be scary.

This summer night, however, Williams, CEO of marketing firm Femworks and alumna of Drew University, radiated cool, right down to her bright red outfit, which matched the block letters of a TED logo stage right. During her seven-minute speech, she spoke deliberately and passionately about the business opportunities presented by the new “multicultural majority,” pausing at times to let certain words sink in.

“The multicultural population has increased in the nation’s most populous states: California, Texas, Florida and New York. This is where nearly half of all minorities reside,” said Williams, who started Femworks in 2004, nine years after earning a BA in sociology from Drew. “People, we are living history in the making. ‘Don’t be oblivious’—as my mother in law would say—or you and your business risk missing out on this opportunity.”

Williams was among 27 speakers at the first show of TED Residency, a new program in New York that turns entrepreneurs, artists and scientists into public speakers, seven minutes at a time. To prepare, the group met regularly for 13 weeks, and the night at the Green Space in SoHo was a graduation of sorts.

Data inspired several speakers, such as one who advocated for aggregating individual medical information to better understand and treat cancer. Others suggested solutions to problems like the relative dearth of women featured at industry conferences. One man simply told the story of how art—in his case the daily writing, photographing and posting of hand-written messages in social media—helped him overcome fear.

She started Femworks in 2004. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED
She started Femworks in 2004.
Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Williams’ speech pointedly noted the lack of media coverage around the emergence of minorities. Americans seemingly know more about England’s exit from the European Union than the soaring growth in minority-owned business at home. Specifically, the number of businesses owned by black women has grown 322 percent since 1997, according to Williams. Yet, a simple Google search of “small business owner” produces a screen of mostly white faces—a reality that Williams illustrated in a slide projected on a big screen behind her.

During her closing, Williams said the new multicultural majority represented a “tremendous opportunity for our nation. But first, we the people, news media, corporate America and policy-makers have to wake up to this reality.

“The question is, will you choose to slumber, while someone else eats your lunch?” Williams asked. “Or will you choose to trail blaze a new way forward and reap the benefit of new opportunities to expand, new markets for investment, new diverse suppliers, new living wage jobs and best of all, a new American experience?

“Well,” she added, “that is up to you.”