Founding Partner and Managing Director at DiverseCity Ventures
How a Diverse Background Led to DiverseCity Ventures: Mariah Lichtenstern’s Incredible Journey
“My life is an open book,” says Mariah, as we commence our conversation. “Feel free to ask me anything.” With breathtaking authenticity, candor and transparency, Mariah takes us through the incredible journey that has been her life.
I was raised in a very loving home environment, but my mom became disabled when I was eight.” she begins. “She and my step-father divorced when I was ten and I went into foster care at 14, where I met the paternal side of my family for the first time. My father was paraplegic, so I was fostered by my adult siblings. After several placements and moves – each farther away from my high school, and in increasingly troubled neighborhoods – I emancipated myself from foster care at 17 and moved closer to school and work.
When asked how she started off in tech, Mariah reflects, “I’ve always been a tinkerer.” She fondly reminisces on how she would hack into her brother’s phone conversations as a kid. Mariah showed an interest in engineering and was President of the “Future Business Leaders of America” club at her high school.
There were no role models,” she recalls. “No one who looked like me.
Mariah came of age during the era of Napster and Torrent. “While I never engaged in pirating music myself, this practice was commonplace among my friends. It opened my eyes to the fact that the music industry was being disrupted by these new streaming services. Media continues to be very technology-driven.”
Mariah majored in Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. While a student, she worked part-time and was also an active tutor. In 2001, she took on an internship, where she created documentaries with the Oakland Film Commission. Her interest in film inspired her to attend grad school and specialize in the business side of the film industry.
Today, Mariah is the Founding Partner and Managing Director of DiverseCity Ventures. She was hooked by the power of technology to address challenges surrounding entry points and social dynamics for underrepresented communities.
There are systemic barriers to entry,” she explains. “Lately, people have been more willing to speak to it. We see it in the NFL, Nascar and Basketball. Systemic racism has been institutionalized and is therefore implicit. The heuristics surrounding this ensure that economic power remains in the hands of a few. Part of the work that I’m doing now is just to question and demand change of those heuristics that damage the entire economy, separating and dividing us as people.
Mariah observes that her role as an investor can provide instrumental support.
If you have the passion and drive to achieve something, you can achieve it. We, as a community, need to eliminate the hurdles that are in people’s way. We need to support and encourage women who are mothers so that they can also be business owners. Motherhood should not be a barrier. It’s time that we write the rules, rules that make sense for the human experience.
Mariah often finds herself the only WOC (woman of color) in business situations, and has grown ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable.’
I am also known for saying that ‘I can’t afford to have Impostor Syndrome.’
I may not be the smartest or most powerful person in the room, but I have something to contribute and by golly, I have something to extract. I need to stay confident, present, focused and engaged on behalf of the women and minorities not in this room who are relying on me to represent them.
This story was written by Saranya Murthy, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn. Support our mission to celebrate more amazing women in tech, like the one featured here, by donating to AnitaB.org.