The name Tanya Sam might not ring a bell if your eyes are not glued to Bravo TV’s current season of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” (RHOA) each Sunday night. But ask any avid viewer of the reality television show and you will know Sam has left her mark among the Georgia peaches. That, however, is only one of the many avatars of this Atlanta resident who is also lighting up the food and startup technology scene.
Of People and Places
Born in Toronto, Sam was immersed in African and British culture and cuisine from childhood. Her father is from Ghana and her mother was English. “I had two very distinct and celebrated heritages while growing up that I am grateful for. They informed who I am in a significant way,” she says.
With her father still living in Ghana, Sam heads back often to visit. She enjoys Ghanaian food and whips out her pots and cast irons on occasion to indulge in some traditional dishes including jollof rice and kelewele (fried plantains). Apart from Ghana, Britain and Canada, Sam has traveled extensively for work and leisure. “To experience the world is such a gift, from a young age my parents instilled that.”
She counts Richard Branson’s private island, Necker Island, among one of her favorite travel destinations as she and her fiancé, serial technology entrepreneur and investor Dr. Paul Judge, got engaged there. The couple also recently spent three weeks touring parts of Asia together. At the time of this interview, she had just returned from a philanthropic trip to the Dominican Republic with the American Jewish World Service, gaining first-hand exposure to grassroots initiatives by and for locals, especially at-risk teenage girls and the LGBT community.
Spending the past eight years in Atlanta, Sam says, “This is an easy place to call home and build businesses. People are friendly and happy to help; it has a small town/big city feel. But Atlanta food is delicious, and food is the way to my heart. I am happy in places where I love the food.”
Some of her favorite restaurants in the city include Umi, Ecco, Big Daddy Tacos and The Optimist. Local spots she frequents are The Inn at Serenbe, Mandarin Oriental Spa and CinéBistro for dinner and a movie. She also enjoys heading to the Fox Theatre. “I love musicals, live music and concerts,” says Sam who also includes Hartsfield International Airport on her list of favorite spots, “because I love airports to take me places.”
Community and Relationships
The Director of Partnerships at TechSquare Labs, a technology startup hub and venture capital fund, was a registered oncology nurse in a previous life but now works to bring more women and minorities into business and technology. She is the co-founder of BuiltxWomen, a business accelerator for female entrepreneurs and people of color and also leads Ascend 2020, a technology startup and small business pre-accelerator for minority and female founders.
Sam is also a board member at Atlanta-based nonprofit Kate’s Club, an organization dedicated to grief services and support for bereaved children. “I lost my mom when I was 12-years-old, there was nothing like this around,” she shares. “Grief is one of those things that we need to talk about more.” Sam has been equally vocal about her invitro journey and infertility, amidst other topics she has broached on RHOA over the last few episodes.
“This show was a great opportunity to do something a little bit different. You just can’t deny the viewership,” she shares. Sam considers the show an avenue to feature a strong Black company as well as a strong Black couple building businesses on television. “I think representation matters in this day and age, and truly technology is the future.”
Calling the Shots
Jumping from a corporate role to one that’s entrepreneurial wasn’t easy. “I come from nursing where we were always prepared. I was reluctant to take the leap into entrepreneurship because I never felt prepared,” she confides. Her first experience was in 2013 with Limitless Smart Shot, a 2-oz beverage she created that served as a performance boost for the brain to increase focus, attention and memory.
Though not in production anymore, interesting developments have resulted with the related intellectual property and plans for another energy drink are on the horizon.
When commended on managing her multiple roles effortlessly, Sam assures it is a matter of making fulfilling life choices. “I don’t know who perpetuates the idea that as women we are all supposed to do it all, all the time,” she says. “We have to stop putting pressure on ourselves to have it all and look it all. It’s pervasive and I do not even aspire to that. It’s just impossible, and I’m okay with it. You have to be true to yourself. It has to come from your heart.”