American Underground will address the well-documented funding gap for black founders head on next month when it invites 10 startups from around the U.S. to its Durham campus to meet investors and prep for fundraising.
For the second year in a row, Google for Entrepreneurs has partnered with the Underground, ExitEvent’s parent company, on an exchange program for black founders. The week-long bootcamp includes programs, speakers and one-on-one time with top investors like Silicon Valley Bank, Durham’s Southeast TechInventures, 42 Venture Partners of New York and Backstage Capital of Los Angeles, as well as Google’s team and well known local mentors. It’s held in timing with Black Wall Street: Homecoming, a celebration of Durham’s heritage as a city of entrepreneurs.
Last year, Backstage offered convertible notes to five of the participating companies and the entire group (pictured top) went on to raise more than $1 million collectively. A year later, one company is close to “a very major fundraising milestone,” says Adam Klein, American Underground’s chief strategist.
But the biggest win for the program were the connections built between teams from across the U.S., who Klein says regularly share networks and introductions.
American Underground and Google for Entrepreneurs worked together to narrow a field of 110 applications down to 10 this year. Half the teams come from other Google for Entrepreneurs tech hubs, and three have local connections.
Loanable, founded by Bernard Worthy who works full time as a developer at Durham deve shop CrossComm, provides a simple way for people make loans to family or friends.
2020 Shift’s New York-based founder and CEO Ariel Lopez graduated from East Carolina University in 2012. She’s working with a variety of companies and organizations to recruit and retain minority talent through leadership development and skills training programs.
And Partake Foods, a gluten-free, allergy-friendly snack company, has UNC-Chapel Hill grad Denise Woodard as founder. More on the rest of the participants below.
It’s still too soon to know if Backstage or another investor will fund companies after the event, but Google and American Underground are sweetening the deal for each attendee with all-expense paid trips to the Bay Area following the program, which include meetings with investors there. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is also providing a student intern to each company throughout the program.
And the founders of Y Combinator graduate AptDeco, a New York-based online used furniture marketplace, will share thoughts on their accelerator and fundraising experience during the week. The company participated in Y Combinator in 2014 and raised $2.5 million last year.
The week culminates with a Demo Day pitch event open to the public and Black Wall Street Homecoming attendees on Friday October 13.
Meet the rest of the teams here:
Please Assist Me of Nashville is a startup that provides personal assistant services that range from laundry to grocery delivery to housekeeping. Founder Stephanie Cummings was inspired to create an affordable service for busy families nad working professionals after her own struggles balancing work and personal responsibilities. Her goal is to provide the service to anyone regardless of gender or financial status.
DisputeDoc is a six-month-old company started by former professional basketball player Ronnie Cropper, brand strategist Ashlene Nand, and experienced software executive Troy Walker, all of Atlanta. Their goal upon launch is to make it easy and affordable—$25 per month—to make disputes on a credit report.
Reciprocare’s founder Charlene Brown is a Harvard Medical School graduate and medical doctor who has worked as medical officer for USAID and adjunct professor at Emory University. Two years ago, she started this company to match caregivers with employers in the growing home care and long term care industries. The company has won numerous awards and participated in the Halcyon Incubator in Washington D.C.
Partake Foods raised over $30,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign a year ago to bring their gluten-free and allergy-friendly snack brand to life. After their young daughter was diagnosed with several food allergies, founders Denise and Jeremy Woodard of New York City, set to work with a James Beard award winning gluten-free chef to create a line of mini cookies that lack the eight most common allergens in food. Denise Woodard has experience in consumer packaged goods—she spent years at The Coca-Cola Company, most recently as director of national sales and emerging brands.
Ilerasoft is a St. Louis-based company that helps hospital systems store medical equipment data, monitor equipment usage and product recalls and share the data across departments. Founded by Kwaku Owusu, a former business analyst at Hewlett Packard, the company is part of the first cohort of a minority-founder focused accelerator called the Hillman Accelerator in Cincinnati, which came with a $100,000 investment.
ScrapSports, at just four months old, bills itself as a social media platform for athletes, coaches and fans. Its founder is Niesha Butler, a CBS Radio sports reporter, host and actress who played basketball for Georgia Tech. The team is based in Atlanta.
Zyrobotics is an Atlanta startup that’s racked up quite a bit of press since its 2013 launch. The company makes a variety of educational apps and toys meant to improve accessibility to technology and STEM for kids with special needs. CEO Johnetta MacCalla has 30 years of experience running technology companies and holds a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. CTO and co-founder Ayanna Howard is a professor at Georgia Tech and a former robotics researcher for NASA. She was named one of the most powerful women engineers in the world in 2015 by Business Insider.
Civic Eagle makes CRM tools for political campaigns, policy organizations and political leaders as well as a citizen-focused app for people to learn about local government and elected officials, policy issues and relevant political news. The Minneapolis company was founded in 2014 by Damola Ogundipe, a serial entrepreneur who also runs Sky Resort Studios which turns shipping containers into music production studios. Ogundipe is also a Code 2040 Entrepreneur-in-Residence, working on diversity initiatives at the Google for Entrepreneurs tech hub called COCO in Minnesota.