Grammy award-winning artist, actor, and entrepreneur Ludacris made an unexpected appearance at the Venture Atlanta conference, where he used his celebrity to bolster his partnership with Roadie Inc., a mobile app-based shipping platform.
Chris Bridges, aka Ludacris, took to the stage moments after Roadie chief executive Marc Gorlin pitched his company to a room full of bankers, venture capitalists, angel investors, technology innovators, and seasoned entrepreneurs.
“Me being a techie, I’m always interested in new apps and just trying to figure out which ones are here to stay and which ones are here today and gone tomorrow,” Ludacris told the crowd of around 700 attendees at Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta last Tuesday. “I was extremely intrigued when I heard about this [Roadie] and I’m glad I got the chance to partner with them.”
Roadie, which publicly announced its partnership with Ludacris last month, connects people with items to send with drivers who are already heading in the right direction. In a nutshell, the Atlanta-based tech startup enables a more cost-efficient, faster, greener shipping option for consumers and businesses. Since launching in January 2015, the Roadie app has been downloaded more than 130K times and built a community that spans 50 states.
“It’s innovative, creative, and great that we’re creating jobs,” said the rap mogul. “It’s totally different from all those travel companies we’ve seen before. It’s people helping people.”
Rise of celeb techpreneurs
Dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, Ludacris looked every bit the rapper-turned-award winning actor. Yet he joins a growing number of savvy entertainers using their star status to try their hand at entrepreneurship by backing innovative startups.
Indeed, the Fast & Furious actor was in good company. Venture Atlanta, the Southeast’s premier investor conference, has earned a reputation for identifying cutting-edge technologies while also helping more than 200 companies secure over $1.5 billion in funding.
Now entering its 14th year, the annual two-day event held October 20-21 gives early and venture stage companies a platform to present their company to the region’s technology community along with seasoned investors who fly into Georgia from across the United States.
Emceed by radio and television personality Dana Barrett, this year’s conference gave opportunities for 32 presenting companies to pitch, network, and meet potential investors. Standout startups such as Gimme, LoveMath, and Menguin along with venture spotlight companies like Roadie and LogFire all wooed the crowd with their slick presentations.
Big names in the world of business, including “Shark Tank” investor Lori Greiner; Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah; and Jeff Sprecher, Intercontinental Exchange founder, chairman and CEO also took to the stage in a strong lineup of speakers and panelists.
Unique opportunity to connect startups with top-tier investors
“This year had one of the most competitive selection processes in the history of the conference, resulting in an extremely impressive list of presenting companies,” said Philip Lewis, principal, Fulcrum Equity Partners and a Venture Atlanta board member. “These high-caliber companies put the spotlight on Georgia as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and innovation that is driving attention and investment from top-tier VCs throughout the country.”
“This is the third year that we’ve been at the conference and it’s been a great venue for cultivating relationships with investors as a well as entrepreneurs who are obviously here to find sources of capital,” said Derrick Williams, managing director at U.S. Strategic Capital, an investment banking firm that provides advisory and capital raising services to financial institutions, private equity funds, and small businesses.
“We’ve got some good momentum,” said Williams, a Yale-educated African American who has risen through the ranks of corporate America. “What they’re trying to do in Atlanta is increase exposure and access to capital. I think a venue like Venture Atlanta, as it continues to grow, will certainly help in putting Atlanta on the map.”
Tech firms headed by minorities tend to raise less capital
Venture Atlanta connects companies with the capital and relationships needed to grow their business. Still, various data indicates tech companies led by African Americans raise less money from venture capital than other businesses do. What is clear is that minority entrepreneurs have to navigate an uneven landscape with variation in opportunity depending on their background.
“We are agnostic in terms of opportunities,” said Williams. “As an African American one of my charges is to find not only minority investors but minority opportunities and hopefully bridge the gap that minority entrepreneurs have in terms of the dearth of opportunities or access to capital.”
“Atlanta because of where it is attracts a lot of minority entrepreneurs, and hopefully we’ll begin to build up the investor network that will help meet the demands of these entrepreneurs that are coming out with phenomenal ideas.”
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