UrbanGeekz has teamed up with Valor Ventures and The Gathering Spot for Startup Runway, a pioneering initiative to help women and minority entrepreneurs secure seed capital. Launched this month, the pitch series connects high impact startups with sophisticated early stage investors who are serious about writing checks.
“No venture pitch event in our area has focused specifically on founding teams that feature women or minorities,” says Lisa Calhoun, founding partner at Valor Ventures and event co-host. “Startup Runway is a physical space to tune that conversation face-to-face with committed, quality investors. It will open greater opportunities for founders and investors alike.”
Open exclusively to startups headquartered in the Southeast, the seed stage venture event series aims to connect investors with the wealth of talent often overlooked in Atlanta and across the region. In fact, Georgia takes the top spot in the U.S. for women entrepreneurs and ranks number 2 in the country for black-owned businesses.
The groundbreaking series is a novel concept to bridge the gap between racially and gender diverse founding teams and their ability to access venture capital funding. In many instances, minority-informed startup teams struggle to get financing past friends-and-family and the angel-stage investment.Ryan Wilson, founder at The Gathering Spot and event co-host, is a Millennial African-American business leader who personally experienced challenges pitching his business for capital.
“Access to capital is one of the most important aspects of starting any business,” says Wilson. “For minority and women-led companies gaining access to potential investors and pitching your concept is often more difficult. Startup Runway will change that conversation by bridging this gap and creating direct connections and broadening the community of success in innovation.”
Startup Runway also distinguishes itself by its focus on seed capital. “Atlanta and the Southeast have terrific forums for angel capital and for more traditional venture capital,” says Calhoun. “We want Startup Runway to create a feeder pipeline for these ecosystems.”
Earlier this week UrbanGeekz caught up with Calhoun who candidly talked about her plans for Startup Runway.
What motivated you to launch Startup Runway?
Head and heart –I know Atlanta and the Southeast have the scrappiest, toughest, kindest entrepreneurs anywhere, but somehow our ecosystem isn’t yet pulling the full opportunity out of the many assets we have. I hope Startup Runway will add to the already significant list of incredible options for startups here in Atlanta. I want the few gaps we have in our entrepreneurial ecosystem to become onramps to opportunity. An event that sources specifically from the best of women and minority founders in a region that’s a national leader in both seems a natural next step.
What do you hope to achieve/what’s your ultimate vision?
I’d like to see the Southeast, which already has 40% of the population of the U.S., soar into its natural leadership position as a leader in next-generation entrepreneurship. I see Startup Runway contributing to that by surfacing innovative leaders we already have, with an interface that’s just a couple shades more friendly for minority founders.
How does the pitch series work?
It’s a basic block and tackle startup pitch. Startups apply through the website, www.startuprunway.co. They get evaluated by our team, including a representative from mission control and one from the investors who have signed up for the program. The top 25% of applications are invited to a pitch simulation for further coaching. The top 10% of all applications are invited to our showcase November 3.
Why did you decide to partner with The Gathering Spot?
Ryan, the co-founder, and I just talk about these sorts of things–entrepreneurship, investing, the trajectory of tech in the region. It was a natural outgrowth of our conversation.
What companies/startups would be a good fit for this program?
The best place to go for that is the website, www.startuprunway.co.
When it comes to tech startups everyone thinks about Silicon Valley but I think I’m right in saying Atlanta’s startup ecosystem is going from strength to strength?
We certainly need to play to our strengths. The startup hubs, like London or Silicon Valley or New York, are each unique. Atlanta is unique.
Data clearly shows women and minorities receive less funding… what’s the issue?
Great question–it may be visibility. It may be a legacy of culturally segregated networks. One thing is for sure: more visibility on the issue will only help. It’s a sign of how open the opportunity is when you look at the investors coming to Startup Runway–Jump Capital in Chicago, ffVC in New York, Conetic from Cinncinnati, Bull City Ventures, Tech Square Labs–all have a specific desire to simply find great startups. They’re investing their time and their money in Startup Runway in the belief that they may find the next Southeastern tech leader.
I know you’re the founding partner of Valor Ventures… tell us about this organization?
Valor is a venture capital partnership that seeks top financial returns for our partners through a sourcing strategy that pays particular attention to minority and women tech founders. There’s a lot more at valor.vc and we welcome folks to sign up for our newsletter about what we’re up to and where we’ll be next.
-Applications open today at www.startuprunway.co
-The final deadline to apply for the fall series is September 30.
Images: Main Photo [photo credit Kunbi Tinuoye], Supplementary Image [Photo Credit: Muriel Vega/Hypepotamus]
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter@Kunbiti