When it comes to tech startups, most people think of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Uber’s Travis Kalanick. In a predominantly male and white ecosystem, it can be difficult for women and minority-led companies to stand out and raise angel investment or venture funding to scale their technology ventures.
Still, companies owned by African-American women generate an impressive $44 billion a year, according to an editorial published in Forbes. Yet the average tech startup founded by a black woman only raises $36,000 in venture funding, compared to the $41 million raised by companies that exit.
The discrepancy does not end there. There is little to differentiate black women founders from their peers, especially when it comes to education. The two most common alma maters of this group are Harvard and Columbia. But even with the esteemed networks of alumnus among these institutions, black-owned tech startups are still not seeing the same benefits.
Not only is there a lack of diversity when it comes to who receives funding, but there is also a lack of diversity among the venture capital firms themselves. According to a 2015 study by Social+Capital, the senior investment teams of many prominent VC firms consist primarily of white men, some without a single woman or underrepresented minority in a leadership position.
So in an effort to showcase women-and-minority-owned tech startups and combat the scarcity of funding, venture capital firm Valor Ventures has teamed up with The Gathering Spot to curate the Startup Runway. The annual pitch series, which took place earlier this month at The Gathering Spot in midtown Atlanta, connects investors with high-impact startups. Open exclusively to businesses headquartered in the Southeast, Startup Runway seeks to shine a light on tech startups with the most diverse founding teams and their potential for growth.
The inaugural pitch event featured an array of different tech-centric startups in various industries, including online shopping, fundraising, accounting, and more. Representatives from some well-known capital firms and organizations, including Tech Square Ventures, Connetic Ventures, and The Jump Fund, were on-hand to judge the competition.
This year’s winner was Sam Ulu, CEO and founder of Kandid.ly, an online marketplace to find, book, or become a photographer. Ulu was selected to receive a $5,000 no-strings-attached check, as well as an invitation to LaunchTN’s 36|86 main stage, featuring some of the most sophisticated investors and firms in the Southeast. The pitch contest was also a chance to forge relationships with investors (who selected the winner) that may well result in future investments by those VC firms.
Ulu spoke with UrbanGeekz about what this recognition means to him. “I’m honored to have been chosen out of all the high-caliber startups that were involved,” Ulu said. “It’s not just me, there’s a very talented team behind me.” When asked what he plans to do with the prize money, Ulu said that he not only plans to streamline his platform, but he playfully added, “I’m actually planning an office party, so it will definitely be helpful.”
In total, seven startups pitched for a chance to win the grand prize. They were selected from 78 applicants through a peer voting process ranked on growth, team, traction, and inclusion.
“We believe in simply sourcing the best of the best deals for our partners,” said Lisa Calhoun of Valor Ventures, who spearheaded the pitch contest. “Startup Runway is one leg of our unique deal flow strategy and gives us a first look at top innovation from minority entrepreneurs.”