The black tech ecosystem is poised to become a formidable force with the launch of a brand new venture aimed at increasing the success rates of black-led tech-enabled startups.
The firm aptly named Collab, LLC hosted its launch party — CultureShock — during the Super Bowl LIII festivities. The organizers say Collab will strategically connect the underserved with underutilized resources. This includes connecting founders to investors, students from Atlanta Public Schools to laptops, and financial support to not only businesses but also community organizations.
It’s led by three successful Atlanta-based entrepreneurs — Jewel Burks Solomon, Justin Dawkins, and Barry Givens — who want to bring their collective expertise to a booming but disjointed ecosystem. Burks is the founder and CEO of Partpic Inc., which raised over $2 million in funding before being acquired by Amazon. Dawkins is the co-founder of Goodie Nation, a social impact pre-accelerator using technology to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Givens is the co-founder and CEO of Monsieur, a stealth-mode consumer robotics company.
“What we’re doing at Collab is not trying to get Silicon Valley to accept us but what we’re doing is creating our own ecosystem where we have to start from the ground up.”
“First and foremost, we’re going to be highlighting black tech companies,” Givens said in a face-to-face interview with UrbanGeekz about what Collab is setting out to achieve. “And over the years, with our backgrounds, we’ve built up relationships and networks where people trust us, and we want to relay that trust onto the startups that we’re helping. And so the definition of it is really in the name. We’re going to be building collaborations between all these different silos and making sure bridges are built. And then eventually we will actually raise a fund to invest in these companies while we’re helping them grow.”
While Burks and Givens exited their companies in the millions, the majority of black entrepreneurs do not see the same outcomes. In fact, it’s been reported that Burks is just one of 34 black women who has raised over $1 million in VC funding. The average is closer to $42,000 for black women, according to digitalundivided’s ProjectDiane report. And collectively, African Americans receive nominal venture investment across all sectors. So instead, the founders of Collab want the black community to know that there’s opportunity for startups outside of the two most overhyped bubbles in tech: Silicon Valley and raising venture capital.
“When people invest, they typically invest into things they know and trust,” said Givens. “If you’re a white male and you’re starting a company you hire a CTO, you’re going to hire a white male that’s probably in your fraternity or something of that nature. What we’re doing at Collab is not trying to get Silicon Valley to accept us but what we’re doing is creating our own ecosystem where we have to start from the ground up. So what we’re saying, if we can go out and build that first company, like Jewel’s company, that starts the first set of five millionaires and they go and invest in another five and they grow their company… begin to grow this tree of black investors and eventually, you have a black company that sells for a million dollars and that creates another group of venture capitalists. We have to start grassroots and we have to build it instead of trying to jump into a system that wasn’t built for us in the first place.”
In fact, Collab is looking at a long-term view to foster wealth-building and economic mobility. The trio sees varied options for companies, including non-traditional ways of raising capital. Still, they want to raise awareness for innovators who are interested in becoming accredited investors.
“But all companies aren’t built for venture capital,” said Givens. “If you scan the companies that are out there we have companies that a venture capitalist would never invest in but the only way that those companies know to be successful is to go raise venture capital money. Those companies are actually picked strategically in what they do. And so we have some companies out there that probably could be venture-backed that could go on to be billion-dollar companies, we have some companies out there that have the ability to do a million dollars in revenue a year but probably with an 80 percent margin. That might not be venture-backed but it would be great for an angel investor to get a dividend every year and just make a good return on his money every single month, every single year. A lot of black investors, their risk tolerance fits more with these companies but they don’t know that these companies exist. And so the role that those companies play is us teaching and hopefully, the people in the crowd understanding that there’s more opportunities out there than what you see in the venture capital world. And hopefully, the companies will learn that the only access to capital is not venture capital, but that you can go different routes to be successful.”
Atlanta is known for many things, besides being a hot tech hub in the South, the city has a strong stake in music, arts, and entertainment. But Collab is bringing a different perspective based on the black tech genius and collective economic empowerment. Even during Super Bowl, with so many opportunities to “turn up”, they wanted to test how many people would get behind this new historic endeavor.
“What we wanted to do was give people an opportunity to not just go out to the club, not just go out and do what we always do in Atlanta,” said Givens. “We had this idea that if we — well we wanted to test, if we put this calling out there and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing something for the city that’s going to have an economic impact not just for the weekend – the NFL comes and takes over for the week then they pack up their stuff and go — but if we say and tell people that we’re going to have an event and have a forever long-lasting impact, will they come, will they support? What you can see from the room is that our theory was proven correct and that’s why we’re starting something like this in Atlanta. Because all the pieces that we need within the black community, they’re all right here. This is the only place that I think something like this can start. And I think it’s the best place for it to spread once we get it going here.”
The CultureShock event took place at Ambient + Studio, a large industrial venue a stone’s throw away from the Super Bowl LIII venue. Other ecosystem partners for the event included The Gathering Spot, RIISE Ventures, Townsend & Lockett, LLC Attorneys at Law, and The Village Market. The Who’s Who of black tech innovators, creatives, influencers, entrepreneurs, and investors came out for the VIP reception followed by packed out one-of-a-kind after-party.
Additionally, the event showcased 15 innovative Atlanta startups, that shared their latest innovations in tech, film, health and fitness, music, beauty, sports, financial literacy, health and fitness, and more.
Tracey Pickett, Founder and CEO of Hairbrella, shared her thoughts on showcasing her brand at CultureShock and why the emphasis on collaboration is crucial. Hairbella is the world’s smartest rain hat with an innovative design that makes it fashionable and most efficient to protect hair.
“I really believe in the vision,” said Pickett. “I am good friends with Jewel who is also one of my investors. And I know she has invested significant resources of money, time and energy into making sure the entrepreneurs in Atlanta who come up behind her are successful. I feel like this has really solidified that effort and organized that effort to get everybody together to understand why we have to come together, why it’s important that we rally our resources together and make sure we are intentional about that effort to make our businesses successful. I think while we like each other’s posts on Instagram, while we might go to an event or two, it takes so much more than that to create a community around making businesses successful. And this is something that we’re doing to really organize the effort, bring everybody together, putting those resources in place to see us truly succeed and truly make it.”
Jasmine Crowe, Founder and CEO of Goodr, a social impact platform that rescues food waste to end hunger, also spoke to the necessity and synergy. “I accepted this opportunity because I think it’s just time,” she said. “It’s needed. It’s a good opportunity to get us all together and support each other in what we’re building.”
Davion Ziere, Founder and Chief Culture Officer at Culturebase, a mobile app-enabled digital hub to connect individuals to a city’s resources and community, shared how the merger of tech and culture is profound.
“For us we’re Culturebase, we’re all about the culture,” said Ziere. “That’s our business. And I think this is very important as a young black entrepreneur, creative, and artist. I know how to get plugged into those places. They’re everywhere. In tech I’m talking, to be frank, with old white dudes who don’t know the culture at all, they may understand but there’s certain type of stuff they don’t get. To have tech and culture coming together is very special. It’s needed. Because our culture is already valuable and technology is a tool to really take our culture to the next level.”
Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, the founder and CEO of EnrichHER, was one of the local influencers who attended the event. “Being part of a supportive ecosystem is a dream come true as an entrepreneur,” she said. “Organizations like Collab will help facilitate prosperity within the Atlanta business ecosystem.”
Main Image Collab LLC founders: Jewel Burks Solomon, Partpic; Justin Dawkins, Goodie Nation; and Barry Givens Monsieur, Monsieur [photo credit: Kunbi Tinuoye]
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