Harlem Capital, a Black-founded, early stage venture capital firm, on Wednesday partnered with Forbes to host its More Equity virtual pitch competition to invest in up-and-coming Black, Brown and female founders. The prize: $40,000, as well as marketing services and mentorship from the Harlem Capital team.
Judged by Jewel Burks Solomon, managing partner at Collab Capital, Lolita Taub, cofounder and general partner at the Community Fund, and Jenny Fielding, managing director at Techstars and moderated by Mandela Dixon, founder and CEO of Founder Gym, the competition attracted 220 applications. To qualify, startups were required to have at least one woman or underrepresented individual among their founders, a focus on technology and less than $400,000 in funding to date.
The pool of applicants was narrowed down to five candidates, including:
DiaM: DiaM creates digital therapeutic software that helps users communicate with their doctors about, treat and manage their diabetes. The founder, Lorena Feliz Santos, has two sons with diabetes, and her passion for the project was evident in her pitch. “Parents, caregivers and diabetics have all experienced the minute-to-minute hardships of insulin, carb counting, calculations, highs, lows and much more,” she says. “DiaM started because I wanted to make a difference in how Digital Health proactively participates in the care and management of a diabetics life. Our vision is to empower Diabetics to live longer, happier, healthier and safer lives.”
Thimble.io: Thimble.io is a monthly subscription service that teaches kids STEM skills. With learning kits and software, as well as weekly classes, kids can learn about everything from building a robot to playing the piano. “Thimble.io is helping society adjust to and meet the changes in education,” says CEO Oscar Pedrosa.
Tequity: Tequity is a no coding required mobile app development platform. Founder Sydney Davis says many entrepreneurs have ideas for apps but do not have the skills they need to create them. Because of this, they assume they can’t take their businesses to the next level. Tequity solves that problem. “Tequity brings equity to tech.”
Paerpay: Paerpay is a contactless payment system that allows restaurants to promote social distancing while increasing payment security and reducing fraud, because customers don’t have to provide credit card information over the phone. “ “It doesn’t matter where you are as a restaurant,” says founder Derek Canton. “Our product will work for you, and we can do the setup and installation in a matter of hours.”
Lelu: Lelu was founded at Stanford University with the goal of helping more children become bilingual. The program manages how kids learn a language by providing live tutoring and digital support. “We define bilingualism as life with two languages,” says founder Anna Leyva. “Bilingualism is not a skill, but rather a lived experience and we help to make that lived experience happen fluidly.”
Ultimately, Tequity took home the $40,000 prize. “This is what it is all about, encouraging diversity of thought among community leaders to partner, to provide accessible and affordable app and web development software for those of any technical ability,” says Tequity’s Davis. “This is going to help so many entrepreneurs move their business forward and that is good for all of us.”
That’s been the goal for Harlem Capital founders and Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle since they launched the firm in 2015.
“A lot of investors are missing out on opportunities,” says Tingle, alluding to the large gender and race gaps in venture capital. In the past decade, just 0.0006% of all VC funding has gone to Black women founders. “That is why we created this competition, to not only find great startups to invest in, but to also show what is out there and the opportunities that can really change the landscape in so many areas.”
With a focus on women- and people of color-founded startups, the firm wants to invest in 1,000 entrepreneurs over the next 20 years.
“We fundamentally believe we are a venture fund with impact, not an impact fund,” Pierre-Jacques says. The way we generate impact is to give women and minority entrepreneurs ownership.”
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