Winner of Lupe Fiasco's Brownsville Start Fund to pitch tonight on 'Planet of the Apps' - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Jun. 27, 2017 12:59 pm

Winner of Lupe Fiasco’s Brownsville Start Fund to pitch tonight on ‘Planet of the Apps’

Meet Bens Hilaire, whose life changed after winning the Brownsville pitch competition.

Hilaire pitches will.i.am on "Planet of the Apps."

(Courtesy image)

One of the contestants on tonight’s Planet of the Apps show on Apple Music will have a local connection. SubwayTalent comes out of Brownsville, Brooklyn, where it won a pitch competition last year run by Lupe Fiasco and Di-Ann Eisnor.

Created by Bens Hilaire, a Florida native who packed his bags and moved to Brownsville just over two years ago, the app is a marketplace that matches live musicians and event planners.

“My main thing is music: producing, rapping. I used to manage artists back in Florida and would hold events,” Hilaire explained by phone recently. “I went through this as an artist and also as an event planner. Me having that kind of background and dedication, I wanted to bring them together.”

Tonight, that dedication will be on full display to people with no shortage of vision. The judges on Planet of the Apps are Gary Vaynerchuk, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and will.i.am. They accept or reject contestants, and if accepted, make their pitch as to why they should become the contestant’s mentors. From there, the judges help their chosen companies navigate the world of venture capital and help them secure funding and grow the business.

Hilaire’s story is at once very different from and surprisingly similar to that of many startup founders. He has no background in technology, but after trying to make a living in the music and events industries he identified a problem and envisioned a way to solve it.

A friend of his told him about Fiasco and Eisnor’s Brownsville Start Fund competition, which was put on in 2016. Fiasco and Eisnor, a former Waze executive, were looking for a way to help develop some of the human capital in places with few resources and connections to the tech world, like Brownsville.

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Bens Hilaire, founder of SubwayTalent.

Bens Hilaire, founder of SubwayTalent. (Courtesy photo)

“In Silicon Valley and New York you have these good on-ramps where if someone’s willing to take the risks, they can really engage,” Eisno explained in a phone call with Technical.ly Brooklyn in 2015. “Entrepreneurship is really supposed to be about scarcity and solving problems. There are different kinds of entrepreneurs and we have to get back to solving problems. And there are plenty of people who have already identified problems but they don’t have a way to do anything with that.”

The Brownsville Start Fund offered winners a $5,000 prize, but as importantly, mentorship in continuing to build the product.

Hilaire entered the competition and was indeed one of the winners, and Eisnor became an important mentor for him.

“With Di-Ann, every single Friday I would meet up with her online tell her how it’s going and if we needed any help with anything,” he told Technical.ly. “Overall she plays a very important role. She gave me nice introductions, brought me into her network would explain how these companies succeeded, pointed me toward resources.”

Eisnor also invested her own money in Hilaire’s startup, allowing him to invest in developers to build a minimum viable product and to allow him to work on the company.

If it all sounds nice, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy ride.

When Hilaire got to New York he didn’t have any money at all. He had a number of odd jobs, worked at the mall and did freelance video work.

“The company itself started with me just going through hard times,” he explained. “It’s really a passion project. In 2015 I had all my cards declined. I was depressed, I was down. What I would do is go around with my camera and record performers in subways and started a website just for fun. We got great feedback and great local press and had people not from the subways asking if they could be on it. Two months later, that’s when I started it. I spent 2016 reading books, reading articles, watching videos, just learning.”

Hilaire couldn’t answer all the questions we had for him about the show. He said we’d just have to check it out tonight.

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