Summer 2020’s reckoning with American systemic racism and the ways it plays out in modern times — police brutality, the criminal justice system and the disproportionate access to healthcare among communities of color in a global pandemic — put a special focus on an issue known here in the Philly startup community for a long time: Founders of color don’t have the same access to resources and capital as their white counterparts.
In response, we saw corporations across the city double down on inclusion efforts, hire diversity experts to executive roles, and make donations to nonprofits or Black-owed businesses. But it shouldn’t take civil unrest to focus on the inequity in the startup world, local leaders said.
Within Philly Startup Leaders (PSL), one of the city’s best-connected orgs for entrepreneurs, former Director Kiera Smalls put these thoughts out into the internet with a tweet thread in June. Within days, she’d received $550,000 in commitments from the likes of the City of Philadelphia, delivery biz goPuff and funder Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
In a dream world, we set up a fund (whatever proper term) to administer grants to underrepresented entrepreneurs building tech companies in Philly. The City’s grant to @startupleaders is a start, but we can do more to make sure this isn’t a one time thing.
Am I just dreaming?
— Kiera Smalls (@KieraSmalls) June 3, 2020
Smalls told Technical.ly over the summer that this isn’t an “of the moment” reaction, and that the momentum continues in actions by company leaders and dollars spent: “If you think funding underrepresented founders is a charity, do us all a favor and start here and here,” she said.
Now, five months later, PSL has announced its Underrepresented Founders Fund, with companies like Sidecar, Stuzo and the Wyncote Foundation participating as contributors. The goal is to follow the format of its recent accelerator in offering grants to participants who applied for funding, but also to establish microgrants for founders in the community to help jumpstart their businesses, Smalls said in June. The idea is to focus on recruitment of more founders to the startup world, and to get more people to the starting line of entrepreneurship.
We are excited to introduce the PSL Underrepresented Founders Fund! What started as a tweet led to $550k in funds thanks to our donors to ensure Philly's underrepresented founders are given the opportunity to succeed. 🙌 Learn more about how we got here: https://t.co/if5NHBQdE0 pic.twitter.com/Cq4Bsegz08
— PhillyStartupLeaders (@startupleaders) November 25, 2020
Grant criteria varies from each donor to cover Philadelphia’s tech entrepreneurs who identify as people of color, women, low-income and LGBTQIA+, the org said. Individual funding amounts were not disclosed. The fund’s site lists 16 founders working in industries like tech, hospitality, health and wellness, real estate and recruiting. Some previously Technical.ly-covered founders benefitting from the fund include Bruce Marable of Employee Cycle, Adit Gupta of Lula, Ashley Turner of Philly Tech Sistas and Shannon Morales of Echo Me Forward. The others are:
- Joelle Tolifero, Your Care Collective
- Liz Vaysman, Dacha Family LLC
- Gaurang Bham, Phoodie
- Michael Costantini, This Is Opportunity
- Shannon O’Neill, MMURE
- Stephanie Gillen, Grand Decor
- Xan Hong, ONTrac
- Amanda Olsen, Givzie
- Khalil Lewis, BuySellRentMe.com
- Dana Mahoney, Rollo Mental Health
- Linda Donoho, Vent
- Abu Kamara, Grovara
And Comcast NBCUniversal, which last month launched RISE, a three-year initiative to help U.S. small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic to get back on their feet with grants, marketing and tech updates, announced today its first round of recipients. The list includes more than 130 Philly-area small businesses.
The businesses are from a wide variety of sectors, including real estate, financial services, retail, hospitality, entertainment, media, legal, education and home services.
Nationally, more than 700 businesses were selected to receive consulting, media and creative production services from Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable, or technology upgrades from Comcast Business, based on the specific needs.
RISE is part of a $100 million diversity, equity and inclusion initiative that Comcast launched this summer, and the first round of applicants was focused on Black-owned businesses. Beginning today, all Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-owned small businesses are eligible to apply.
“As we’ve gone through the selection process, it’s been so powerful to hear these business owners’ stories and see the tangible ways that we can help grow their businesses and impact their communities,” said Teresa Ward-Maupin, SVP for digital and customer experience at Comcast Business, in Wednesday’s announcement. “I could not be more pleased to open this program to the entire BIPOC community and continue this positive momentum.”
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