(Image via twitter.com/startupleaders)
We’ve heard before that Philly as a whole isn’t offering enough resources to entrepreneurs of color, with many industry folks specifically mentioning a need to reduce “barriers to entry.”
So earlier this year, in addition to the entrance of other resource-focused programs such as University City Science Center’s Launch Lane accelerator and The Enterprise Center’s Opportunity Funds, it seemed like a step forward when the City of Philadelphia granted $150,000 to Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) to be shared among entrepreneurs in PSL’s Founded in Philly accelerator program. The accelerator was the org’s first cohort of 20 idea-stage founders, and participants were able to apply for the grants to help fund the first stages of their business.
But as COVID-19 effectively wrecked the 2021 City budget — and the Department of Commerce, which funneled the money, is proposed to see its funding reduced — it’s unclear if funding like that will be available again any time soon.
On Wednesday, PSL Executive Director Kiera Smalls posted on Twitter calling out the previous funding, and wondering how something similar — a grant program (not an investment) — for underrepresented entrepreneurs who are building tech companies here could get started.
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
Within a few hours, the tweet had about a dozen replies from folks from the City, PACT, and other startup-adjacent organizations. And on Friday, Smalls tweeted a follow-up.
She announced that goPuff had committed up to $150,000 to help the org continue offering grants to underrepresented founders in Philly. goPuff is donating $100,000 upfront, and is “committed to match any company that donates to the grant program up to another $50,000.”
– @gopuff committed up to $150,000 to help us continue offering grants to underrepresented founders in Philly. They are donating $100,000, and are committed to match any company that donates to the grant program up to another $50,000.
Maybe dreams do come true? https://t.co/QYda6yuJsG
— Kiera Smalls (@KieraSmalls) June 5, 2020
The delivery startup confirmed it in a tweet of its own, saying it was granting the money to PSL and donating the same amount to Reform Alliance, an organization aiming to change the criminal justice system and its mass supervision laws, including probation and parole policies.
— goPuff (@gopuff) June 4, 2020
The company also tweeted that it would be starting a $500,000 fund to support Black and minority-founded startups, but it’s unclear if that fund will be based here in Philly, or nationally.
goPuff Director of Communications Liz Romaine responded to Technical.ly’s request for comment after this story was published on Friday afternoon, saying more info would be coming soon on the half-million-dollar fund.
“We have been fans of the work that Kiera Smalls and PSL have done to champion diversity in the Philadelphia community and are excited to work together to make our startup ecosystem more reflective of the demographics of our city — and help all communities truly progress forward,” she said about the grant. “We believe committing up to $150,000 to facilitate offering grants to underrepresented founders in Philly helps further advance their efforts.”
The company also addressed its past contribution to the Philadelphia Police Foundation, which is now under scrutiny in the wake of mass protests against police brutality for its reported funding of SWAT team equipment, drones and the like.
“This was a single, non-recurring $25,000 donation made last July,” goPuff said in a Twitter graphic, before denouncing police brutality and stating its support for communities, focusing on social just and equity.
The commitment from goPuff was swift, but Smalls said on Twitter that she’s hearing momentum around from other orgs and leaders, and hopes it’s not a single initiative.-30-
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