Black businesses and social causes may no longer be looking to sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe as crowdfunding platforms to raise start-up capital. Now, equipped with a $20,000 fellowship from Yale University, six Morehouse alumni and Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers plan on their site, BlackStartUp.com, to become the go-to site for Black-based crowdfunding.
As a crowdfunding platform, BlackStartUp.com, allows Black businesses and social cause projects to raise capital through small investments from both within and outside of the Black community.
“African Americans consume technology at a higher rate, but it’s rarely made for us,” said one co-founder Nathan Bennett Fleming, 28. “We wanted to use it to address the issues in the community.”
BlackStartUp.com, became the first black-owned business to be awarded the Yale Entrepreneur Institute Fellowship, which awarded the company $20,000 in seed money and a 10-week boot camp at Yale University to be mentored by some of the greatest minds in the country.
Three of the six founders are currently in New Haven, Conn. participating in the boot camp.
Co-founder Bola Adewumi said their fellowship at Yale University has been an inconceivable blessing for their young company. The group has met with CEOs and executives from Google; General Assembly, a New York based start-up incubator; Business Insider and former YEI Fellows with successful startups.
“We’ve been getting great mentoring and the opportunity to change, to grow, learn and become better prepared,” said Adewumi, who works on web development for the BlackStartUp.com.
Although the frat brothers, who range in career paths from lawyers, business, media arts and lobbyist often talked about doing something to help the African American community while they were in college, it was not until years later when Bennett Fleming was working on Capitol Hill, that the plan became clear.
President Barack Obama’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act allowed regular people an opportunity to invest in security contracts once only available to accredited investors with a net worth of $1 million or have an income of at least $200,000 for the last two years.
“The JOBS Act was a breakthrough in security legislation,” said Bennett Fleming. “It gave us a great opportunity to allow our community to invest in itself.”
Before receiving seed money from Yale, the founders said they had only invested about $6,000 of their own capital into the company to create the basic website. Bennett Fleming said they were lucky to get funding early on to build the platform’s prototype.
BlackStartUp.com is currently in its beta testing phase allowing only 17 start-up businesses and social cause projects to use the platform while they work through the kinks and user ability.
“We’ve found that social impact and social causes resonate with users and have more likelihood of receiving funding,” said Bennett Fleming.
So far, an engineering summer camp for youth in New York; Girls Gone Global, an organization sending at-risk girls to study abroad; Make Music Count, an algebra group teaching math through pianos and others, have successfully received funding through BlackStartUp.com.
“When a business is successful, only a small number of people are impacted,” said Bennett Fleming. “But when a social project is successful, there are a large number of people that are impacted.”
Bennett Flemming said his vision is for BlackStartUp.com to become the largest community of Black investors in the world. He said the crowdfudnding platform will become a hub for Black businesses to find mentorship and support to learn from other entrepreneurs.
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