(L-R) Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Obi Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo founded BearWay Capital to invest in minority-owned businesses by providing them with access to funding and networking opportunities. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

On Aug. 1 BearWay Capital will commence its HBCU New Venture Challenge, a business plan competition for students enrolled in the top 21 historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) in the country. The venture capital firm will announce its winner on Nov. 1 and the grand prize will be $25,000 in seed funding. 

The five founding partners of BearWay Capital include Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Obi Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo, and each of them graduated from Morgan State University’s school of engineering. When they were students there, they found themselves immersed in an environment where new business ideas flourished, but they noticed that their fellow students were not receiving the proper funding to turn these ideas into reality. Instead, venture capital firms were primarily investing in young entrepreneurs at predominantly White institutions, according to Igwilo. 

“No one person has a monopoly on good ideas,” said Igwilo. “However, the difference is that there is a lack of equitable access in funding for the underrepresented entrepreneurs, but what BearWay Capital is really trying to achieve through this competition is to address this funding gap that exists and focus the spotlight on the HBCUs.” 

The competition will consist of four rounds, three of which will be run virtually and one that will be held in-person, and the students can participate by themselves or in teams. In the first round, students will submit a 200-word executive summary and a 90-second video to pitch their business idea. Students that advance to the second round will submit a detailed business plan, and BearWay Capital will provide them with a template so that they can get an idea of what is expected of them. 

The third round will consist of virtual live presentations in which students will present an updated version of their initial business plan to a panel of judges. In round four, the competition will culminate in a public presentation held at Morgan State University. Throughout the latter rounds, BearWay Capital will mentor the young entrepreneurs. 

“At that point, we want to make sure that they’re getting the right skill sets and getting the right mentorship that allows them to get the best possible idea of putting it in a format that is accessible to those who will be judging, as well as the general public,” said Kalesanwo. 

Apart from the seed money, the winners will also receive mentorship from industry experts to help them accelerate their business. Although there will only be one winner, students will still have the opportunity to publicize their entrepreneurial endeavors, and BearWay Capital may invest in them in the future.

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