The Enterprise Center just awarded $200K in its first pitch competition for minority founders
Sarah Huffman & Julie Zeglen
Amid ongoing calls to make more funding and startup resources more accessible in Philadelphia, eight founders of color showed off their companies and competed for prize money at The Enterprise Center’s (TEC) Most Diverse Tech Hub Pitch Competition on Tuesday afternoon.
This program was funded by a $125,000 grant from the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce through the Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative and a matching grant from TEC’s Community Development Financial Institution.
At the beginning of the summer, West Philly-based TEC, a 30-year-old organization that provides business growth and economic support resources to minority entrepreneurs, accepted applications from businesses located in Philadelphia, 51% or more minority owned, and focused on technology in some way.
The selected companies went through a 10-week accelerator program where they received business exposure, mentoring and workshops related to growing their business.
As the culmination of this program, eight companies pitched to a panel of judges at the competition.
- BioLattice is a tissue engineering company with the goal of helping ideas for medical products actually become solutions available for patients.
- MineMe is creating a platform where internet users can have more control over their data while also providing ethically sourced data sets to companies.
- We Are Tech is developing a learning management system to standardize digital literacy education and fill the gaps for K-12 learners.
- SneakPeek is an AI-based sneaker authentication platform.
- Vital Start Health created a virtual reality based reproductive and maternal wellbeing platform for people struggling with mental health issues due to fertility, pregnancy or postpartum.
- Win Win Coffee is a digital platform for small farmers to sell coffee to bigger western buyers.
- SkyPie Travel is an ecommerce marketplace of local vendors where travelers can purchase goods in the air and receive them when they land at their destination.
- QuneUp developed software to organize information about production equipment and parts.
Brittany Jenkins, founder of We Are Tech, told Technical.ly that one of the biggest benefits of the program was access to financial advisors and other experts. She said she didn’t previously know a lot about the finance skills it takes to run a business, and the chance to learn from someone who does was beneficial.
After doing this accelerator, Jenkins said she feels ready to keep growing with her business.
Justin Kelly, cofounder of SneakPeek, said at first, he was mostly looking at the potential prize money and didn’t realize all the other benefits of the accelerator. However, the access to advisors and other resources ended up making the experience unique.
Equity was at the heart of the program. Though people of color have great ideas or skills, Jenkins said, they often don’t get the resources to grow them into a successful business. Having access to opportunities such as the Most Diverse Tech Hub Pitch competition allows founders of color to build their businesses and generally increase economic equity.
Four of the eight companies were awarded monetary prizes. Here’s who won:
- SneakPeek came in fourth place, winning $20,000.
- QuneUp came in third place, winning $40,000.
- MineMe came in second place, winning $60,000.
- BioLattice came in first place, winning $80,000.
Sarah Bondzie, associate investment and loan officer at TEC, said she was happy to see all of the people who came out for the pitch competition — a few dozen, by this reporter’s estimate. The only thing she would change for the future would be to get even more people involved.
“We wanted an audience to really understand the impact that the tech sector [has] within Philadelphia,” Bondzie said. “That’s what I was able to see today.”
This was the first pitch competition TEC has hosted. At the event, the organization announced plans for its next competition, the Visionary Pitch Competition, which will be open to businesses of any industry, based anywhere in the country. Bondzie said TEC plans to host one pitch competition every year going forward.
“Now we’re going to get a broader pool of companies that are diverse founders that want a chance to obtain a big amount of funds,” Bonzie said. “We’re hustling to get these resources for these founders. Now that we’re able to, we really want to be heard more.”