A Proof of Concept

My Takeaways from Camelback Venture’s Inspiring 2016 Showcase

In February I accepted a role as an Entrepreneurial Engineer with Camelback Ventures. There were a few things that made me excited about the role. I knew the role would be a unique opportunity to collaborate with startup founders who were in the thick of the emotional roller coaster experience of starting a company. I also knew that I would be working with entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups who looked like me and that are striving to show the world that they too can change the world through innovative businesses. Lastly, I knew that the accelerator program would commence with a showcase of the entrepreneurs after the six-month program.

But what I didn’t know is that my expectations would be shattered during Camelback Ventures’ 2016 Showcase. Yesterday I attended the event in Oakland’s new Kapor Center to see 10 founders share their products, milestones, and potential to a packed house of educators, investors and EdTech founders. A few attendees told me that they felt that this showcase was one of the best demo days they had ever seen given each entrepreneur was extremely genuine, passionate and perfectly equipped to address their business market problem.

Two Takeaways

The entire event also opened my eyes to two needs in the entrepreneurship ecosystem:

  1. A need for more accelerator programs like Camelback Ventures that provide as Aaron Walker said “the same three things all entrepreneurs need: Capital, Coaching, and Connections.” Most individuals aware of the tech diversity movement know about the slim percentage of women and minority founders that receive venture capital. I’m not saying all startups need to be venture-backed, but the Camelback Ventures showcase further proved my theory that there are a lot more talented entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities that are qualified to command this type of capital;
  2. The event opened my eyes to the need to build a pipeline of diverse investors. It is something I have been thinking about for a while since I started this journey to breaking into VC. I was so impressed with each Camelback founder and after seeing their results from bootstrapped business models I thought constantly about how if I had capital, I would have wrote checks on yesterday. Many entrepreneurs have the knowledge, talent, product and teams to succeed. However many times when they pitch, the investors on the other side of the table just don’t “get” the market or they don’t “get” the founder because the investor hasn’t met a founder of this mold. Well not every VC needs to “get” every market but we do need a variety of eyes inserted to into the investor community to expand the footprint of VC and build more successful companies. This is not a feel good motive but more of a capitalist one for me. I believe these two fronts of pipeline building (entrepreneurs and investors) can lead to a generation of iconic entrepreneurial success in new communities.

Below are blurbs on the ten companies (tech startups & social enterprises) that presented at Camelback Ventures 2016 Showcase last night. If you would like to be connected to any of the companies or founders please let me know and I make the introductions. Special thanks to Aaron T Walker and the Camelback Ventures staff for organizing such an inspiring event.

Tech Startups & Founders

Supergleu — Bryan Lattimore is the co-founder of Supergleu, a daily conversation app that prompts college students to connect and comment on industry news they care about.

Admit.Me — Eric Allen is the co-founder of Admit.me, a tools-based social networking platform. Admit.me levels the admissions playing field for applicants by offering guidance and connects global universities with a diverse range of applicants.

LiftEd — Andrew Hill is the co-founder of LiftEd, which makes life easier for special education teachers, therapists, and behavior analysts and accelerates learning outcomes for the ~7M students (preK-12) with learning disabilities.

TinyDocs — Sunny Williams is the founder of Tiny Docs, an online media platform that provides resources to educate kids and families about health issues in simple, easy to understand language. Tiny Docs’ cartoons inspire while they educate, replacing fear with knowledge and anxiety with confidence.

BLOC — Amina Yamusah is the founder of BLOC, a professional networking platform for black collegians on the rise. Connecting black collegians in a national bloc through the web and high power programming, BLOC works actively to close the black collegiate employment gap by 2025.

The Graide Network — Blair Pircon is the co-founder of The Graide Network, an online platform that connects middle and high school teachers with on-demand teaching assistants to grade and provide thorough feedback on student work.

Social Enterprises & Founders

YogaFoster — Nicole Cardoza is the founder of Yoga Foster, a nonprofit that empowers school teachers with yoga resources for the classroom. Yoga Foster delivers online training, curriculum, and donated mats to help create accessible and sustainable yoga programs.

Learning By Design — Charla Austin-Harris is the founder of Learning by Design, n innovative STEM-focused charter school (grades K-5) that utilizes personalized and project-based learning strategies within a student-lead environment.

Village of Wisdom — William Jackson is the founder of Village of Wisdom, a resource that provides technical assistance and capacity building to parent based organizing groups and other organizations whose primary concern is youth success within communities of color.

Brothers Empowered to Teach — Larry Irvin is the co-founder of Brothers Empowered to Teach, an initiative that aims to close the achievement gap for underserved students by inspiring and incentivizing men of color to choose education as a career starting in New Orleans.

Earnest Sweat is an Entrepreneurial Engineer for Camelback Ventures and an Investor in Residence for Backstage Capital. If you have any questions or requests please connect with Earnest through LinkedIn, Twitter, or AngelList.

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