Durham News

American Underground seeks to bring black founders to Durham

Start-ups are working on all four floors of the American Underground @ Main building. American Underground is working to increase the number of African-American led start-ups in Durham.
Start-ups are working on all four floors of the American Underground @ Main building. American Underground is working to increase the number of African-American led start-ups in Durham. hlynch@newsobserver.com

American Underground wants to bring African-American-led startups from across the nation, and possibly the globe, to the Bull City to help them secure funding and explore the systemic biases and challenges they face.

American Underground recently announced the program focused on supporting black business founders seeking to raise a seed round of capital under $750,000. The Black Founders event is part of the Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange Program, an initiative that seeks to connect startup companies and hubs across the country to share expertise.

Eight to 12 founders will be chosen to participate in the program, said Adam Klein, the Underground’s chief strategist. The deadline to apply is Aug. 23.

The goal is to help at least half of the participants find funding through private investors within nine months of the event, said Klein and Jesica Averhart, director of corporate partnership.

The weeklong program, which will include mentoring, training and networking, will run Oct. 9-15. That coincides with Black Wall Street Homecoming, which brings in venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and others to Durham. The event will culminate with a private pitch event for the participants with investors.

When they started organizing the program, they considered a broader program with other minorities, Klein said, but as they worked through planning the initiative decided to narrow the focus to black founders and addressing related fundraising challenges.

Throughout the year the Underground has programs for various minority-led startups.

American Underground houses 250 startups at four sites – three in Durham and one in Raleigh – where entrepreneurs get free mentoring and other help.

The Underground, one of 10 “tech hubs” in North America chosen by Google to be part of its entrepreneurial program, Google for Entrepreneurs, is seeking to become the most diverse startup incubator by the end of 2016.

“So far I think we are making good progress for that,” Klein said.

At the end of 2015, 30 percent of the Underground’s startups were led by women and 22 percent were led by minorities. Those numbers are significant, Averhart said, considering that a study about two years ago indicated that about 7 percent of tech firms were led by women and 1 percent were led by minorities.

The goal was set for a number of reasons, Averhart and Klein said, including a tech culture that has been dominated by white men and not reflective of the country and its consumers.

That led us to the conclusion that for businesses to be successful serving diverse customers they need to have a diverse team, Klein said.

“Bottom line,” Averhart said, “is it better for business?”

For more information and to apply, go to www.gfeexchange.com/black-founders-durham/

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

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