When an 11-year old is emceeing a pitch competition, you know you’re in for a interesting ride.
This was the case at MVMT50’s Pitch Black competition last Monday, featuring 11-year old Mikaila Ulmer of Me and the Bees as emcee while black founders pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges in hopes of getting mentorship and funding on the way to startup success.
Wes Riddick won the competition, his company Maximus Box is an subscription clothing company for big and tall men. Zuby Onwuta, meanwhile, won the audience choice. His company, ThinkAndZoom, built a hardware device that lets the visually impaired zoom in on an object to see it clearer, using their brain waves.
While pitches ranged from a motorcycle rider social app to a fast food waiting time app built by a formerly homeless CEO, they all received booming applause and cheers — much louder than an average pitch competition. There is an entrepreneurial passion and excitement among black founders and supporters, and diversity-focused events like Pitch Black are crucial in giving aspiring entrepreneurs exposure to the startup scene.
“It’s a welcoming opportunity for others to come in and explore and immerse themselves in that tech ecosystem, which is a new experience for many,” said Preston James, Pitch Black judge and CEO of DivInc.
DivInc is an incubator/accelerator focused on female and minority founders and the organization holds a pivotal spot for many diverse startup founders. It not only provides mentorship and guidance, but it also helps build a network for diverse entrepreneurs — a crucial component for CEOs of any color. And watching first time entrepreneurs try to navigate that path, without any guidance, was inspiration for James to create DivInc.
“What we were seeing was that a lot of talented people wanted to build businesses and were trying to leverage the tech ecosystem, startup ecosystem to do so, but not necessarily doing it in the most effective way,” said James.
To James, a more diverse talent pool brings in plurality of thought and background that creates a more robust startup ecosystem.
“By bringing in this demographic of people becoming more successful, others will be inspired as entrepreneurs. In addition to that — undoubtedly you will find people of color as well as women — mentors, advisors and investors begin to participate as well,” said James.
The goal is to foster and be a platform for diverse entrepreneurs who can create jobs and facilitate economic growth. Through partnerships with local universities, James hopes to build out the top of the funnel, and with time, there won’t even be a need for DivInc — its mission will have been met.
Austin leads the nation in startup activity, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t lead the nation as a hub for diverse entrepreneurs.
“We have a lot of number one accolades out there,” said James. “We want to add Austin becoming number one for tech diversity — we want to add that to the list.”