Panelists: Money is Out There; Getting it to Minorities is the Problem Experts talk funding tech start-ups, small businesses at 2017 Future of Wealth Summit

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It’s no secret that people of color and women run into funding roadblocks on their paths to business ownership. The participants on the “Power Boost: Capitalizing Underrepresented Techpreneurs” panel know that fact firsthand. They also know there are still ways to persevere, and they shared some of those “overcoming” strategies.

Moderator Natalie Cofield of Walker's Legacy.

“I very rarely run into a founder of color who has not had an issue accessing capital; it doesn’t matter if it’s a tech start-up or a traditional business,” said moderator Natalie Cofield, founder and CEO of Walker’s Legacy.

Melissa Bradley, managing director of the venture capital firm Sidecar Social Finance and a Georgetown University professor, said the ecosystem for would-be minority entrepreneurs has never been stronger. The challenge, she said, is achieving sustained success.

Melissa Bradley of Sidecar Social Finance.

“The barriers to entry to being an entrepreneur have decreased dramatically; however, entrepreneurship, particularly for black and brown people as a pathway to wealth – that has become extremely hard,” she said. “We have to move beyond just asset-development to economic security to wealth creation.”

Jessica Norwood’s The Runway Project helps minority entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground by connecting them with mentors, networks, and potential funders. Such resources are especially needed in small towns like Norwood’s hometown – Mobile, Ala.

“There is a lot of great talent there, but the ecosystem is not as strong,” she said.

Jessica Norwood of The Runway Project.

Christopher Gray, the founder and CEO of the scholarship-matching app Scholly, said he initially had trouble even being taken seriously by potential funders. He recalled pitch sessions in which his two white co-founders got all of the questions.

“We would have meetings where the investors wouldn’t even acknowledge me. I was kind of undermined throughout that process,” said Gray, who eventually turned to grants to secure much of the seed money for Scholly, which now has more than a million users.

Christopher Gray of Scholly.

At the Urban Innovation Fund, May Samali helps secure capital for entrepreneurs with solutions for solving big-city problems such as homelessness, unemployment, traffic congestion, and lack of health access. She’s found that residents of urban communities have an advantage when it comes to crafting business ideas to combat such ills.

“They are coming from the communities from which these problems are deriving, so they understand these problems better than anyone else,” she said.

May Samali of the Urban Innovation Fund.

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