Amid months of protest this summer, as more of the world began to awaken to the many ways that people of color are systemically discriminated against, a wide number of companies announced initiatives aimed at improving the representation of underrepresented groups within their own ranks and as recipients of their investment dollars.
Unsurprisingly, Alphabet, among the world’s biggest and most profitable companies, was among them. Specifically, as part of Alphabet’s commitment, Jewel Burks Solomon — who is the head of the company’s nine-year-old program Google for Startups — agreed to help steer $5 million in cash rewards of up to $100,000 to select startups.
The company didn’t waste much time. Today, Solomon is announcing that the money has been committed to 76 startups that were chosen for their geographic diversity as well as the diversity of their companies’ mission.
Solomon and her team had some help. All the founders to receive the non-dilutive funding have participated previously in either Google’s Founder Academy in Atlanta, which is an eight-month-long program for 40 Georgia-based startups that was announced back in February, or are otherwise affiliated with one of 17 other organizations with which Google partners, including Black Founders Exchange, a four-year-old program for Black founders that’s co-hosted by Google and American Underground, a Durham, North Carolina, co-working outfit.
Google “didn’t open it outside of our network because we want to be able to offer support, in addition to the funding,” says Solomon. “This isn’t about just writing a check but also our ability to work with the founders through the programs over time.”
As for eligibility criteria, Solomon says Google wanted to “find companies that had a readiness for the funding” and had not already received more than $3 million in outside backing.
Though Google says it is looking to mentor, and not necessarily capitalize off, the founders who’ve received checks, many of the teams have identified sizable opportunities that are poised to grow as the country’s demographics change.
Latched and Hook, for example, a 4.5-year-old Atlanta-based beauty startup, spied the need for non-toxic synthetic and stylish hair products and began producing and selling its own braids and twists, wigs and ponytails, and has been embraced by both beauty editors and an expanding customer base alike.
Another startup, MindRight, a year-old, Newark-based startup, provides culturally responsive mental health coaching via text message largely to teenagers in order to help them develop positive coping skills; the idea is to reach and support students who are dealing with stress and trauma to help prevent a crisis, as well as to work with them to establish goals. (“I am blown away by many of the founders, [a lot] are whom are working on big issues impacting the communities where they live,” says Solomon.)
Many of the startups also target Americans who might not be top of mind for engineering talent in Silicon Valley startups because they have less disposable income but who collectively represent a much bigger swath of the country. Among these is Courtroom5, a 6.5-year-old, Durham-based online platform that empowers people to manage their own civil court cases without the need of a lawyer.
Asked about Google for Startups’ relationship to GV — the corporate venture arm of Google that invests many hundreds of millions of dollars each year — and whether it gets a first look at the startups that Solomon and her team identify, she says there’s a connection, but not a straight line from A to B.
“We do have a relationship with the GV team,” one that sees some of the partners serving as mentors for the young startups it tracks. But the idea is to help the startups with which it is involved better prepare for “investment from GV and across the board,” she adds, suggesting that she isn’t as interested in where some of these founders secure venture funding as much as she is focused on ensuring they’re able to receive it.
As for whether there is enough of that follow-on funding — many Black investors and founders have expressed concerns to TechCrunch over a continuing lack of diversity at growth-stage venture firms — Solomon says she hopes “firms are paying attention to firms that will need additional funding.”
It’s certainly the point of what she is trying to build at Google, as well as in a second role she holds as a managing partner at Collab Capital in Atlanta. Brands that understand Black customers and other underrepresented groups represents a “great place to be investing,” she notes. With a little financial boost and a lot of mentoring, Google hopes these new reward recipients will have an even better story to tell that makes that next round easier to raise.
You can learn more about half a dozen of the cash-reward recipients below. You can find the complete list here.
MindRight: Newark, New Jersey
Ashley Edwards created MindRght to advance mental health care equity, making it accessible and inclusive to communities of color and low-income families. This funding will be used to build capacity, supporting coaching and technical teams with the resources they need to address this urgent and ongoing need of their clients.
ShearShare: McKinney, Texas
ShearShare is led by husband and wife co-founders Courtney Caldwell and Tye Caldwell. They created a mobile marketplace for stylists that helps them communicate directly with their clients, including about specials they might be offering. Throughout COVID-19, the startup has also been enabling stylists to rent a sanitized salon suite, station or nearby barber chair by the day, without requiring a contract or commission.
Pharoah’s Conclave: Atlanta, Georgia
As avid gamers, wife and husband founder duo Jakita and Erich Thomas built Pharoah’s Conclave to provide career pathways for Black and Latinx youth in the massively growing esports market. As part of that effort, they recently launched virtual gaming summer camps for youth across the country, with the added goal of placing more than 50 young people into professional esports careers.
Courtroom5: Durham, North Carolina
Sonja Ebron is the founder of Courtroom5, an online platform that empowers people to manage their own civil court cases without the need of a lawyer. Among its offerings: it helps users maintain an online case record, manage evidence, find case law, file motions using guided document templates and manage tasks and expenses. It also aims to help its customers represent themselves effectively by providing on-demand video courses about civil procedure and about some of the skills needed to win.
Aguagenuity: Atlanta, Georgia
Doll Avant is a data scientist and social impact strategist who decided to address the water quality health crisis after her father was diagnosed with diabetes and, curious to determine why, she discovered arsenic in the local water supply. She has since turned her passion for researching water quality into Aquagenuity, a real-time water quality aggregator that empowers individuals and businesses with critical health information about their water.
TQIntelligence: Atlanta, Georgia
Through his startup, TQIntelligence, Yared Alemu — a former staff psychologist at the University of Georgia and director of clinical services at Georgia State University — has developed a platform that leverages voice recognition technology to identify and predict emotional and behavioral disorders in at-risk youth. The company’s ultimate aim is to solve for the current disparity in mental health treatment outcomes for at-risk youth at the point-of-care, a disparity caused by the difficulty to measure emotional distress and level of impairment due to trauma, precipitated by poverty.