Launched in 2018, the company’s software lets enterprises plan programs for their employee resource groups (ERGs), which enable employees who share characteristics or experiences to come together, share resources and connect.
Five to Nine also provides attendance and feedback analytics for ERG events so companies can measure the effectiveness of their ERG programs.
Five to Nine co-founder and CEO Jasmine Shells told TechCrunch she was inspired to launch the company after experiencing the pain of helming an ERG. “We were using everything from email to Survey Monkey to our chats to put together event programs, hacking together four to five tools to get the job done,” Shells said.
She, alongside Denise Umubyeyi, created Five to Nine to bring the tools needed to run internal events into one platform. The company already counts Yahoo, UpWork and Expedia as clients, and the product integrates with Okta, Workday and Slack.
With the new funding, Five to Nine plans to expand its engineering teams, create new products and increase hiring. It also hopes to double its clientele, with Shells calling AirBnB a dream customer.
“Over 90% of the Fortune 100 companies have ERGs, but less than 10% of companies have any data on how their ERGs are working,” Shells said. “What we’re doing is super needed in the market.”
“It was perfect timing”
Pitching more than 100 investors, Shells says it took around four months to close the seed round. The raise makes Shells and Umubyeyi two of the fewer than 250 Black women who’ve raised more than $1 million in venture capital.
Last year, less than an estimated 0.5% of the record $330 billion in venture capital went to Black women founders — a slice of the estimated 1.3% overall that went to Black entrepreneurs, per Crunchbase data. Five to Nine’s break came after James Norman called Shells one day, introducing to her his plan to start what would become the Black Ops Venture Fund.
“Over 90% of the Fortune 100 companies have ERGs, but less than 10% of companies have any data on how their ERGs are working.” Jasmine Shells, co-founder and CEO, Five to Nine
Speaking to TechCrunch, Black Ops Ventures Managing Partner Heather Hiles said Shells and Umubyeyi struck the team as incredibly wise, savvy and experienced. A bonus was the company’s commitment to helping foster an equitable workplace. One of Five to Nine’s features is its ability to provide analytics on the success of their respective ERG initiatives.
The data also helps highlight ERG leaders often burdened with diversity tax, otherwise known as the pressure minority workers feel in workplace environments to partake in diversity initiatives. These heads work tirelessly to run ERG communities with no extra pay and little recognition, and the data hopes to show companies the impact ERG leaders have through their work, Shells said.
“All employers are trying to learn as the world of work is changing and evolving. They’re trying to figure out what employees need to feel like they belong,” Hiles said. “[Shells and Umubyeyi] are serving a need.”
Their family legacies continue
Growing up, Shells watched her father leave a corporate job to start a company.
It was a grind, Shells says, and recalls how the number of Christmas gifts fluctuated each year. Still, the ride of running a business thrilled her, and she helped with accounting and payroll. Later, she would study accounting and business at the University of Notre Dame, where she met Umubyeyi. She’d soon after leave her corporate job to start Five to Nine.
Born in Rwanda, Umubyeyi moved around Tanzania and Zambia as a child, observing how her parents utilized entrepreneurship to sustain themselves and the communities in which they lived.
After moving to the U.S. in 2005, Umubyeyi studied political science at the University of Notre Dame, believing that was the way to create positive change. In the end, she realized creating a business could have the same effect.
“I saw entrepreneurship as one way to not only create a legacy for yourself and your family, but also a way to help the community and bring other people up with you,” Umubyeyi said.
She expects software like Five to Nine to see increased demand as DEI initiatives receive more backing from companies. Five to Nine’s goal is to stand at this forefront, she said.
“My dad said even if you don’t go to business school, you can still do this,” Umubyeyi said. “Jasmine and I have shown over the past year that it’s possible.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of the seed round and length it took to close it. It is $4.25 million, not $4.5 million, and took around four months, not six, to close.