It’s challenging for many Black founders to connect to a local ecosystem of like-minded entrepreneurs who look like us. When it comes to connecting with venture capitalists, it can be near impossible for a Black founder in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, to connect with a VC in the same area, let alone in New York.
Black founders need access to financial solutions, and they need a network to get exposure for their business.
We know that there is a need to provide access to capital and that when we do get access, we bring higher returns. There is a noticeable growth in venture firms started by minorities, such as Zane Venture Fund, and tech companies forming paths to connect with minority startups like Google, but the work to forge progress ahead is great.
You get one thing via email, and when you go to the in-person meeting, it tends to go the opposite way. External investments are a challenge. Black entrepreneurs only receive 1 percent of investment funds. We had a lot of doors closed on us while we were trying to launch other businesses.
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While there are many Black founder groups focused on social media and in private Slack and Telegram channels, there isn’t a well-known global solution to connect founders with other entrepreneurs or investors.
Titus Calloway and Daniel Smith are looking to change that. Co-founders of BlackLaunch, these serial entrepreneurs are helping Black founders connect with potential investors. They launched in November 2019 as a centralized hub to pitch to investors who are interested in diversity and inclusion, Titus told Moguldom. The platform is live and serves as a matchmaking service between founders and investors.
For its upcoming redevelopment, the two have planned to update BlackLaunch to also include a marketplace for professional service providers to connect with founders. In five years, Titus says he sees BlackLaunch as a social network plus an e-commerce marketplace platform.
Moguldom: Why did you start BlackLaunch?
Titus Calloway: I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was age 16 back in Long Island, New York. My cousin and I tried to launch several businesses for over 15 years. We had tremendous opportunities in New York. Unfortunately, you know, being a minority, you get one thing via email, and when you go to the in-person meeting, it tends to go the opposite way. External investments are a challenge. We had a lot of doors closed on us while we were trying to launch our other businesses.
When I did some research, I found out that Black entrepreneurs only receive 1 percent of investment funds. We are usually denied for traditional loans. Recognizing it is pretty difficult trying to obtain venture capital or a traditional business loan, I wanted to create a platform where it opened doors for all minorities, but specifically for Black founders. That’s where we came up with the idea for BlackLaunch.
We wanted to create a space where everyone has an opportunity, whether you have a beauty idea or a tech idea. We wanted to gather everyone into one centralized hub to pitch to investors who are not only interested in diversity and inclusion but also create overall support amongst our users — underrepresented Black and Latinx founders.Titus Calloway, co-founder of BlackLaunch, a matchmaking service between founders and investors
Moguldom: What makes BlackLaunch a solution for Black founders?
Titus Calloway: I know that for Black founders it’s been a challenging journey bootstrapping and coming up with your own business. I represent the Black founders who have gone through challenges because I went through them and I am even going through them now. That’s the main reason for creating BlackLaunch to help make minority founders’ journey a little less bumpy for them. We want them to find new ways, new doors, and new opportunities for them to launch and scale their own business. Many people struggle to connect to a network of investors who could be interested in their business ideas. BlackLaunch can help get more eyes on the project as well as help make a possible connection for an investment opportunity. We want to not just work with founders and VCs in the U.S. but also those in other countries. We have a desire to venture into Africa and help make connections there as well.
Moguldom: Are there any requirements for founders or investors to participate with BlackLaunch? How does the platform work?
Titus Calloway: Our current platform is connecting Black entrepreneurs in the tech space with investors. We are going through a redevelopment process to include other spaces as well. Currently, founders only have to create a profile and include some information about their business startup or their idea. They can create a proposal that goes on to our deal flow for investors to take a look. If an investor is interested in the deal or company, they can send a notification to that founder, letting them know an investor has interest in the project. The founder then receives the investor’s contact information.
However, to create a deal proposal, the founder’s company must at least be at the MVP (minimum viable product) stage. The current platform is for founders who are currently bootstrapping and looking for pre-seed funding from a potential investor. With the investor, there is a minimum investment required to participate. It is set at a minimum of $10,000.
We are seeking experienced investors, and not just your everyday person that may have a standard job and some disposable income. Typically, experienced investors are VCs or real estate investors that understand how to scale.Titus Calloway, co-founder of BlackLaunch, a matchmaking service between founders and investors
We want our founders to have experienced investors working with them. The platform itself is pretty much automated at this point. Daniel, my co-founder and I really only have to respond to customer questions.
Moguldom: What has been the reception within the Black tech community and your current users about BlackLaunch?
Titus Calloway: We launched in November 2019. We’ve had rave reviews from people via social media. I’ve been in contact with several established online platforms such as Black Wall Street and other Black magazine publications as well. Everyone loves the idea of the platform. We’re just trying to get the word out more. We’re working on our marketing campaign, but everyone seems to love the idea.
I’ve reached out to some venture capital firms as well and we have received positive feedback about what we’re doing. Some have said if something changes in their portfolio, they will look at something like BlackLaunch to help them locate investments as well as possibly invest in us. It has been like receiving a “’no’ right now with a possible yes for the future” from investors. I am looking forward to participating in an upcoming accelerator to further connect with more founders and VCs. We want to be able to connect our founders, but we will also need money to expand the platform.
Moguldom: What have been some of the challenges since launching the platform?
Titus Calloway: The challenge is pretty much on the investor aspect. As you know, there’s not a lot of minority investors in venture capital right now. I believe it’s less than 1 percent. Because of this, we have decided to redevelop the platform to also include a marketplace for Black entrepreneurs of various industries that are tech-enabled or tech companies to help them start their business, and also grow. I’m a part of Black entrepreneur Facebook groups.
A lot of the group members are seasoned professional consultants who are also looking for a place to share their services with Black founders who may not know how to start or scale their business. The redevelopment will still include the investment platform, but we also want to focus more on professional experts being able to connect with our client base as well.
Moguldom: What have been some of the wins since launching in November?
Titus Calloway: We have about 120 current users with five-to-six investors on the platform. Getting accepted into Founders Institute. We are waiting to hear back on another accelerator as well.
Moguldom: How is your platform monetized?
Titus Calloway: Under the redevelopment, it will be monetized based upon ad revenue and also a subscription fee for experienced professional consultants to market themselves to the founders.
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Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for BlackLaunch?
Titus Calloway: I feel like it can grow exponentially with more marketing opportunities. I feel like we can be the No. 1 hub for Black entrepreneurship, not just in the tech space but in all verticals. We’re trying to create the first social e-commerce platform to allow not only our user base to connect with experts but for peer-to-peer collaboration as well. One person could be an expert in the beauty industry and another one can be in the app development industry.
We want people who need each other to be able to collaborate as well to possibly become co-founders. That is why we believe it will be a social network plus an e-commerce marketplace platform. I try to think of it as combining LinkedIn and Fiverr. If those two platforms had a baby, that will pretty much be BlackLaunch but for minorities in five years.