On Nov. 10 and 11, the second annual Afrotech conference took over the Bay area. There were incredible speeches and the opportunity to network with major brands such as Amazon, Twitter, Oculus and more. But the Afrotech Startup Pitch Competition, sponsored by Comcast NBCU, was a standout session that spanned the length of both days of the conference. It provided the opportunity for some of the top black early stage startups to pitch their idea and compete. Judges included YC’s Michael Siebel, 500 Startup’s Monique Woodard, Kobie Fuller of Upfront Ventures and Kapor Capital’s Brian Dixon.
Friday kicked off with the semi-finalists sharing 5-minute elevator pitches to the eager crowd and the first round of judges, followed by a Q&A that allowed the judges to delve deeper into their ideas, what they’ve been able to create and impact so far, and where they saw the startup going in the short and long-term future. Being able to see a pitch competition with a range of startups on a scale like this was an exciting experience for a room full of people who are all at different places in their business and tech journeys. For the students in the crowd, this was the first of many startup competitions that they can witness firsthand, and that kind of inspiration will help them to improve their pitches and ideas when their time comes. It was a powerful feeling in the room.
The pitch competition semi-finalists were full of ideas and solutions to problems had by a wide range of people — a sign of how rich the Afrotech crowd is with useful and creative ideas. We heard from Gabriel Pendleton of AudioStaq, a podcasting platform that allows podcasters to host, distribute and monetize their podcasts in a way that’s intuitive for them. Darryl Perkins of Chip’N told us about his product which connects people to tackle social impact challenges through volunteering. It encourages an “economy for good,” and will surely make a difference. Richard Mokuolu of Inventaprint told the crowd about his product development platform that connects inventors and businesses to the designers and manufacturers they’re looking for in order to bring their ideas to fruition. HolyTomatoes serves as a Yelp for churches, and Justin Wilson created it to let community and church flourish together, even for those who are new to town or looking for a change. Werkhorse allows companies to hire for services they need with the insurance of reviews and stability, and it allows those looking for hire to connect with potential clients. Marceau Michel explained to us the power in connecting the two and how it makes for a more efficient world. Shani Dowell of Possip is working to help schools get feedback from real parents through a texting and reporting interface. She’s taking the power of parent gossip and using it to give schools the feedback they are looking for and that will help both sides work together better as a team.
The final four pitched their ideas to an even larger crowd on Saturday night before a brief open discussion from the judges giving us a peek into what it’s like to deliberate for a startup competition.
Drop is allowing VR/AR users access a browser right in their headsets — and Russel Ladson showed us how this startup allows users to browse without the interruption that currently has to occur and which makes their experience a hassle.
Jonathan Richards told the crowd about Honest Alumni, a site that allows high school juniors and seniors looking into higher education to network with alumni to get their questions answered by real people.
Jihan Thompson of Swivel Beauty knows firsthand how frustrating it is to try to find a hair salon that has what black women need when it comes to quality, thorough hair care and styling. She told the audience about how her app will change the hair salon experience for both women of color and salons who provide service for them through connecting the two.
But the winner of the Afrotech Cup and the $10k prize was Ronnie Cropper and the team behind DisputeDoc — the first automated platform for fixing credit. The affordable program is proven to help users make disputes and improve their credit scores in a relatively speedy timeline.
Although only one winner took home the prize, there wasn’t a single person in the room who didn’t benefit from the sneak peak of the live judge discussion we were given before the winner was chosen. It was an eye-opening look at the real criteria startups must meet or work toward in order to receive funding for their creations.
None of the talented entrepreneurs walked away empty handed as Comcast NBCU is providing all 10 semi finalists with free 1 year access to the UNION platform, a digital network that catalyzes innovations by connecting startup ecosystems together around the world.
“Afrotech is a beacon in Silicon Valley, attracting the best and brightest in tech and entrepreneurship,” said Keesha Boyd, Executive Director Multicultural Xfinity Services.
“The startup pitch competition finalists were a shining example of the kind of undeniable talent in the room and we're excited to watch them succeed"
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Comcast.