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investing

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Black Owned EdTech App Raises $10.6 Million in Two Years

A year after it raised a seed round of $3.1m, Nigerian Education Technology (Edtech) platform, uLesson announced last week that it has closed a $7.5m Series A round.

US-based Owl Ventures led the financing round. The VC fund is the largest fund focused on the world’s edtech market, with over $1.2 billion in assets under management.

uLesson, the largest and fastest-growing learning platform in West Africa, is trying to bridge educational gaps for K-7 to K-12 students in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia.

The online education platform launched in March of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. However, due to school closings, students turned to online learning.  Between March and August, the company saw its number of paid subscribers quintuple.

Black Owned EdTech

“We are now witnessing an increased availability of data networks in Africa. With more affordable smartphones and the change in attitudes towards online learning accelerated by COVID-19, the foundations are now in place for an education revolution.

At uLesson, we know we have a critical role to play in this ‘new normal’ and this funding will be crucial in our drive to fill the major gaps in Africa’s education system through tech,” said Sim Shagaya, founder and CEO of uLesson.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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Creating a Black Investment Syndicate That Invests Nationally and Internationally

As someone who is interested in investing in projects around the world, I’m intrigued by the idea of a Black investment syndicate, a group of Black investors and investment firms that combine resources to invest on a global scale.

Ken Goodwin shares my interest in this concept. Ken is the Senior Managing Principal & President of Jeanensis, a global advisory firm that has developed its expertise in the areas of FinTech and RegTech, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and more.

In this interview, we explore several ideas, including a Black investment syndicate, a group of Black investors, private equity, and venture capital firms that pool resources to invest on a global scale.

Ken also shares details on what it takes to be a successful investor, his STEM work with HBCU’s, and the investing sectors he considers recession-proof.

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Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Tech Startup Raises $4.6 Million to Help Companies Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace

Kanarys is a Black owned tech startup that helps companies get the specific data and insights they need to diagnose, prioritize, and optimize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Kanarys believes that now is the time for companies to examine their culture, policies, and procedures and to approach DEI from an institutional and systemic lens.

Black Owned Tech Startup
Kanarys co-founders Bennie King. Mandy Price, and Star Carter

Employees can use Kanarys to discuss work-related issues surrounding discrimination, and then artificial intelligence aggregates that data so that companies can pinpoint areas of improvement.

On Wednesday, Co-founders Mandy Price and Star Carter announced the closing of a $3 million seed round. describing it as a “historic” shift toward more equitable backing of Black-owned startups.

The most recent $3 million investment will be used for ramping up technology, hiring, and sales and marketing efforts. The new capital brings the total amount raised to $4.6 million.

Black Owned Tech Startup

Since launching the platform in 2019, Kanarys has grown 2,000% in users on its platform and operates a database of around 1,000 companies, including Fortune 500 brands.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Venture Capital Firm To Receive $10M From Apple

Harlem Capital, a Black owned venture capital firm based in New York, NY, will be receiving a $10 Million investment from Apple.

On Wednesday morning, Apple announced that Harlem Capital will receive the investment as part of a pledge made last summer to “challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exist for communities of color and particularly for the Black community.” 

The funds are intended to support Harlem Capital’s mission to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.

Tony O. Lawson


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This Black Owned Payment Platform For Pharmacies Just Raised $1.3M

HealNow is a Black owned payment platform that helps pharmacies to improve patient onboarding and modernize their patient experience.

HealNow was founded by Halston Prox and Joshua Smith in 2018 and has now raised a total of $1.4M in reported equity funding.

black owned payment platform
Halston Prox

This includes the most recent seed funding round of $1.3M from investors that include Softbank Opportunity Fund, Alabama Futures Fund.

black owned payment platform
Joshua Smith

HeallNow allows patients to pay co-payments, schedule deliveries (or express pickup) and enter medical information online. They also enable pharmacies to offer online payments of prescriptions.

Their solution allows healthcare organizations to increase revenue by capturing more sales of prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and other medical products from every discharged patient. Keeping all pharmacy orders in-network.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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Why Should White Guys Have All The M&A Fun? Why More Black Businesses Should Consider Mergers & Acquisitions

Reginald F. Lewis was one of the richest African-American men in the 1980s, and the first African American to build a billion-dollar company.

His bestselling book, “Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?“, is one of my favorites. A small portion of the book briefly describes a conversation Lewis had with another Black attorney.

During this conversation, he expressed his desire to see more African Americans involved in mergers and acquisitions as a business and wealth creation strategy. This sparked my personal interest in M&A and led me to connect with Cedric Powel.

Reginald F. Lewis

Cedric is an M&A Attorney who represents private and public companies, investment banks, and private equity firms in corporate and transactional matters, including mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures.

M&A
Cedric Powel

What are some of the potential benefits that M&A transactions may offer Black businesses (in particular small businesses)?

M&A can be an efficient way for small businesses, including Black-owned businesses, to increase their market share and their ability to compete with their larger organizations within the same industry.  Consolidation within a particular industry is a common tool used to capitalize on synergies across organizations and to grow businesses faster than may be possible organically.  The same is true for Black-owned businesses.

At what stage should a business owner consider an M&A transaction as part of their strategic plan?

M&A, either as part of a business’ growth strategy or as part of its owner’s exit strategy should be considered at founding or as soon as possible thereafter.  Basically, it’s never too early to start thinking about potential investment transactions—whether it be a growth equity fund raise, the acquisition of another business or business line, or a liquidity event for the founder/owner.  In my opinion, the potential benefits of an M&A transaction should always be a consideration as part of a business’ strategic plan.

What are some best practices for business owners who may be considering an M&A transaction to increase the likelihood of a successful transaction and integration process?

My main recommendation is to engage competent advisors—financial and legal—early.  M&A is as much an industry as it is a process.  And, like every other industry, there are qualified and sophisticated practitioner—financial, legal and otherwise—who focus on identifying, leading, and consummating M&A transactions on a daily basis.

Any business owner who is considering a potential M&A transaction should start, at minimum, by discussing the process with a financial advisor and a legal advisor to set expectations and better understand the potential pros and cons.

As part of your work representing private equity funds and strategic acquirers, what would you say makes a business/company most attractive for a growth investment or acquisition?

Institutional investors and strategic acquirers usually focus on the income generating history of the particular business, its scalability, and how that business fits the specific investor’s investment strategy.  There is no one size fits all answer here, but building a strong customer pipeline with recurring revenue and great margins is always a positive.

However, often customer profiles and concentration are industry specific, so it is important to discuss your specific business, the universe of potential investors, and the current M&A trends with a specialized financial advisor to get a better understanding for where your particular business fits in the industry landscape.

In addition to the financial condition of the business, corporate hygiene and record keeping are key.  It is important to be able to deliver complete and accurate records with respect to the business’ current and historical operations as part of any investment due diligence process.  Lack of appropriate record keeping can sour an investor’s outlook on an otherwise great business.

 

You can connect with Cedric on LinkedIn.


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Black Owned Credit Building App Raises $2.3M

Today, Esusu, a platform that aims to dismantle barriers to housing, announced the closing of $2.3 million in seed extension bringing total capital raised to $4 million.

Humble Beginnings

The name Esusu is a Yoruba word that describes informal savings in traditional African societies.

Co-founder Abbey Wemimo came up with the idea for the app when his family, led a single mom of three, struggled to afford his education. His relatives had to pool their resources to afford his education, and his mother contributed much of the money.

Abbey Wemimo

The Platform

Esusu’s rent reporting platform captures rental payment data and reports it to credit bureaus to boost credit scores. This enables tenants to build credit while property owners can encourage on-time payments. Esusu currently operates in over 30 states and covers over 200,000 rental units.

“Esusu’s vision to use data to eliminate the racial wealth gap is driven by the role that credit and housing play in financial stability and wealth accumulation in the United States. Our fundamental belief is that where you come from, the color of your skin or your financial identity shouldn’t determine where you end up in life. We are privileged to join forces with world-class investors to address these systemic issues through the innovative use of data,” said Esusu Co-Founders, Abbey Wemimo and Samir Goel.

Currently, less than 1% of rental payments are reported into the credit bureaus despite being the largest expense for most Americans. According to HUD and Urban Institute, rental data is one of the strongest predictors of a tenant’s credit risk.

Esusu’s model presents a profitable solution for property managers to help keep renters in their homes while equipping financial institutions with the data to underwrite renters with limited credit history.

We are experiencing the greatest public health crisis in a century, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, and accelerating income inequality. Concomitantly, we are dealing with systemic racism that stifles the promise of America. “At Esusu we have a unique opportunity to challenge the status quo by using our platform to dismantle barriers to housing for working families and over the longer horizon, eliminate the racial wealth gap,” continued Abbey Wemimo and Samir Goel.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned VC Firm in London Is Raising £100 Million to Invest in Black Founders

Recent reports have found that less than 1% of venture capital is invested in Black businesses in the US and the number for the UK is no better.

London based, Impact X Capital Partners is a Black owned venture capital firm that is raising £100 Million ($131 million) to support underrepresented entrepreneurs within the entertainment, media, tech, health, and digital industries.

We spoke with Ezechi Britton. Founding Member, Principal & CTO in Residence at Impact X Capital about several topics including:

  • The need for diversity in the tech industry
  • The importance of investing in Black founders
  • How entrepreneurs can position themselves to be attractive to investors

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Tony O. Lawson


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Netflix is investing $100 Million in Black Owned Financial Institutions

Netflix on Tuesday announced plans to deposit 2% of its cash, or an estimated $100 million, into Black owned financial institutions and community development organizations, which have a better track record of lending to minority borrowers than mainstream consumer banks.

“We believe bringing more capital to these communities can make a meaningful difference for the people and businesses in them, helping more families buy their first home or save for college, and more small businesses get started or grow.
According to the FDIC, banks that are Black-owned or led represent a mere one percent of America’s commercial banking assets,” Netflix said in a statement.

As the first step in this $100 million commitment, Netflix will be holding $35 million of our cash in two vehicles:

  • $25 million will be moved to a newly established fund called the Black Economic Development Initiative. It will be managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a non-profit with a track record of developing underinvested communities. They will invest the funds into Black financial institutions serving low and moderate-income communities and Black community development corporations in the U.S.
  • $10 million will go to Hope Credit Union in the form of a Transformational Deposit to fuel economic opportunity in underserved communities across the Deep South. Bill Bynum, CEO of HOPE, has spent the last three decades advancing economic mobility in distressed communities.

“This capital will fuel social mobility and opportunity in the low- and moderate-income communities these groups serve. We plan to redirect even more of our cash to Black-led and focused institutions as we grow, and we hope others will do the same.”

 

-Tony O. Lawson


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One of the Largest Black Owned Venture Capital Firms Just Doubled in Size With a $250 Million Round

One of the largest Black-Owned Venture Capital Firms just doubled in size. Two years after closing their debut fund of $150 million, Base10 co-founders Adeyemi Ajao and TJ Nahigian are back with a $250 million investment fund and a sense of vindication for their thesis of investing in startups making automation for the people.

For Ajao, an immigrant who grew up in Nigeria and Spain before moving to the U.S., the new fund is a confirmation that even without having an explicit focus on minority investments, it’s possible to create a portfolio led by a diverse mix of founders. Indeed, roughly 60% of the firm’s investments have been into companies led or co-led by women or minority founders.

Part of the firm’s diversity simply comes from the geographic diversification of the portfolio, said Ajao. “We like to invest in Latin America [and] we like to invest outside of Silicon Valley… We have always had the knack of look where others are not looking.”

And as part of that commitment, the firm is making a diversity pledge, including doubling-down on a commitment to diversity through its investment process, hiring practices and bias training; and a commitment of 1% of the firm’s profits from its management company and another 1% commitment of its carried interest to support organizations fighting for inclusion and racial equality.

Ajao and Nahigian have already enlisted firms like Precursor Ventures, Illumen Capital, and Plexo Capital in the new commitment.

Drawing on Ajao’s connections in the Spanish and Latin American community of entrepreneurs has meant that Base10 already has a geographically and racially diverse portfolio. Latin American companies account for about five of the firm’s 28 publicly listed portfolio companies, with other portfolio companies coming from the Netherlands and Germany.

Ajao and Nehigian have also spread the wealth pretty broadly across the U.S., with companies in Atlanta, Austin, Los Angeles, Stamford, Connecticut and Seattle, in addition to the traditional startup hub of San Francisco.

At Base10, the typical check size will remain in the $500,000 to $5 million range and the focus remains on experienced founders in industries as diverse as agriculture, construction, waste management, shipping and logistics.

Investments include Cottage, which is building adjacent dwelling units for the California market; Faber, which provides staffing for commercial construction; the Mexico City-based digital freight forwarder, NowPorts; birth-control delivery startup The Pill Club; on-demand staffing company Wonolo and TokenSoft, a platform for compliant token sales.

The new capital is a huge vote of confidence in both Nahigian, a Los Angeles native who spent years as an investor at Summit Partners, Accel and Coatue Management before founding the mobile job platform, Jobr; and Ajao, who only began working in venture as a corporate investor with Workday Ventures.

Previously, the serial entrepreneur launched several companies, including Identified, which was sold to Workday, and Tuenti, which Telefonica acquired for $100 million back in 2010. Ajao also has the distinction of co-founding Cabify, which raised at a $1.4 billion valuation back in 2018.

And he was Nahigian’s first investor in Jobr. The pair stayed in touch, discussed startups and potential deals, and ultimately decided to go into business together back when the firm was first getting off the ground.

These days, Ajao believes the public’s fears of automation coming for people’s jobs have been replaced with a realization that automation is “essential to survival for millions of people and small and medium businesses” looking to stay afloat amid the wave of economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Moreover, with issues of racial, economic, and gender inequality front and center, it is evident today more than ever that we have a collective responsibility to focus on urgently solving problems that are actually important for 99% of people,” Ajao wrote in a blog post announcing the new Base10 fund.

As the co-founder of what is one of the largest Black-led venture funds, with $400 million in assets under management, Ajao is taking this moment to situate his fund in a place that supports the development of technology for the 99%.

Examples of portfolio companies stepping in to solve real business problems abound, writes Ajao in his blog post, from a family-owned restaurant in San Francisco using Virtual Kitchen Company to transition its operations to a full-service delivery model; to restaurants across the Southeast using PopMenu. There’re also newer portfolio company investments like AMI, a Salesforce-style software platform for direct marketers.

As employers responded to the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 epidemic by slashing jobs, many laid-off workers turned to direct sales to support their families, Ajao said. Tools like AMI are helping these stay-at-home entrepreneurs continue to make money as their main source of income.

New investments in the firm’s second fund include companies like Wise, which gives online storefronts and gig economy workers a way to set up bank accounts online easily; Mimic, which is building a distributed kitchen network for Brazil; and Lana, the financial management service for gig workers in Latin America.

These new deals illustrate the firm’s belief that “the tech industry’s collective responsibility [is] to focus on the problems that affect 99% of people, and to work in tandem with communities, governments, and existing Real Economy companies to solve these problems.”

Ultimately, Ajao and Nahigian are attributing their success to what amounts to the old (and overused) investment cliche that investors go where opportunities are going to be.

“If the VC industry as a whole is overlooking minorities, you can generate alpha by simply taking steps to ensure that you don’t have this same blind spot,” Ajao writes.

 

Source: Tech Crunch

 

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