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venture capital

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Black Founder Raises $2.3M To Help Businesses Prevent Cyberattacks

In this Black founder spotlight, we’re speaking with Tiffany Ricks, the CEO of HacWare, a company that helps organizations identify phishing attempts and defend against data breaches.

During this interview, Tiffany shares:

  • How businesses can reduce the risk of cyberattacks.
  • Thoughts on the recent closing of HBCU, Lincoln College due to a cyberattack.
  • Raising $2.3M and what the fundraising process was like.
  • What she feels made HacWare attractive to investors.
  • The milestones that she wants to achieve in the next 5 years.

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Mara Raises $23M for the First Crypto Exchange “Built by Africans, for Africans”

Pan-African centralized crypto exchange Mara announced Wednesday that it has raised $23 million to create a portal to the crypto economy for Africans.

Investors include Coinbase Ventures, Alameda Research (FTX), Distributed Global, TQ Ventures, DIGITAL, Nexo, Huobi Ventures, Day One Ventures, Infinite Capital, DAO Jones, and about 100 other crypto investors.

mara
Chi Nnandi, CEO of Mara

Unlike its competitors from North America and Europe, Mara’s onboarding, support, and ecosystem reflect the needs of Africans. Customer support is easily accessed and will be available in both local and international languages.

“While there are other crypto exchanges in Africa, there is yet to be an indigenous African crypto exchange,” said Mara’s CEO, Chi Nnandi. “That’s where Mara comes in — we are a Pan-African crypto exchange built by Africans, for Africans.

The Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya-based company has also announced a partnership with the Central African Republic, which just passed a bill legalizing Bitcoin as legal tender. As part of this partnership, Mara will become the official crypto partner of the Central African Republic and an adviser to the president on crypto strategy and planning.

Mara’s launch comes during a period in which political and economic instability has led to the devaluation of currencies across Africa. As a result, interest rates, as well as food prices, have skyrocketed.

“The inefficiencies inherent to the old 20th [century] centralized Sub-Saharan African financial systems has presented an obstacle to the proper development of Sub-Saharan individuals and economies for decades,” said Chi Nnandi, CEO of Mara, in an interview with VentureBeat. “A decentralized alternative (which will include but not be limited to finance, art, ownership, infrastructure, and business as a whole) will give Sub-Saharan Africans an alternative to these tired systems. Through this digital financial system — through this freedom — the region will find itself in a much stronger competitive position before other parts of the world.”

“Mara’s mission is to facilitate a more equitable distribution of capital by providing a decentralized alternative that spans across tribes, class, cultures, and countries,” said Nnadi. “Our goal is to close the gap in opportunities for Sub-Saharan individuals and establish a financial infrastructure that they can build their lives upon.”

 

Tony O. Lawson


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Slutty Vegan Raises $25M, Brand Now Valued at $100M

Established in 2018, Slutty Vegan, came out the gate taking the food industry by storm. Reportedly, the Atlanta-based vegan burger chain’s revenue grew to $4 million within the first six months of its grand opening

In a 2019 interview with founder Pinky Cole, we asked where she saw her business in the next 5 years.

Her response was, “I see Slutty Vegan country-wide, providing vegan experiences in communities where they would have otherwise never had that opportunity.”

slutty vegan
Pinky Cole in front of her Atlanta location | Credit: Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

Since then, Slutty Vegan has grown into a restaurant empire with four brick-and-mortar locations across Atlanta, and openings scheduled for Birmingham, Baltimore, and New York.

According to a “CNBC Make It” estimate, Slutty Vegan made between $10 million and $14 million in 2021 revenue.

Now, with help from a $25 million series A investment round, led by entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis’ New Voices Fund and restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments,  Cole plans to open 10 additional locations by the end of this year and 10 more locations in 2023.

This recent funding round values Slutty Vegan at $100 million, For(bes) The Culture reported.

In December of last year, Slutty Vegan announced the hiring of some key players to assist with its expansion plans. They brought on professional chef, Muhammad Yasin as district manager, and a former CAVA executive, Joi Alexander as national director of sales & catering.

The company also plans to hire a chief operating officer and chief marketing officer to help manage its exponential growth.

Not bad for a 4-year-old business that started out taking orders over Instagram.

 

Tony O. Lawson


Related: Black-owned Vegan Restaurants You Should Know


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Black Owned Healthcare Fund Raises $72M, Becoming The World’s Largest Fund Focused on Women’s Health

SteelSky Ventures is a Black owned venture capital firm focused on healthcare for women. The Atlanta-based venture capital firm recently announced the final close of its inaugural fund focused on improving access, care, and outcomes in women’s health.

The close of the fund brings SteelSky’s total assets under management to $72 million, making SteelSky the world’s largest venture capital fund focused on women’s healthcare.

SteelSky Ventures was founded by Maria Toler Velissaris after she uncovered a gap in funding for women, and more specifically, women’s health.  To date, Maria has invested in over 20 female-led companies.

The League of Extraordinary Funders: Meet Maria Velissaris, SteelSky Ventures | by Grasshopper Bank | Grasshopper Bank | Medium
Maria Toler Velissaris, Founding Partner at SteelSky Ventures

“Women’s health is an area of tremendous growth potential, and SteelSky is building a pipeline of the next billion-dollar healthcare giants. We are proud to invest in entrepreneurs who are significantly progressing healthcare for women around the world,” Maria said.

SteelSky invests across the spectrum of women’s health indications and care modalities, including medical devices, consumer health, digital health, ePharmacy, and retail therapeutics. The fund’s innovative approach to women’s health also allows for investment in technology infrastructure that supports new and innovative care delivery models.

The fund’s limited partners include healthcare strategic investors such as the American Hospital Association (AHA), Eli Lilly, Blue Shield of California, MultiCare Hospital System, Henry Ford Hospital System, and Essential Access Health.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Human Resources Platform, Bambee, Raises $30 Million

Bambee, a company that makes Human Resources affordable for small to medium-sized businesses has announced a $30 million dollar Series C round, bringing its total funding to $65 million.

“Growing up in a family that ran a small business, I have a high level of empathy for small businesses in general,” said Jones, who founded Bambee in 2016. “Throughout my career working for different places, I noticed that a lot of small-business owners lacked infrastructure and were left to their own devices to solve complex problems, particularly those relating to employment. I’ve known for a long time about the aches and pains that exist in small businesses and wanted to offer them solutions they previously didn’t have access to.”

Bambee has been at the forefront of solving HR problems for small businesses since its inception. Bambee puts their customers HR on autopilot, starting with a dedicated HR manager and smart automation. Bambee helps each company navigate the complex regulatory world of compliance, HR policy, employee relations, and HR strategy — including internal investigations, hires, furloughs, and return to work procedures. The combination of a real HR manager coupled with an intelligent software platform gets Bambee customers to HR compliance, and helps keep them compliant.

The company grew by 100% in 2021 and is on track to double again in 2022. The company has nearly 10,000 active subscribers.

In this latest round, SoftBank joined QED, leader of both Series B and C rounds, and AlphaEdison, who led the Series A round. Key investments were also made by Mucker Capital, Ken Chenault (chairman and managing director, General Catalyst; and former CEO and chairman of American Express), Damian Maldonado (CEO and founder at American Financing and American Home Agent), and Gaingels (the LGBTQIA+/Allies investment syndicate).

With this new investment, Bambee plans to hire an additional 150 employees this year and expand its operations in Nashville, Tennessee.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Doctor Owned Startup, CancerIQ Raises $14 Million for Early Cancer Detection and Prevention

Systemic access barriers have created stark inequality when it comes to preventive cancer care in the United States. For example, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of breast cancer and 41% more likely to die of the disease than white women.

These issues are compounded by the 9.5 million screenings missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses that are more costly and have a greater impact on quality of life and outcomes than early-stage diagnoses.

Enter CancerIQ, the only cancer-focused precision health platform that empowers healthcare providers to detect cancer earlier and prevent it altogether.

“My core belief is that we can drastically change what it means to have cancer if we make cancer risk assessment more accessible and ensure all patients have access to personalized, risk-based care pathways,” said Feyi Olopade Ayodele, Founder and CEO at Cancer IQ. “CancerIQ is driven by the vision to end cancer as we know it. And it is our mission to accomplish this by connecting broader patient populations and providers to the latest innovations in early detection and prevention. ”

Today the company announced that it closed a $14 million Series B financing round.

The new funding comes one month after a report from the President’s Cancer Panel calling for “urgent and immediate action” to close gaps in cancer screening, risk assessment, and timely follow-up care — particularly among diverse, uninsured, or underinsured, and rural populations.

“The cancer research community has made great strides in cancer prevention and treatment,” said Funmi Olopade, MD, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Advisor of CancerIQ. “But now we must accelerate and scale the clinical pipeline, so a diverse population of patients — those receiving care at academic medical centers and community hospitals alike — can benefit from these advances.” Dr. Olopade served on the National Cancer Advisory Board and is one of the field’s foremost authorities on cancer genetics and precision oncology.

“CancerIQ’s vision is to end cancer as we know it by eliminating health disparities and democratizing access to the latest advances in cancer early detection and prevention,” added Feyi Olopade Ayodele, Co-founder and CEO of CancerIQ. “We started by making genetic testing more accessible and connecting patients to the right preventive services at the right time.

This latest round of funding will help CancerIQ reach more patients and connect to more innovations that promise to transform cancer from a deadly disease to a manageable condition.”

CancerIQ’s precision health platform, which is being used by clinicians at more than 180 locations across the country, makes it easy to determine a patient’s individual risk of cancer based on family history, genetics, behavior, and other factors, and then connect them to the corresponding care pathways.

Those pathways range from MRIs, prophylactic surgeries, and vaccinations to at-home screening kits, multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, lifestyle interventions and other services such as clinical trials, educational materials, and social resources.

The funding round was co-led by Merck Global Health Innovation Fund (Merck GHI) and Amgen Ventures. McKesson Ventures, OSF Ventures (the investment arm of OSF HealthCare, a current CancerIQ customer), as well as CancerIQ’s Series A lead investor, HealthX Ventures, also participated in the Series B round.

The new funding will help CancerIQ grow its precision health platform, strengthen its partnership ecosystem, and expand its health system network. Following a recent series of key executive hires, the company also plans to hire 50 team members to meet the rising demand for more efficient and innovative cancer prevention services.

Check out their open positions here.

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Flutterwave Triples Valuation to $3 Billion, becoming the Highest Valued African Startup

African fintech Flutterwave has raised $250 million in a Series D round that tripled the company’s valuation to over $3 billion in only twelve months.

Flutterwave has grown significantly since Shoppe Black interviewed founder and CEO,  “GB “Agboola, last year.

“We started Flutterwave due to the fragmented nature of payments in Africa— there were multiple ways of making and receiving payments within countries but cross-border payments remained a hassle. This made it difficult for individuals like myself or businesses to make or receive international payments in Africa”, said Agboola.

Today, the company supports international payments for over 34 countries and processes payments across 150 currencies. In September 2021, the number of businesses using Flutterwave was 300,000. Now, 900,000 companies use Flutterwave to receive money from their customers.

fluttervwave
Flutterwave Founder and CEO, Olugbenga “GB “Agboola

B Capital Group led the $250 million round, with participation from Alta Park Capital LP, Whale Rock Capital and Lux Capital. Several existing investors who participated in previous rounds also followed this round, including Glynn Capital, Avenir Growth, Tiger Global, Green Visor Capital and Salesforce Ventures.

The company will use the funds to expand through mergers and acquisitions in Africa and the Middle East in the coming months.

Flutterwave currently facilitates cross-border transactions in multiple currencies for Uber, Netflix, and Microsoft on their expansion across Africa.  And, have started talking to many other US-based merchants that have growth ambitions across the continent.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Credit Building Platform, Esusu Raises $130 Million, now valued at $1 Billion

In the U.S., credit is your lifeline to the financial system. To date, 45 million Americans lack credit scores, and millions more are marginalized due to their background, race, and zip code.

Esusu is a rent reporting platform that captures rental payment data and reports it to credit bureaus to boost users’ credit scores.

Founded in 2018 by Abbey Wemimo and Samir Goel, Esusu was built to include everyone on the journey from financial identity and stability toward financial wellness that leads to wealth building.

Over the past year, Esusu has experienced monumental growth spurred by industry adoption, new rent reporting regulations, and partnerships with the country’s largest property owners and operators.

Esusu works with over 30% of the largest asset managers and property managers in the nation and helps report rent payments for more than two million rental units across all 50 states in the U.S., up from 1 million units last year.

Today, the 4-year-old company announced that it has raised $130 million in a Series B fundraising round. This investment gives Esusu a valuation of $1 billion, making it one of the very few Black-owned unicorns in the U.S. and globally.

“We started Esusu with the belief that where you come from, the color of your skin, and your financial identity should not determine where you end up in life,” said Wemimo in a statement.

The round was led by Softbank with participation from Jones Feliciano Family Office, Lauder Zinterhofer Family Office, Schusterman Foundation, SoftBank Opportunity Fund, Related Companies, and Wilshire Lane Capital.

Esusu plans to use the funding to triple its employees, “turbocharge growth through product innovation, and build the most comprehensive financial health platform in the market.”

Tony O. Lawson


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This $55 Million Fund Invests Exclusively in Black Owned Healthcare Startups

Jumpstart Nova is the first fund that invests exclusively in Black owned healthcare startups in the US.

The fund recently announced that it has raised $55 million from health care investors including Eli Lilly and Company, Cardinal Health, and Atrium Health, oversubscribing its initial $30 million target.

Black Owned Healthcare Startups
Marcus Whitney –  Founder and General Partner of Jumpstart Nova

The fund will invest in companies across health IT, digital health, tech-enabled services, diagnostic devices, biotech, medical device manufacturing, and consumer health and wellness, according to a press release.

Marcus Whitney is the founder and General Partner. He was inspired to create Jumpstart Nova as a solution to a central gap he saw in the marketplace. Jumpstart Nova is the newest in a family of funds managed by JHI, which he co-founded with Vic Gatto in 2015 in Nashville.

”The healthcare venture capital industry has missed out for decades on investing in America’s brilliant Black innovators, and this has been a loss for us all. Jumpstart Nova’s strong start and incredible group of limited partners validate the need to capitalize and support the vital solutions from this untapped talent base,” said Whitney, in a statement.

Jumpstart Nova is working to increase equity in the healthcare venture space by maintaining majority Black owned general partners, growing the number of Black VC limited partners and VC professionals, generating great returns and investing in Black founders and leaders at the forefront of healthcare innovation, the company said.

The fund’s initial portfolio companies are tackling healthcare issues like equitable access to clinical trials, bringing novel cell and gene therapies to market, helping families with autistic children get the therapeutic support they need, and seeking to mitigate the risk of life-threatening food allergy attacks, according to Whitney.

Companies qualifying for consideration for Seed or Series A investment will have at least one Black founder in a C-level position and holding a board seat.

Check sizes will generally range from $250K-$3MM and the fund will often lead rounds, in which cases it will require a board seat. Its investments will mostly be minority investments.

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Owned Plant-Based Hair Extension Brand Raises $1.4 Million

Many Black women and men wear their hair in protective styles such as twists and braids that use hair extensions that are often made from plastic.

According to a 2020 report by Refinery29, synthetic hair is made up of “ultra-fine strands of plastic” and non-biodegradable materials like polyester, acrylic, and PVC that contribute to landfills. Synthetic hair can also cause severe scalp irritation and itchiness on contact.

black Owned Plant-Based
Image credit: Rebundle

This scalp irritation is what inspired Rebundle, a Black owned plant-based hair extension brand, to offer a biodegradable alternative to synthetic braiding hair.  They are the first beauty brand to address both the health and environmental disparities in the hair extensions industry.

Black Owned Plant-Based
Image credit: Rebundle

The St. Louis-based startup is led by co-founder and CEO Imani May and co-founder and chief marketing officer Danielle Washington.

May got the idea for Rebundle after experiencing discomfort from her braids while wearing braids back to back as she grew her hair out.

When the brand officially launched its first product, Braid Better hair, in Jan. 2021, the pre-order inventory sold out within a month, with over 14% of sales coming directly from Instagram. The page also grew from 1,000 followers to now over 14,000.

Black Owned Plant-Based
Image credit: Rebundle

The product is made from naturally extracted banana fiber, which is sourced internationally. The hair can be cut, dyed, and manipulated the same as any other hair. It is also resistant to heat and can be flat ironed.

Yesterday, the Rebundle announced that it has raised $1.4 million in a pre-seed round.

Several investors participated in Rebundle’s financing, including St. Louis startup funder Arch Grants, a nonprofit. Other investors included RareBreed Ventures, M25, Closed Loop Partners’ Ventures Group, Sku’d Ventures, Chicago Early, Big Delta Capital, Precursor Ventures, Evergreen Climate Innovations and Innocreative Capital.

The new investment will be used to plans to add additional team members and establish a new local manufacturing facility.

Tony O. Lawson


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