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Entrepreneurial diversity shines at Trop pitch event

Mark Parker

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Linda Olson, founder and president of Tampa Bay Wave, at Thursday afternoon's Pitch Night at the Trop event. Photo by Mark Parker.

A decidedly diverse group showcased the fruits of their labors Thursday at Tropicana Field, but it wasn’t the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting lineup.

Another regional organization, Tampa Bay Wave, highlighted 15 startup founders who recently completed its TechDiversity Accelerator program. Entrepreneurs traveled from Canada, the United Kingdom and throughout the U.S. to participate in the nonprofit business accelerator’s annual Pitch Night at the Trop event.

Andrea Bertels, director of grantmaking for the Nielsen Foundation, stressed the importance of fostering inclusivity in the tech startup space. Business intelligence platform Crunchbase recently reported that Black entrepreneurs received a paltry $705 million in venture capital funding, “barely scratching the surface (0.5%) of the colossal $140.4 billion” distributed throughout 2023.

In addition, Bertels noted that women-owned startups have garnered just 2-3% of that pot since 2015. “We know there’s still a long way to go when it comes to equity in tech,” she said.

“When you think about that … what ideas are being underfunded?” Bertels asked. “And that’s really the case for seeing and elevating these amazing companies here today.”

Tampa Bay Wave is doing its part, with support from the New York-based Nielsen Foundation. Linda Olson, founder and president of Wave, said the organization has assisted over 525 companies through 37 cohorts since 2013.

She said those nascent businesses have since raised over $900 million and created more than 5,200 jobs. Olson expects to hit the billion-dollar benchmark by the end of 2024.

She called the TechDiversity Accelerator, now in its seventh year, the nonprofit’s signature initiative. “I’m proud to say, since the launch of this program, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of underrepresented founders across all of our programs,” Olson added.

“In fact, we can say 86% of the companies we work with across all of our programs meet diversity criteria right now.”

Craig Radford, founder of 360 Direct Video, pitched his startup through a sign language interpreter. His customer service platform performs the task virtually. Photo by Mark Parker.

TechDiversity cohorts are open to startups at least 50% owned, controlled and operated by minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ+ community members or people with disabilities. They must travel to Tampa Bay at least twice during the 90-day program.

The entrepreneurs must show market validation and high-growth potential. They receive dedicated coaching, public relations and marketing support, community exposure through signature events and access to an expansive mentor network, investors, office space and meeting rooms. Wave also provides a $2,000 travel stipend.

Luna Joy Health is among the program’s many success stories. The women-owned telehealth startup completed a $2.4 million seed round in 2023 and raised another $4.2 million in April.

Dr. Richard Munassi, accelerator managing director for Wave, said the current cohort’s “strong founders are solving real problems.” He noted that their educational backgrounds include Yale, Harvard, West Point and the University of South Florida. They have previously worked for companies like Google, IBM, Goldman Sachs and Tesla.

“These founders have truly been there and done that and are building solutions for problems that they’ve lived themselves,” Munassi said. “And that they’re taking to market to change the world.”

While Pitch Night at the Trop showcased the entrepreneurs and their startups to the Tampa Bay business community, it also benefited Wave. The Rays presented the organization with a $10,000 check midway through their Thursday game against the Chicago Cubs.

Tampa Bay Wave also received recognition at the event. Photo: LinkedIn.

Here are startups who participated in the 2024 TechDiversity cohort:

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mark Parker

    June 15, 2024at1:48 pm

    I’m sorry, do you think the government provides venture capital?

  2. Avatar

    Rbruce

    June 15, 2024at1:44 pm

    So, those who can’t compete want the Govt to force the unwilling to finance the undeserving.

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