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Seedfunders’ Irv Cohen helps close the opportunity gap

Margie Manning

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video. 

On this episode, Irv Cohen, co-founder and managing partner of Seedfunders in St. Petersburg, joins Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, to talk about the new Seedfunders’ Opportunity Fund.

The fund will make pre-seed investments in Black-owned startups throughout Florida, Seedfunders said when it launched the fund two weeks ago.

“It’s really about the opportunity gap in our community. We’re not all going to succeed if that gap keeps growing,” said Cohen, a long-time Wall Street veteran who now lives in St. Petersburg.

The Seedfunders Opportunity Fund cuts through historic discriminatory policies that have kept Black entrepreneurs from creating wealth through their own businesses. Typically, Seedfunders, an early-stage investment firm, will only invest in a company that already has a minimum viable product. That requires some financial backing early on friends and family. Black entrepreneurs might not have access to that friends and family funding, so the new Opportunity Fund will fill that gap.

“We’re going to go a step back and help that eager passionate entrepreneur come up that curve so they are ready for their first professional money,” Cohen said.

The fund is not charity. It’s an investment, Cohen said. “We’re going to treat them like anyone else, as a true entrepreneur who is aspiring to create wealth and build a business.”

He said there have been enough reports about lack of opportunity in the community. “Our whole thing is executing, take action and not just talking about it,” Cohen said. “Let’s get the energy raised so we’re all part of the solution.”


Related: Venture capital leaders: ‘We need to change the way it’s always been done’


Cohen and David Chitester, Seedfunders co-founder and CEO, first launched Florida Funders about eight years ago before stepping back from that organization to establish Seedfunders over a cup of coffee at Station House.

“Three years later we have funded 25 or 30 companies. We have 50 active partners and we’re in two other cities. St. Pete is our flagship but we recently launched Orlando and Miami, and we have a bunch of very engaged partners. Most of them live in St. Pete and they really care about the community as well. They want to be engaged and part of the answer,” Cohen said.

Hamilton, the Catalyst publisher, also is a Seedfunders partner and he sees the investment firm as similar to the Catalyst. “If we can solve anything, it’s being the connector, to let the great things that are here move back and forth and find their value.”

Steinocher said Cohen and the Seedfunders’ initiatives are helping reimagine the area after COVID-19. Reimaging is the fourth “r” in the restart process, which also includes relief, reopening and recovering.

On the eve of the July 4 holiday weekend, the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, Steinocher said, and 16 percent of those tested got positive results, according to the most recent statistics Steinocher shared. Emergency room visits and hospital admissions were increasing and there were just 40 intensive care beds available in Pinellas County at the time this Chamber report was recorded.

“We are trying to tell people to wear masks at all times and to social distance,” he said. 

 

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