AU’s Black Founders Exchange Welcoming Founders From Across The Country

An audience member enjoying the pitches at last year's Demo Day that caps the Black Founders Exchange. (Photos courtesy of American Underground.)

From racial bias to a dearth of networking opportunities, Black entrepreneurs face plenty of roadblocks to building a startup. The Black Founders Exchange seeks to help bridge that gap.

Durham’s American Underground and Google for Startups are kicking off their fourth annual Black Founders Exchange next Monday. The Exchange will feature 11 startups chosen from a pool of over 160 businesses founded by Black entrepreneurs from across North America.

The Exchange is a week-long intensive program where entrepreneurs of color will be matched with mentors and given tools for dealing with every aspect of being a founder, from finding resources to imposter syndrome. At the end of the Exchange, founders will have the opportunity to pitch their businesses to investors and community leaders at the Google for Startups Demo Day next Friday, Sept. 27.

The open-to-the-public Demo Day at American Underground will be live-streamed on YouTube, and the winner will receive a trip for two to the Bay Area and strategic introductions to potential investors and customers, said Tarryn Henry, the startup programs manager at American Underground.

Even for those startups that do not win the grand prize, the Demo Day is meant to help them reach the program’s goal—for at least half of the startups to be funded within nine months of the Exchange. Demo Day is always one of the week’s highlights for Nicole Froker, the partner engagement manager for Google for Startups.

“It’s been a really successful event in the past to champion the success the founders have made over the course of the week,” said Froker. “And also to secure some investment on site.”

This year, Google will fly in its largest cohort yet of six mentors from across the world to assist founders throughout the Exchange, as well as additional Google cloud and business development experts, Froker said.

These connections will help founders build a global network of experts, said Molly Demarest, the general manager of American Underground.

Reginald Parker, the CEO of Durham’s Optimal Solar, reacts to being named the winner of last year’s Demo Day.

“When you look at underrepresented founders across the board in tech,” said Demarest, “often the thing that is missing is a connection or access to a network beyond what their immediate network is, and it is often hard to break into that. And so we’ve designed this program specifically to not only address the funding side but to address the connecting side.”

Durham native Sonja Ebron, CEO of Courtroom5, a case management platform for people tackling civil court cases without a lawyer, is one of the incoming Black Founders Exchange participants. Courtroom5 is one of three startups selected from North Carolina, along with Freeman Capital from Charlotte and KWHCoin from Wilmington. Ebron said that one of the key benefits of this program are the connections she will be able to make.

In addition to the connections she will in her cohort from across the country, Ebron is also excited to network with program alumni, who will be invited back this year to participate in the Exchange’s first Alumni Summit. Past program attendees will also have the opportunity to work with Google experts once again to help them expand their businesses to new markets. Some of these alumni include local businesses, such as Optimal Solar, a Durham-based startup that won last year’s Demo Day (which we covered here).

Whether the connections founders make are local or national, the Exchange is a place for Black entrepreneurs to build community, Demarest said.

“We have people flying in from all over the world, from investors to experts to mentors and advisors, and that is a really special thing that Durham is that place,” she said.

The 11 companies participating in the Black Founders Exchange Program are:

  1. Courtroom 5 (Durham, N.C.): A civil litigation platform.
  2. Film Connx (Atlanta, Ga.): A job marketplace for members of the film industry.
  3. Freeman Capital (Charlotte, N.C.): An investment, budgeting and planning platform.
  4. HUED (New York, N.Y.): A platform that connects patients of color with doctors of color.
  5. KWHCoin (Wilmington, N.C.): An application that uses blockchain technology to deliver clean energy.
  6. Meter Feeder (Pittsburgh, Pa.): A low-cost mobile payment system for metered parking.
  7. SecondKeys (Memphis, Tenn.): A property management software to help users better track maintenance, accept payments and lower property costs.
  8. Shared Harvest Fund (Los Angeles, Calif.): A fintech solution to the student debt crisis.
  9. Stimulus (Philadelphia, Pa.): A relationship intelligence platform for vendor and supplier management.
  10. Switchboard Live (Philadelphia, Pa.): A platform that allows users to live-stream across popular social media channels.
  11. Vuga (Toronto, Canada): A micro internet network builder.
About Elizabeth Thompson 28 Articles
Elizabeth Thompson is a reporter covering business and tech in the Triangle. She can be reached at or follow her on twitter @by_ethompson.