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Duke Medical Student Wins Inaugural Pitch Competition for Black Student Founders

With far too few Black-founded and -led businesses benefiting from venture funding, The Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business partnered with the North Carolina Central University School of Business to create pitch: A Competition for Black Student Founders to give student-founders and recent alumni from across the nation an opportunity to showcase their businesses and compete for funding.

Every pitch applicant received written feedback on their application, and the 16 semi-finalists were each paired with 3-4 coaches, experienced investors and operators who provided feedback on business models, pitch decks, and presentation delivery. Semi-finalists also met at virtual info sessions designed to build their networks with other early-stage entrepreneurs, with additional touchpoints planned to strengthen those connections.

“pitch is intended to be more than a single-day event,” said Stephen Fusi, Managing Director for CEI. “Our goal with this program is to facilitate community amongst early-stage Black entrepreneurs and investors and ecosystem leaders who choose to invest in the entrepreneurs’ success. As many of our panelists said, relationships are everything in entrepreneurship, and we want pitch to be a catalyst for some great ones.”

Watch the public portion of Day 1 of pitch
Watch the public portion of Day 2 of pitch

Lessons From Duke- and NCCU-Affiliated Guests

On the competition’s first day, while 21 judges deliberated off-screen, guests watched a panel moderated by Keisha Williams (Director of Marketing and Communications for the NCCU School of Business) and David Robinson (Professor of Finance at The Fuqua School of Business) about the struggles and successes associated with business leadership and entrepreneurship. Panelists emphasized the importance of tenacity and relationships throughout their careers:

Panelists from Day 1 of pitch

Grant Hill (NBA Naismith Hall of Fame, Co-owner, Atlanta Hawks)

“At sports at the high level, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. All that it takes—the self-reflection, the learning from losses, the learning from mistakes, from failure, from success, working with others, having a collaborative spirit, learning to fail, learning to put yourself out there—all of those are ingredients for success, particularly as an entrepreneur.”

Charles Whitfield (Co-founder, Hidden Beach Records)

“Along the way, trying to get into the music business, all we heard was no. No, no, no. Anyone getting into entrepreneurship knows that you hear no constantly. But we were fortunate to have great relationships, to have people who were always in our corner.”

Fred Whitfield (President, Charlotte Hornets)

“The thing that I’ve learned through my life and through my career journey is that relationships have to be reciprocal. And then it’s about reaching back and helping the next group of young people achieve their dreams. Anyone who thinks they’ve achieved any level of success because they were the smartest person, or they did it on their own and figured it all out, I think they’re mistaken. All of us have had a lot of people that invested in us and gave us ideas and counsel.”

Finalists Announced

The five finalists were announced on CEI and NCCU’s social media channels, with each receiving $5K sponsored by GM, Landmark Partners, Arctos Sports Partners, Bank of America, and RTI International:

  • Alikiah Barclay, ReRent | Home-sharing made easy with management and cleaning
  • Amira Idris, TheraV | Non-invasive wearable amputation therapy for phantom limb pain
  • Jasmine Chigbu, MTM | A scholarship platform for maximizing BIPOC student retention
  • Michael Ogunsanya, MindStand Technologies | AI to foster a healthier online community culture
  • Patrick Pierson-Prah, Renmo | Facilitating monthly rent payments for tenants in areas requiring full lease payment up front

Thoughts on Changing the Investment Landscape

On Day 2, while judges made their final deliberations, Fusi moderated a panel about addressing inequities in venture funding. Panelists discussed the various types of capital beyond funding, along with the importance of expanding networks and access to resources:

Panelists from Day 2 of pitch

Faye Horwitt (President & CEO, Forward Cities)

“Ecosystem building is an emerging field. We see it as community organizing for businesses. How do you ensure every business has what it needs to survive and thrive? Sometimes that means you have to identify and remove barriers, particularly for entrepreneurs of color and Black entrepreneurs. Where is that equitable flow of resources blocked? […] We want to make sure there are diverse entrepreneurs that have market opportunities, resources, and capital they need to grow and thrive. We want to make sure there are equippers in the ecosystem that are able to provide education and support and resources and capital and mentorship, everything that entrepreneurs need, that they are well equipped and have the capacity and cultural competence they need.”

Karen LeVert (Venture Partner, Pappas Capital)

“We have a couple of Black founders that are knocking the allergens out of the peanut. You would think with a problem as pervasive as a peanut allergy, it would be easy for them to raise money, but it was tough—they just didn’t have a network or an environment around them to help get there. I’m raising a venture fund where we don’t need an intro to talk to us or be connected to someone in a network. Those are the type of changes I want to make. I want to be the one with the money being able to fund some of these companies, and find tremendous entrepreneurs who have proven that against all odds, they’ve gotten to where they are.”

Dan Roselli (Co-founder, Queen City Healthtech)

“We’ve been at this almost a decade now, and over half of our companies—not only through our accelerator, but also through our venture fund—have a female founder or founder of color on the team. That’s because we’ve been very purposeful about recruiting and getting the right applications, and when we get to our finalist list of 24 companies for our accelerator, we let the very best companies in, but because we have a diverse set of companies at the final stage, we end up with a very diverse mix in our investment pool and our accelerator.”

Winners Announced

When the winners were announced, the MTM team led by Duke Medical School student Jasmine Chigbu (founder and CEO) won not only the grand prize, but also the Fidelity Community Catalyst Innovation Award and a prize package by Carimus valued at $25K that will support MTM’s web design, branding, app building, and digital presence.

  • Fidelity Community Catalyst Innovation Award ($15K sponsored by Fidelity Investments): MTM
  • Carimus MVP Design, Build & Brand Prize: MTM
  • Second Runner-up prize ($10K sponsored by Corrum Capital Management): TheraV
  • First Runner-up prize ($15K sponsored by Relias): Mindstand Technologies
  • Grand prize ($25K sponsored by Visa): MTM

“MTM impressed the judges with its clarity of purpose and SaaS (software as a service) business model with a very large addressable market of higher educational institutions,” Fusi said.

Anthony Nelson, Dean of the NCCU School of Business, addressed the finalists, saying, “NCCU fully supports the pursuit of opportunities that extend and enhance and advance passions and dreams, and as students of color, we especially recognize the challenges you may face in your pursuit. However, if it wasn’t evident before, I hope it’s evident now that we have a great many business leaders, investors, and educators that want to see you succeed.”

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