Bronze Valley announced investments in four startup companies founded by people of color, including two companies founded by African-American women, during the 25th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans.
The announcement came on July 6 at “She. Is. Ready.”, an event hosted by Bronze Valley. Designed to connect tech investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders for conversations about potential business opportunities, the event has been held for the past two years in conjunction with the festival – a music, entertainment and cultural event that attracts more than 500,000 people to celebrate black women.
“We are proud to take a moment during the nation’s largest and longest-running celebration of black women, to raise a glass to technology entrepreneurs and technology leaders who are changing the face of business with every success,” John O. Hudson III, chairman of the Bronze Valley board of directors, told the crowd during the Essence Festival event. “The spirit of Bronze Valley is to help Silicon Valley be more reflective of all the people in this room who deserve a stake in the new economy.”
A nonprofit organization dedicated to further developing an ecosystem in which minority- and women-owned technology businesses can thrive, Bronze Valley invests in high-growth, innovative technology companies, with an intentional focus on bridging gaps of access, opportunity and outcome for underrepresented entrepreneurs.
The investments are the first for Bronze Valley’s pre-seed capital fund.
“Individually and collectively, these portfolio companies exemplify our mission and objectives,” said Bronze Valley President Neill S. Wright. “We are improving an ecosystem that should not only be more diverse and inclusive, but more nurturing and supportive. We are making success possible for a new generation of entrepreneurs by bringing innovation, ideas and thought leadership together with capital and mentorship.”
The four Bronze Valley portfolio companies are:
Mixtroz. Founded in 2014 by the mother-daughter team of CEO Kerry Schrader and President Ashlee Ammons, Mixtroz developed a social engagement technology that helps users optimize business networking opportunities. The company relocated from Nashville to Birmingham, in part because of its relationship with Bronze Valley.
In 2018, Mixtroz won $100,000 in Birmingham’s Rise of the Rest pitch competition, sponsored by America Online founder Steve Case and author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance. Recently, Schrader and Ammons became the 37th and 38th African-American women to top $1 million in venture funding.
“Birmingham is such an exciting place to be for an entrepreneur of color,” Schrader says. “When you walk into rooms and see such a rich mixture of people who are actually interacting, it’s inspiring. We’re excited about continuing to grow in Birmingham.”
Fledging. The founding vision of Fledging is to make premium electronics accessible for every consumer, delivering best-in-class hardware at affordable prices. The founders’ background in engineering and computer science has helped Fledging develop products that are consistently faster and cheaper than those of major competitors such as Samsung, OWC and Razer. With an aggressive product development plan and a clear understanding of a growing global market, the company is positioned for rapid expansion.
Fledging closed an investment round of over $1 million from Birmingham-based investors, including Bronze Valley. Those proceeds will support talent acquisition, sales and marketing, and research and design of new products. Recently, Fledging launched its seventh product, Shell Thunder, a novel external storage device, utilizing the thunderbolt three port found on newer laptop machines, ideally suited for gaming, video-editing, photo-editing, research, design, content creation, and other activities requiring high-speed storage.
“We are grateful to have the support of this distinguished group of investors,” said Weida Tan, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fledging. “This financing will enable us to continue to advance our strategy as we prepare to launch an additional four products in the second half of 2019.”
Employee Cycle. With the mission of “making HR smarter,” Employee Cycle provides a web-based analytics dashboard that empowers human resources teams to view, track and analyze their data in real time, helping them make smarter and faster decisions about their workforce. The ultimate goal is to supplant traditional approaches to HR issues, making human resources a company’s most data-driven department.
Founders Bruce Marable and Salas Saraiya bring extensive expertise in the HR data industry to the challenges of breaking into a $1.2 billion market. While continuing to expand, that market remains underserved, providing opportunities for innovation that Employee Cycle is positioning itself to leverage.
“We’re looking to change the way companies think and talk about HR,” says Marable, Employee Cycle’s CEO. “Bronze Valley understands that, which indicates their very forward-thinking view of how to build an ecosystem that encourages and supports innovation.”
Babypalooza. A platform that creates community to help new, expectant and hopeful moms plan for all stages of parenthood, from pregnancy to preschool, Babypalooza seeks to become the leading resource for personalized connections to the people, products and information that parents need to grow their families. Since founding the company in 2005, Cecilia Pearson has expanded the network to include 12 cities in five states.
After several years as a print-only resource, Pearson saw the opportunity to expand and scale her business to keep it growing. She took her content and services online, as well as developing an app. She was part of an entrepreneurial panel at the inaugural Bronze Valley Conference in 2018, establishing a relationship that ultimately led to the organization’s investment in her company.
“Bronze Valley saw how I made a pivot to using technology to reach and expand my audience,” Pearson says. “They took the time to get to know my business, to understand my goals and conclude that Babypalooza is the type of company they want to invest in. They are committed to my success.”
Launched late in 2017, Bronze Valley is working to create an education-to-opportunity-to-outcome pipeline for ethnic minorities and women in technology careers, the entrepreneurial ranks and other fields in which innovators will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future. In addition to providing access to capital, Bronze Valley’s efforts are concentrated on workforce development and providing value-added services to entrepreneurs.