Founders First CDC Aims to Support Underrepresented Founders in PA, NJ Scale Their Businesses

Key Insights:

  • Founders First CDC recently awarded $100,000 in grants to business owners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
  • Several of the recipients are Black founders based in Philadelphia, two of whom have received $1,500 and full scholarships to an accelerator program.
  • Founders First has three accelerator programs that can lead to investment opportunities from its for-profit arm that operates with revenue-based financing.

A number of emerging Black investors have been making strides in the Greater Philadelphia area highlighting the need to further diversify the investor ecosystem. Now, a Black woman-founded investment platform, Founders First Capital Partners, is expanding to support business owners in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

“We’re a mission-driven organization focused on helping diverse led businesses scale through access to capital, education and connections,” Tiara Durham, the NJ/PA regional manager at Founders First, told The Plug.

In addition to revenue-based financing, Founders First has a non-profit arm, Founders First CDC, which provides accelerators and grants to help companies scale. It recently awarded a total of $100,000 to 30 businesses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The grants, which range from $1,500 to $10,000, were awarded to underrepresented founders in the region. They also include a full tuition scholarship to one of Founder First CDC’s accelerator programs and membership in Founder First’s platform, which gives entrepreneurs access to its network of business leaders and partners.

Funding for its programs comes from national and regional partners such as the Kauffman Foundation and Spring Point Partners, an impact investor based in Philadelphia. 

A $1 million national grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and ADP, along with Founder First Capital Partners’ $9 million Series A financing accelerator funded the NJ/PA grants.

“This process is always very rewarding for us because we can get a pulse on the businesses and passionate entrepreneurs behind every community in the region,” Shaylon Scott, executive director of Founders First, said in a press release

“The recipients this year represent a diverse coalition of leaders from all backgrounds and offer a clear indication that both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a strong economic future,” she said.

Almost half of the businesses selected are based in the Greater Philadelphia area, several of whom are run by Black founders. 

Amanishakhete James is one of the Black founders based in Philadelphia who received the largest dollar amount this summer with a $10,000 grant for her business Ancient Healing Teas.

“Grant recipients are awarded specific amounts based on their demonstrated ability to maintain and grow their workforce despite the pandemic, as well as their ongoing commitment to creating premium wage jobs in their communities,” Durham said. Premium pay is additional compensation provided to employees for working certain hours such as overtime and holidays. 

“Our focus, outside of helping these companies grow, is to bolster the economy,” she added.

Another Philly area founder, Gabriela Timothy, was selected for a $1,500 grant. She has been an educator for over a decade and is the founder of LearnED Potential, an education consulting firm.

The company works with charter schools, non-profits, and government agencies and recently opened a collaborative learning center, Tutor Potential, in New Jersey.

“It’s just a really fun collaborative space for parents to come as well to learn and engage,” Timothy told The Plug. “It’s just a dream come true to be able to have that space and the goal is to continue to grow and scale.” 

She also recently received $10,000 through the Comcast RISE grant, which is supporting Timothy’s second Tutor Potential center slated to open in Philadelphia in November. 

“We [want to] open up as many of them as possible in areas of high need as well as areas of affluence because we want to erase that equity gap between what students in certain areas have access to,” Timothy said. ”We really do want to make this an accessible model.”

Edward Spann, a Philly native and Howard University grad, also received a $1,500 grant from Founders First for his transportation and logistics company, ELS Dynamic Consulting.

“Transportation isn’t going anywhere, analytics isn’t going anywhere. In fact, these industries are more data-driven than ever,” Spann told The Plug.

This is the first grant Spann has received, he plans to put the money toward paying his developers. His company is largely self-funded, along with funds from the federal Payroll Protection Program. He is primarily interested in going through the accelerator and joining the Founder First network in the hopes of finding a major investor.

Founders First has three accelerator programs,  differentiated by a business’s revenue: the first is for businesses making between $50K and $250K in annual revenue, the second is for those earning a minimum of $250K, and the third is designed for those generating $1 to $5 million.

During the programs, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to compete for cash prizes and receive post-program support and coaching. 

The first-level accelerator includes a pitch competition. Winners can move to the next level program, where upon successful completion, businesses have the opportunity to apply for funding consideration directly from Founders First Capital Partners. 

Timothy is looking forward to participating in the accelerator program and said although the grant itself isn’t substantial, it’s still impactful as  LearnED Potential has been self-funded up to this point.

“To me, every dollar counts. I look at it as it is money towards my employees and business,” Timothy said. “Anything to help continue to move the mission forward I’m appreciative of and I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.