Traveling down the East Coast, a group of Black entrepreneurs dusted off their pitching shoes last week to participate in a startup funding opportunity described as “The Amazing Race” meets “Shark Tank.”
RoadPitch is a tour that connects Black tech founders to local accredited angel investors. The inaugural tour ran from the first to the fifth of the month, making stops in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.
RoadPitch Co-Founders Meagen Turner and Rohan Brown were inspired to create the program after running the Advancing Black Entrepreneurs StartupBus, a hackathon on wheels, in 2022. Through that venture, the pair introduced 20 entrepreneurs to $75 million in funding but were left wanting to do more, specifically for Black tech founders raising pre-seed rounds.
Turner and Brown started off by organizing a $5,000 pitch competition in Louisville, Kentucky, for local founders and after receiving positive feedback, created the multi-city tour in three months. This time around the focus was on bringing founders to a region they don’t have roots or connections in.
“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people have gotten accustomed to sending over a deck or pitching over a screen. We believe that there’s nothing better than an in-person interaction, so we said, ‘How can we get more entrepreneurs exposure, visibility and in the room with angels in a creative and competitive way?’” Rohan Brown, RoadPitch co-founder, told The Plug.
Five founders from Reno, Nevada, Louisville, Chicago and Detroit were selected to pitch across the East Coast, but they didn’t just compete against each other. The traveling founders also pitched against local startups from each city selected by RoadPitch.
The program does not guarantee investment, but winners of each pitch competition get fast-tracked to the second round of judging for MassChallenge, an early-stage accelerator program, $500 from fintech company Brex after opening an account, up to $100,000 in Amazon Web Services credit and will be considered for the next RoadPitch tour this summer.
The winners in each city were:
- Boston: Thaddeus Payton, founder of agricultural technology company The Gaia Box
- New York: Yevez Perez, founder of travel booking platform WorkBnB
- Philadelphia: David Cabello, founder of Black and Mobile, a food delivery service for Black-owned restaurants
- Baltimore: Chrystal I. Berger, founder of media booking platform EBO
- Washington: Keith Chaney, founder of Peadbo, a personal advisory board
RoadPitch cohort founders took the prize in Boston and New York, while angel investors in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington selected local founders.
“All we’re doing is curating an event and giving these founders the opportunity to get in front of the right person. So if there’s an opportunity for a local startup to potentially get the interest of an angel that we bring into the room, that’s exactly what we want,” Brown said.
In Philadelphia, Vanessa Williams-Harvey, a founder traveling with RoadPitch, connected with investor Marc Kramer over her business DUES24, an educational app for nursing students. Kramer, who runs the Angel Venture Fair, offered Williams-Harvey six months of free rent in a space in Louisville after learning she was based in the area. He also offered to market all of the entrepreneurs to his network of 10,000 angel investors.
The traveling founders participated in a total of 14 pitch demos in five days. RoadPitch also organized pitching events exclusively for the traveling founders to meet local angel investors in more intimate settings in each city. Several organizations partnered with RoadPitch to hold these events such as Founder Institute DC, NY Tech Alliance, Silicon Valley Bank, Cambridge Innovation Center and SAP.
Brown’s goal is for each traveling founder to eventually be connected to $50,000 to $100,000 in funding from meeting angel investors during the tour. He believes that the biggest obstacle Black founders face is raising funds, primarily because they don’t have large professional networks.
“We noticed that certain networks aren’t really communicating with one another. And what I mean by that is, you’ll have these ecosystems in Boston, for example, who don’t necessarily know people in Baltimore. So we’re hoping to cross-pollinate some networks,” Brown said. And he believes presenting investors with curated events will bode better than a traditional ask.
Brown himself has participated in several startup competitions for his startup Barley, Inc, a rewards program for alcohol brands. He recently won third place in a Philadelphia pitch competition hosted by 1Philadelphia.
Brown and Turner’s end goal for RoadPitch is to get it turned into a web series or television show to create more visibility for founders on the tour. They recorded content during the five-day event which is going to be used to create a teaser. Up next for RoadPitch is a tour on the West Coast and then potentially heading down south.