Google has announced the recipients of its second $5 million Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. The 50 founders, who range from educational tech entrepreneurs to creators of a freelance marketplace, will each receive $100,000 in non-dilutive funding from the tech giant along with other resources. Eleven of the 50 grantees, nearly a quarter, are graduates of historically Black colleges and universities.
The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, first announced in June 2020, is part of Google’s company-wide racial equality commitments. Last October, Google welcomed its inaugural group of 76 Black founders. Many of the founders in the first cohort nominated entrepreneurs who are now part of this second cohort.
"There was a need in the market for us to step up in a different way for Black founders particularly," Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups U.S., told The Plug.
"We understood that it can't just be a one off, it has to be a continuous effort in line with our work at Google for Startups, which is all about leveling the playing field, so that's why we have continued it for the second year," she said.
Each entrepreneur will also receive up to $120,000 in Google Ads grants and as much as $100,000 in Google Cloud credits to use over the next year, along with one-on-one meetings with the Ads and Cloud teams. The founders will also get support from Google's PR and marketing teams and they will be paired with mentors from the company.
In addition to the in-house Google support, founders also have access to an investor-in-residence, Tony Wilkins, to advise on pitches and help connect them with investors.
Additionally, the cohort will have access to individual therapy sessions, covered by Google through the year, to support their mental health through the rollercoaster of being a startup founder. Google is also partnering with Atlanta-based non-profit Goodie Nation to offer small group meetings to the founders.
"We wanted to make sure that it is a relationship, it's not just, 'We're writing a check and saying goodbye,'" Burks Solomon said. "The support is not just about the press piece or the PR. It's really about how can we get in the trenches with these founders and ensure that they have the resources that they need to really grow and scale these companies."
“A startup founder is a lonely journey,” Kelley Cambry, a Howard University alum and founder and CEO of Blue Studios, a live and on-demand Pre K to 12th grade STEM edutainment platform, told The Plug.
“It is so valuable for us to be in a cohort of other accomplished, like-minded founders. It’s an opportunity to network, connect and learn from other founders who are at similar stages of their journey,’’ she said.
For Fred Burns, a Jackson State University alum in the cohort and founder and CEO of Safer Management, a digital attendance tracking platform that is now used in 66 schools and two colleges and universities, the breadth of support is something he appreciates.
"The resources are on another level," Burns told The Plug. The Google Ads grants and Cloud credits will allow Safer Management to lower its bottom line. Burns plans to use the $100,000 to expand his team.
For Roger Roman, co-founder of AfriBlocks, a global Pan-African marketplace of vetted African freelance professionals, the money from the fund is helping his company reach its pre-seed funding goal of $750,000, which will allow the company to focus on user acquisition and building out its technology.
"I think being in a community of other founders, particularly Black founders, kind of has the same effect of going to an HBCU," Roman, a Howard University grad, told The Plug.
"You see people who look like you, who are experiencing some of the same issues, who are experiencing some of the same successes. You can celebrate their wins with them as well and now you have a shoulder to lean on, so to speak, when you're having issues and you can also learn and glean things from them as well," he added.
Google and HBCUs
In June, Google gave a total of $50 million to 10 schools, with each one receiving an unrestricted grant of $5 million to put towards scholarships, building tech infrastructure on campuses, and developing curricula and career readiness programs. It was Google’s largest financial commitment to HBCUs to date. Google for Startups also supports the $1 million Venture Capital Lab Fund run by HBCUvc, which will give HBCU students and alumni hands-on investing experience.
In October 2020, Google launched the Grow with Google HBCU Career Readiness Program, in collaboration with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, to bring the company’s training tools to schools’ career centers, committing more than $1 million to these centers.
But Google found itself in a firestorm of controversy late last year after the firing of two prominent Black women, April Curley and Timnit Gebru. The firings led to HBCU 20x20, an organization that connects students and graduates to jobs and internships, to end their partnership with Google because of allegations of discrimination by the women.
"HBCU 20x20 supports and encourages entrepreneurship within the HBCU and Black community. We are proud of the HBCU founders who were selected to participate in Google’s program and wish them all the best in their endeavors. We still, however, encourage Google to do the work internally to ensure they are fostering an inclusive community and advise starting by righting the wrong done to April Curley and Dr. Timnit Gebru," Nicole Tinson, CEO of HBCU 20x20, said in a statement to The Plug.
“We have a large team of recruiters who work incredibly hard to increase the hiring of Black+ and other underrepresented talent at Google, including a dedicated team that partners and strengthens our relationships with HBCUs,” a spokesperson for Google said in a statement to The Plug.
Helping Black founders across the diaspora
Google for Startups first piloted the Black Founders Fund in the U.S. and has since expanded internationally to support founders across the diaspora in Europe, Africa and Brazil.
“Across all of these countries, there is unfortunately a discrepancy between the funding that Black founders receive and what everyone else receives,” Burks Solomon said.
In June, Google announced the 30 Black founders from the U.K., France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands that would receive up to $100,000.
“It's really been inspiring to me that we've been able to spread the work and serve, not just U.S.-based founders, but founders across the world,” Burks Solomon added.