Shimite Obialo was well aware of the statistics around Black and brown founders when she entered the VC startup space in 2017.
The most recent data suggests that minority founders raised just 2.4% of all venture funding over the past six years.
Obialo, a corporate finance attorney and entrepreneur, saw that the disparity stemmed from a lack of connectivity across the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“It’s not just one thing,” she told Hypepotamus. “It works in the aggregate. As a venture and startup lawyer, I was seeing founders getting kicked out of their own companies, or founders splitting causing them to lose a good chunk of equity…and with COVID I saw a frenzy of issues that arose when it came to getting PPP loans.”
Lacking a strong business network, Obialo saw more founders of color fall further behind. “Not being tethered to an ecosystem where you have experienced entrepreneurs and chief executives means you’re kind of floating out there, trying to figure it out. And there’s a number of resources, but it’s fragmented.”
Her answer has come in the form of a hybrid business community designed to help executives and founders of color build their business: the Suites.
A New Type Of Networking
The Suites is a private network based on what Obialo calls the 3Cs of business building: connections, coaching and capital.
“It’s about understanding all of the ups and downs, the highs and lows that go on behind the headlines when it comes to supporting entrepreneurs,” Obialo added.
Through a mobile app community and curated events, the Suites is looking to raise the bar on how executives of color collaborate, network, and build their businesses.
The idea is to provide a more bespoke experience for capital introductions and potential partnerships.
Members are executives, investors, and entrepreneurs of color who have companies, most of which have at least $500,000 in annual revenue or in funds raised. Obialo adds that members are running businesses that have traction and are ready to scale.
While many come from the entrepreneurial or VC space, she added that partners in the network include law firms, banks, and other strategic partners. “There is such an important and pivotal role that law firms play in the ecosystem for businesses in terms of that access and connectivity. It’s just a wealth of knowledge and resources for folks navigating any number of business issues,” she added.
Members will have access to an exclusive app to chat 1:1, build community, and explore partnership perks that have been set up.
The Suites will also host a series of virtual mixers and executive roundtables to facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and additional connectivity.
And finally, the Suites will begin hosting in-person curated experiences up and down the East Coast this coming fall, focused on bringing together investors and industry leaders in an effort to help members develop stronger business connections across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
The founding community includes prominent investors like Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, whose firm has invested in more than 175 startup companies led by “underestimated founders”, Atlanta-based Shila Burney of Zane Venture Fund and Morgan Simon, of Candide Group who in 2020 alone supported just under $50M of investments into companies and funds, the majority led by women and people of color.
The growing list of partners rallying to support the Suites include Insperity, AchieveNEXT, OneValley Passport, SoGal Foundation and Aux21 Capital.
Entrepreneurs and business executives looking to join a diverse community offering a deep bench of experienced leaders, vetted business experts, and strong capital relationships are encouraged to visit www.jointhesuites.com and apply for membership, to become one of the 150 Founding Members. Applications for Founding Membership will close in September.
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