The Black & Latino Tech Initiative (BLT) launched on November 2 with a networking event at the offices of Newark Venture Partners (NVP). Anthony Frasier, NVP’s entrepreneur in residence, thanked everyone for coming and then quickly handed the mic to Mukesh M. Patel, the driving force behind BLT.
“The goal of BLT is to help black and Latino entrepreneurs get into accelerators, to get capital, to grow and scale,” said Patel, who is BLT’s entrepreneur in residence and executive coach.
Melissa S. Jackson, program manager, explained that “BLT is a three-month pre-accelerator for startups with at least one cofounder of color who is a member of the team. The whole team does not have to be of color, but at least one principal does.”
Patel told the audience that the BLT team tries to identify startups with potential, and to match them with appropriate sources of capital. In addition, BLT team members talk to potential investors, venture capitalists, incubators and accelerators to find out what their requirements are. They can then help BLT participants tailor their applications appropriately and thus have a higher success rate in fundraising. BLT is a one-stop resource for references to venture capital resources and information about how to apply in a way to get funding. BLT also helps startups design advisory boards.
Addressing the audience, Lyneir Richardson, executive director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED), a research-driven, practitioner-oriented center at the Rutgers Business School in Newark, noted that “less than two percent of large tech companies have a black or Latino leader. Also, business people of color receive less venture capital investment. BLT is trying to change that.”
Richardson continued, “The world is missing out on innovation. People talk about diversity.” Then he quoted diversity advocate Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” This has become the mantra of BLT, and appears prominently on the BLT website.
Patel listed the factors guiding the selection of high-potential startups: There's the intellectual capital (the idea) and the human capital (the team). BLT deals with teams only — no sole proprietorships. However, it will sometimes help sole proprietors form a team. Then there is the social capital: doing good while you are doing business. As for financial capital, that is something BLT helps provide, often seeking it beyond New Jersey.
Richardson, who is also a professor at the Rutgers Business School, told NJ Tech Weekly.com, that CUEED provides entrepreneurs with skills such as marketing, writing business plans, and accounting, and with insights on how to grow their businesses. CUEED also helps these entrepreneurs contribute to the revitalization of urban communities. Participants must have the will and drive to grow profitably and create wealth as well as jobs in urban areas.
Many examples of this will and drive were present at the event, including Gregory Henry, a Jamaican engineering student who is trying to market his patent, and Ayana Webb, a speech pathologist trying to market her training materials over the Internet.
Patel also said that BLT provides skills training and assistance with fundraising. In addition, he noted that BLT works with the Entrepreneurship Clinic at the Rutgers Law School (Newark) to provide free legal services to qualified startups. Law students at Rutgers provide the service, under the guidance of law professors. Douglas Eakeley, Clinic director; Theodore M. Weitz, managing partner; and Patel (as director of development) preside over the Clinic's operations.
The Clinic provides counseling and representation on such matters as pre-venture activities; business planning; entity selection (e.g., whether to incorporate, form a partnership or create a limited liability company); negotiating, drafting and reviewing agreements; management and transparency-in-governance issues; capital structure, valuation and finance; intellectual property; employee management issues; community relations issues; and ongoing entrepreneurial and business activities.
Apart from his role on the BLT team, Patel oversees the Innovation Lab at the Honors College at Rutgers. Of the 100-plus socially innovative ideas created annually by first-year Honors College students, approximately six advance to become eligible for hands-on development at the Innovation Lab under his mentorship. He is also a business attorney; the cofounder and CEO of JuiceTank, a Somerset-based business incubator and coworking space; and cofounder and managing director of the NextBridge Group, a private equity firm, also in Somerset.
BLT's board, “the team,” is composed of Patel; Jackson; Richardson; and Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, academic director of CUEED. BLT has partnered with Newark Venture Partners; Starting Point Ventures (Morristown); BCT Partners (Newark); Fownders (Newark); Code for Newark; Gibbons P.C. law firm (Newark); IDT Ventures (Newark); and =SPACE, the coworking venue in downtown Newark.