Black entrepreneurs ride the StartupBus

About to embark on a unique remarkable journey the StartUpBux for Advancing Black Entrepreneurs.

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | The renovated Chase bank on 125th St. buzzed with excitement a few weeks ago when, meeting each other for the first time, 30 young people were about to embark on a remarkable experience. They hailed from New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Oakland.

During a 72-hour road trip to New Orleans on the StartupBus, this select group of young tech, design and business talent would form a collaborative community to think up, develop and market startup companies.

About to embark on a unique remarkable journey on the StartupBus for Advancing Black Entrepreneurs. (Courtesy Chase/Advancing Black Pathways)

Celebrating its 10th year, StartupBus’s goal is to provide the creative environment to build a real working project and pitch it to potential investors. Seven other similarly filled buses, traveling from all over the country and Mexico, converged in New Orleans, where ideas were pitched

The unique StartupBus sponsored by Chase is a project of the company’s Advancing Black Pathways initiative. All selected participants are black and the theme of the bus, co-named Advancing Black Entrepreneurs, was to develop projects that mainly focus on improving black Americans’ financial health.

Welcoming those who would be riding on the StartupBus was Sekou Kaalund, head of Advancing Black Pathways, an initiative of Chase to provide support for black Americans in education, careers, business and personal financial success. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Among the eight New Yorkers, Malorie Casimir, a 26-year-old Brooklynite, took time from her job at Flatiron School — a for-profit business teaching tech skills — to join the 5-day hackathon trip.

Casimir graduated from The New School, where she studied opera. After a year working at a startup, she enrolled in Flatiron School’s 15-week intensive Boot Camp, and afterward began a tech career at Flatiron School.

“At the very start of the road trip, we pitched ideas to the whole group,” she explained, of how groups formed to work together. In her case, she and another participant had a similar idea, and two others joined with them.

Software engineer Malorie Casimir from Brooklyn and part of the contest’s runner-up project, SmallSteet, a platform to help invest in community businesses. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Their project, SmallStreet, is a micro-investing platform aimed at facilitating what is known as “buying back the block” — like a Wall Street for small businesses.

Along the way, mentors and previous attendees, also aboard the bus, provided their professional insight. Teams pitched their ideas and received feedback while making professional contacts at tech stops in Akron, Detroit, Atlanta and Montgomery.

Three of the mentors from Chase who rode on the StartupBus for Advancing Black Entrepreneurs, from left, Woodie Green, consumer and community banking; Ebele Kemery, asset and wealth management; and Terry Scott, consumer and community banking. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

As a computer engineer, Casimir worked on the coding, which came toward the latter part of project development. Did she sleep? Every now and then.

In New Orleans, 30 startup teams presented their ideas during the final pitch.

SmallStreet did well, finishing as the runner-up in the StartupBus 2019 Competition. And, they also received the People’s Choice Award. Casimir noted how one member of their team, a marketing pro, attracted 2.8 million impressions through social-media postings.

Not all just suits! Purple-haired Madelena Mak, senior national director of StartupBus, left, and National Director Collen Wong gave an overview at the reception the night before the bus took off from 125th St. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

So, what do you get from this rolling ride of tech and networking?

“Bragging rights!” Casimir exulted.

But, it’s more than just that: These techies are serious. Casimir consults with her team once a week, further developing SmallStreet. The project’s projected launch date is 2020.

The Advancing Black Entrepreneurs Bus also received the Best Bus honor based on overall pitch quality and engagement with the community, with the key measure being social-media impressions generated by the buses. The Advancing Black Entrepreneurs Bus earned a collective 3.5 million impressions.

Participants about to embark on their remarkable journey — both physically and entrepreneurially — on the StartupBus. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

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