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Black entrepreneurs lauded for app to help minority-owned businesses raise funds

The SmallStreet team, from left, Ernest James, Edward

The SmallStreet team, from left, Ernest James, Edward Carrington, Whitney Griffith and Malorie Casimir, who was a winner of the StartupBus competition on Sunday. Photo Credit: JPMorgan Chase

When Malorie Casimir got accepted to a competition to develop an app in five days, she didn’t consider herself someone with “an entrepreneurial mindset.”

A software engineer from Brooklyn, Casimir expected to contribute her technical skills in the “StartupBus” competition. “Being a part of this experience has really opened up opportunities for me to see how I can merge the two,” she said. 

Casimir, 26, was part of a team that finished as a runner-up in the competition, which brought in eight buses of contestants from across the country to New Orleans over the weekend. The four-person team developed and designed an app, called SmallStreet, that will help small minority-owned businesses fundraise through community investments. It is hoping to launch its app in early 2020, Casimir said.   

“We were really ecstatic,” Casimir said about her team finding out they were one of the three winners out of 30 teams. 

The team wasn’t selected as a semifinalist, but won one of the two people’s choice spots, which allowed them to make a final pitch to a panel of judges. 

“We went from people’s choice to a winner, which we’re really proud of,” Casimir said.

Casimir’s team was on a bus exclusively for black entrepreneurs, the first in the competition’s 10-year history. The bus, which started in Harlem, was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways initiative, aiming to expand economic opportunity for black people.

“If we weren’t sponsored by Chase, we would have had to pay upward of like $1,200 out of pocket, whereas we just had to pay like $99,” Casimir said. 

Chase also provided the teams with mentors, with the goal of giving the entrepreneurs access to feedback and insight they may not normally receive.

“We are immensely proud of what the SmallStreet team was able to accomplish in such a short period of time,” said Sekou Kaalund, the head of Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways. “The platform that SmallStreet has developed has the potential to help black-owned small businesses tackle one of their most critical challenges — gaining access to the capital they need to grow and scale.”

Casimir said she hopes more black entrepreneurs will get the same opportunity she and the other contestants on the Advancing Black Pathways bus got. 

“I just hope there are more larger companies like Chase that see the value of investing in underrepresented communities,” she said.

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