Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my interview with @PowerMovesNOLA. Veteran investment executive and entrepreneur Earl Robinson has been named President, and economic development expert September Hargrove has been named Chief Operating Officer of PowerMoves.NOLA, a new national initiative focused on providing access to capital, connections and guidance to increase the number of America’s venture-backed minority entrepreneurs. In addition to his new position at PowerMoves.NOLA, Mr. Robinson is an advisory board member of and partner of RLMcCall Capital, a private equity firm focused on investments in the media, technology, oil & gas and general industrials sectors, which he is relocating to New Orleans. He is a founding board member of Cardinal Points Holdings, an equity sponsor of ClearCompass Digital Group (www.clearcdg.com), a digital media company based in Encino, California. Prior to co-founding Cardinal Points, Mr. Robinson launched Column Point Capital, an investment platform concentrating on the transportation, industrial services and healthcare IT sectors.
SmallBizLady: What is PowerMoves.NOLA and what are you all seeking to do?
Earl Robinson: PowerMoves.NOLA is a national initiative to deploy innovative ideas, fresh approaches, and an overall commitment to equity and diversity as a growth strategy to address the generational obstacles that prevent minority entrepreneurship. Leveraging the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, resources, and culture of New Orleans, PowerMoves.NOLA’s mission is to increase the number of venture-backed minority-founded companies locally and nationally.
SmallBizLady: What are high-growth minority companies?
Earl Robinson: They are companies that have innovative business models that, with the proper investment, can scale in a big way. They tend to be the types of companies we associate with startups — in the high-tech and new technology fields. For example, this year we are focusing on an entire set of entrepreneurs working in the Financial Technology space, also known as FinTech that are developing and using software to provide financial services. But overall our treps run the gamut, from the designers of fashionable wearables to the developers of industrial lubricants.
SmallBizLady: Why is minority entrepreneurship important?
Earl Robinson: Because they bring real value to the table that is generally going unnoticed by investors. In a 2012 opinion piece for Entrepreneur.com, Case Western University Professor Scott Shane presented study data showing that while African Americans “are more interested in running their own businesses than whites. African-Americans are more likely to initiate the new-business creation process than whites although they are less likely to have an up-and-running business a few years later, according to the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics, a representative survey of the adult-age population housed at the University of Michigan.”
The piece went on to report that because the capital requirements to start a business are the same regardless of the would-be entrepreneur’s race, the difference in net worth means that a much smaller fraction of interested African-Americans have the money to start companies than interested whites.
PowerMoves.NOLA is about identifying the very best of this historically overlooked talent pool and providing them with the tools they need to succeed, such as connecting them to experienced investors.
By strengthening minority entrepreneurship, we can grow new jobs in our economy, increase our productivity, and hopefully garner some quality of life improvements through innovative ventures and technologies.
SmallBizLady: You are giving away money to entrepreneurs as part of The Big Break Power Pitch on July 3rd at the ESSENCE Music Festival. Tell me about this contest.
Earl Robinson: The Big Break Power Pitch will feature four consumer-focused startups competing for $25,000, moderated by Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Global Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley. The contestants include FashionTEQ, a company that manufactures a collection of smart jewelry for women; GemPhones, a fashion focused, jewelry inspired electronic accessory company; Smart Coos, a mobile first platform that provides children with web-based tools to learn a foreign language; and Flat Out of Heels, LLC, the creator of the Flat Out rollable flat and the Flat Out shoe vending machine.
SmallBizLady: What is a pitch event?
Earl Robinson: A pitch is where entrepreneurs sell people on why they should invest in their businesses. In a pitch event, the entrepreneurs compete to win, and the winner usually gets a money prize. At PMN, we will have 4 pitch competitions, and each winner will receive a cash prize to help take their business to the next level.
SmallBizLady: How do potential investors evaluate a company?
Earl Robinson: Investors look for 4 main things:
- Is the business idea solving a problem?
- How large is the opportunity?
- How big can the company become? How many people or businesses would be willing to buy their product or service
- What is the competition like?
- Who is the competition, how is this idea better, and how easy or hard will it be for this startup to sell their product or service?
- How good is the entrepreneur and the team.
- They can have a good idea, that is solving a real problem and has the potential to be big, but if the team can’t execute, then the company won’t succeed.
SmallBizLady: What are the stages a startup goes through?
Earl Robinson: Everyone will have a different answer to this question, but we see the stages of a startup as:
- Ideation — When the entrepreneurs develop a compelling concept.
- Proof of Concept — When the entrepreneurs prove that the concept can work. This is typically where they seek out their “Friends and Family” round of investment. This can be the most difficult stage.
- Revenue — When the business actually starts getting paying customers. This is typically where they seek out their Angel round of investment.
- Scale — This is where the business begins to grow to meet demand. This is where they seek out their Series A round of investment – and later a Series B round to further scale.
SmallBizLady: What was the process for entrepreneurs that were selected for this year’s events?
Earl Robinson: We sought out the nation’s very best and brightest entrepreneurs of color beginning the day after last year’s PowerMoves.NOLA. We tapped into national networks, connecting with incubators, entrepreneurs, and pitch contests across the country. And since last year’s success, entrepreneurs have begun seeking us out. Now the challenge is identifying the cream of the crop to present as part of the National Conference. With so much talent out there, it’s a difficult task!
SmallBizLady: What’s the plan for PowerMoves.NOLA after Essence Fest?
Earl Robinson: We plan to continue growing and expanding.
PowerMoves.NOLA recently launched City Ventures, where we are traveling to cities across the nation that are committed to the PowerMoves.NOLA mission of increasing the number of venture-backed minority-founded companies. Through City Ventures, PowerMoves.NOLA will introduce regional and national startup talent to partner cities, highlight existing local entrepreneurial resources and ecosystems, and aid in the strategic positioning of those cities as regional hubs for high-growth and high-tech entrepreneurs of color.
Ultimately, however, the goal is that PowerMoves.NOLA is no longer needed, because one day we hope entrepreneurs of color will be on a level playing field.
SmallBizLady: Why in New Orleans?
Earl Robinson: New Orleans has seen a surge in entrepreneurial activity since Hurricane Katrina. We are working to leverage that success, position New Orleans as a hub for entrepreneurs of color, and lend our experience to create a sustainable movement in cities across the nation.
SmallBizLady: How can individuals and companies get involved in PowerMoves.NOLA?
Earl Robinson: Entrepreneurs, investors or potential program partners interested in PMN can learn more information by visiting our website, www.powermovesnola.org, following us on social media @PowerMovesNOLA or contacting us at email@example.com.
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