How One Startup Is Delivering Mentoring And Coaching To Women And BIPOC Entrepreneurs At Scale

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The coronavirus pandemic had a disproportionate impact on small businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color.

The Covid-19 crisis and the killing of George Floyd focused the media on highlighting the disparities attributed to gender, race, ethnicity, and their intersectionality.

Women and people of color have less wealth than their white male counterparts, making it harder to bootstrap businesses. Less access to human, social, and financial capital makes it more costly and time-consuming for under-estimated entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. As a result, their companies are smaller and less profitable.

Melisa Bradley and Georgetown University’s research revealed that women and people of color churn accountants and lawyers at a four times higher rate than their white male counterparts. It is not just investors that don’t get their business models! It is also those who provide professional service providers.

“It costs one-quarter of a million dollars more for black entrepreneurs to start the same businesses as their white peers,” sighed Bradley. She is a serial entrepreneur, investor, professor, and researcher, who has developed mentorship programs, including 1863 Ventures—an accelerator focused on the new majority—where she is managing partner.

Technology advances have made it easier to deliver entrepreneurial support services. Bradley and her two co-founders—Rob Gatto and David Jakubowski—launched Ureeka in November 2019 to support entrepreneurs in three ways:

  • People: peers, mentors, and coaches.
  • Programs: training.
  • Connections: access to capital through direct connections

Ureeka raised $8.6 million, led by Chicago Ventures.

“Eighty percent of its users are women and BIPOC [black, indigenous, and other people of color],” said Bradley. Gatto’s expertise is in digital marketing and Jakubowski’s is in sales and customer acquisition. While at Facebook, Jakubowski ran some of its small business programs.

“Once people get past the startup phase and begin to grow their business, the complex challenges they face are much more nuanced and go beyond one size fits all,” said Bradley. Challenges vary by gender, race, ethnicity, industry, geography, and immigrant status. The Ureeka platform provides coaching and mentoring services tailored to individual needs. It isn’t in competition with training and accelerator programs. It’s complementary.

The company serves entrepreneurs directly and through the organizations that serve them. Like WE NYC and Native Women Lead, partner organizations can create their own communities, host events, and share information.

The platform provides technical assistance as a service. It is focused on two areas—financing and customers. During the economic shock of Covid-19, Ureeka administered grants given to small businesses from corporations, such as Facebook and Comcast. Revenues last year were more than double for this new revenue stream compared to Ureeka’s core business of coaching. It also provides free mentorship for people seeking SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

Ureeka also gets entrepreneurs’ pitches ready and hosts competitions. Perfecting your pitch isn’t magic. There are proven techniques for giving a good one.

Ureeka divides entrepreneurs into four categories:

  • Discoverers don’t have revenues.
  • Provers generate less than $100,000 in revenue.
  • Growers generate between $100,000 and $1 million.
  • Scalers generate $1 million-plus.

“The company has grown from three people to over 40 in less than a year,” said Bradley. It can be challenging getting everyone rowing in the same direction when you’re so new. Ureeka benefited from the collective experiences of its three co-founders, who had run companies before. They all had built systems, processes, and procedures many times before and collaborated on building Ureeka’s. This allowed them to jumpstart scalable processes at the onset.

Having a healthy culture is also of critical importance. “As co-founders, we check in regularly to ensure we are in sync,” said Bradley. “We also have weekly all-hands meetings to allow all parts of the company to share progress and challenges. We have a high level of transparency around roles, responsibilities, and process to track the progress of the business.”

While some organizations and funders are waking up to the systemic barriers women and BIPOC communities face in starting and growing their companies, others are not. The Ureeka team is changing minds by highlighting its success with entrepreneurs who participate in programs. Outcome data and case studies demonstrate the value of its programs.

How will you get the support you need to start and grow your business?


Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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