Last fall, during Twin Cities Startup Week, more than a dozen minority entrepreneurs competed in a Shark Tank-style million-dollar business pitch showcase. On Wednesday, nine companies were selected as finalists in the first official competition. They will receive funds amounting to a total of $1.475 million.
Created by the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda), a minority business development agency, and powered by Chase Bank, the competition was open to business owners from around the country. In all, more than 200 businesses applied to participate, and ultimately, the winners were selected from 19 semi-finalists.
“We are very excited to award more than a million dollars in financing to all nine companies,” says Gary Cunningham, Meda president and CEO. “The competition was stiff for the top prizes, but these companies rose to the challenge, and we look forward to seeing how they all leverage this investment in their businesses.”
The new competition – and Meda itself – aims to address challenges minority entrepreneurs face finding access to investor capital. Citing industry studies, Meda says the factors behind the disparity of opportunities available to minority vs non-minority entrepreneurs include inequalities in financial, human, and social capital, as well as racial discrimination.
Meda, the City of Saint Paul, and Chase teamed up to launch the Million Dollar Challenge based on the belief that bridging the gap is crucial to economic growth, job creation, and wage increases in economically disadvantaged communities across the country.
At the finals event held at the Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) Studios in St. Paul, Chase announced an additional $250,000 investment on top of their initial $1 million commitment of funds from its NEXT Fund for Innovation.
“We know the importance of investing in minority-owned small businesses, so increasing Chase’s commitment in this program was the easy decision,” says Gavin Borowiak, managing director at Chase.
“Selecting the top winners from among these creative, innovative, passionate entrepreneurs – now that was hard,” Borowiak continues. “We congratulate all the participants and can’t wait to see the positive impact their work will have on their lives, business, and communities.”
In addition to Chase’s late-stage bonus funding, Meda also upped the ante with an additional $225,000, which lifted the prize pool’s total to $1.475 million.
The companies chosen as prize recipients are:
A St. Louis Park-based maker of wearable technology to help people overcome physical compulsions including hair pulling and nail biting. Awarded $400,000.
A software solution provider based in Chicago, focusing on helping hospitals with capital planning and budgeting for more efficient equipment utilization. Awarded $200,000.
Minneapolis-based analytics platform designed to enable hospitality venues to better manage, understand and grow their business. Awarded $200,000.
A Minneapolis-based software solutions company specializing in Smart Campus, a platform to help students and college administrators with scheduling and other education aspects. Hopes to reduce dropout numbers. Awarded $125,000.
Mobility 4 All
A ride hailing service, based in St. Paul, designed for seniors and people with disabilities. Awarded $125,000.
A Columbus, Ohio-based manufacturer of smart vending machines and kiosks boasting advanced capabilities at the point-of-sale. Awarded $125,000.
A Minneapolis-based online asset protection platform featuring data encryption with an automatic date-specific information delivery function. Awarded $100,000.
Based in Austell, Georgia, SquarePac is a packaging solutions company. Awarded $100,000.
Virtue Analytics Inc.
A Woodbury-based provider of an eEnrollment Management platform for educational institutions. Awarded $100,000.