Local Nonprofit Relaunches Nationwide Pitch Competition for Minority-owned Businesses
Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of the nonprofit Metropolitan Economic Development Association, says the event can help connect investors to entrepreneurs of color. (Photo courtesy of MEDA)

Local Nonprofit Relaunches Nationwide Pitch Competition for Minority-owned Businesses

Even higher turnout expected in event's second year.

The Metropolitan Economic Development Association has opened up applications for its pitch competition for minority-owned businesses.

Known as the MEDA Million Dollar Challenge, the Shark Tank-style competition gives ethnic minority-owned firms a chance to win a share of more than $1 million in financing to help grow their businesses.

Last year, MEDA received more than 220 applications for the nationwide competition, says Gary Cunningham, the association’s president and CEO. Nine firms went on to win financing.

This year, the organization expects the total number of applicants to double, he says.

“For these competitions, the second year is always bigger than the first,” Cunningham tells TCB. “We’ve had people from all over the country apply because there’s very little money available in the patient capital market for minority entrepreneurs, so people flock to it.”

Applications are due June 13. MEDA will invite 20 semi-finalists for a “speed-pitch” event in St. Paul around the end of July.

The top ten will be invited back to make a final pitch during Twin Cities Start-Up Week in October. Before the final pitch, MEDA will host a bootcamp to help applicants refine their pitch.

“It really helps them,” Cunningham says of the bootcamp. “We get professional investors come in to help them with their pitch decks. There was a huge differences in the presentations between the first group and the second group because of all the work that went into it.”

Even those that didn’t go on to win the top prize “got a lot” out of the coaching.

In Cunningham’s view, the challenge serves as a key connecting point between investors and firms owned by people of color. For some investors, the event has helped “open their eyes to the innovative minority businesses across the country,” Cunningham says.

“People want to have inclusivity in their portfolio,” he says. “They don’t want to just have a portfolio that’s segregated. They want to have a portfolio that represents America.”

The challenge also is aimed at addressing a gap in financing for minority-owned firms, which can often face higher loan denial rates, according data from the Minority Business Development Agency.

Investors will be looking for profitable, high-growth business ideas, Cunningham says.

MEDA will assemble a panel of investors from across the U.S. to judge the finalists. That’ll include folks from San Francisco, New York and even a few local investors.