Last year, U.S. companies raised record amounts of venture capital, at just under $150 billion. But of that capital, only $1 billion went to Black or African-American startup founders, which comes out to less than 1 percent of total funding, per Crunchbase data.
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Despite this low proportion, there were some early-stage companies that raised significant amounts in 2020 that were founded and led by Black entrepreneurs. For this feature, we looked at larger Series A and Series B rounds last year that went to Black startup founders. Here are some of the companies we think are worth highlighting during Black History Month.
Bay Area-based CloudTrucks, a virtual trucking application for independent truck drivers, raised a $20.5 million Series A in December led by Caffeinated Capital with participation from existing investors Craft Ventures, Khosla Ventures, SciFi VC, Kindred Ventures, Abstract Ventures and Better Tomorrow Ventures.
“In the past six months since we launched the CloudTrucks app, we have completed over 1,000 long-haul deliveries, grown 40 percent month over month, and completed over $1.8 million in freight transactions,” said Tobenna Arodiogbu co-founder and CEO on announcement of the company’s funding.
Vericool, a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cold chain packaging, raised $19.1 million Series A funding from Radicle Impact Partners, the Ecosystem Integrity Fund, ID8 Investments and AiiM Partners. The company, based in Livermore, California, aims to reduce the use of unsustainable packaging such as polystyrene with its products that use recycled paper fibers and plant-based materials. Founder and CEO Darrell Jobe, who dropped out of school in 8th grade and joined a gang, was able to turn his life around in his 20s. His company is committed to a diverse workforce and giving people a second chance in order to reduce prison recidivism.
San Francisco-based Forethought builds AI agents, starting with Agatha, for customer support. The company raised a $17 million Series B round led by New Enterprise Associates with participation from Sound Ventures, Neo, Geodesic Capital and Operator Collective along with angels Sean “Diddy” Combs, LL CooL J, and Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith. Co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas confirmed that Agatha is their first product. Currently the service answers half a million questions on an annual basis.
Atlanta-based Carbice Corp. raised the first close of its Series A round at $15 million in November. Carbice is building a product that reduces and dissipates heat from product packaging for electronic devices. Its Carbice Carbon product is used in satellites as well as regular devices. Downing Ventures led the round with participation from Toyota AI Ventures. The company is founded and led by Baratunde Cola, a professor turned entrepreneur from Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology.
Los Angeles-based Bambee, an HR platform for small and medium-sized businesses, raised a $15 million Series B led by QED Investors along with participation from Alpha Edison and Mucker Capital. Since most small businesses cannot afford to hire a dedicated HR manager, for $99 per month Bambee helps them keep up with complex laws.
“We deeply understand the pain that small businesses face as a result of tedious and complex HR rules and regulations,” said founder and CEO Allan Jones, a serial entrepreneur and previously the CMO at ZipRecruiter.
“Every business in America, regardless of size, should have a dedicated HR resource to reach out to for HR support and guidance,” he said.
54gene is a genetic testing platform focused on the African genome, which is often not tracked comprehensively by leading genomics companies. The company has offices in both Washington, D.C., in the U.S., and Nigeria. 54gene, named for the 54 countries in Africa, raised a $15 million Series A in 2020 led by Adjuvant Capital with participation from Y Combinator, Better Ventures, Fifty Years, KdT Ventures, Aera VC and Pioneer Fund. The company’s mission is “to improve personalized medicine for Africans and people of African origin, and furthermore, to advance the quality of healthcare worldwide,” said Abasi Ene-Obong, co-founder and CEO of 54gene.
Cambridge-based Wise Systems, a fleet management software company raised a $15 million Series B in 2020 led by Valo Ventures with participation from Gradient Ventures, Prologis Ventures and E14 Fund.
“There’s an increasing need for dynamic solutions that rapidly adapt to demand volatility and enable customers to simultaneously maximize fleet efficiency and improve customer experience,” said Chazz Sims, Wise Systems co-founder and CEO.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based CareAcademy provides ongoing online training programs for home health care workers, in an effort to allow the aged population to stay in their homes. The company raised a $9.5 million Series A in 2020 led by Impact America Fund with participation from Rethink Impact, Rethink Education, Revolution Rise of the Rest, Wanxiang Healthcare Investments, Techstars Ventures, Strada and ECMC.
“We started CareAcademy in 2016 with a simple idea: To empower caregivers to learn how to deliver the best care to older adults with the support, guidance and compassion needed to improve their quality of life,” said Helen Adeosun, co-founder and CEO.
Last but not least, a new unicorn
Notable not for it’s early-stage funding, but rather it’s rise to the unicorn board, is Atlanta-based Calendly which was one of 23 U.S.-based companies to join those ranks in January 2021.
Calendly is also the fourth U.S. company with a Black founder to be valued above $1 billion. CEO and founder Tope Awotona bootstrapped the company, raising seed funding in 2014 from Atlanta Ventures.
Since then, the company has not raised funding until this year when it raised $350 million (part equity and part secondary financing) at a valuation of $3 billion. The round was led by OpenView, an expansion stage venture firm based in Boston, with participation from Iconiq Capital.
Editor’s note: Deep disparities in venture funding exist not only for minority entrepreneurs, but for women in the startup community as well, which is perhaps why the bulk of the Series A and Series B rounds featured in this article went to male entrepreneurs. Issues around lack of diversity and disparities in access to capital are ones we’ll continue to cover at Crunchbase News, and we invite readers to share their views on the issue with us. You can find contact information for our staff here.
Pro tip: Crunchbase Pro allows users to easily query the dataset. See the list of African American or Black founders based in the U.S. who have raised funding since 2019. If your company is missing from this list please reach out to feedback at crunchbase.com or gene at crunchbase.com to add your company profile.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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