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Duke, NC Central Launch Program to Showcase Black-Founded and Black-Led Businesses

Participants can compete for up to $25,000

DURHAM, NC -- U.S.-based college students and recent alumni who founded or lead growing businesses are invited to showcase their companies to investors who are committed to investing in Black-founded and Black-led businesses, and to compete for up to $25,000 through a new Duke University-North Carolina Central University program.

“pitch: A Competition for Black Student-Founders” takes place virtually on April 8-9, 2021. The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the School of Business at North Carolina Central University are co-promoters of “pitch,” in partnership with the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and Resilient Ventures.

”Black businesses continue to be marred with a variety of barriers that stand in the way of successful launch or sustainability,” said Anthony Nelson, dean of the NCCU School of Business. “This ‘pitch’ experience promises to provide student business founders with access to resources that will significantly enhance the opportunity for growth and development of their businesses. It is our honor and privilege to collaborate with Duke in this effort and we look forward to seeing how these businesses influence social justice and economic development.”

Beyond the possibility of prize money, “pitch” is focused on delivering a robust experience for the participating entrepreneurs, who can expect expert feedback from investors knowledgeable about their  industry. Each cohort of entrepreneurs will be appropriately sized so participants can be seen and mentored during and after the competition.

The participation gaps faced by Black startup funders and founders are staggering. For example, 1% of venture-backed companies have Black founders, 3% of investment partners at VC firms are Black, and fewer than 50 startups led by Black women have raised $1 million or more.

“We believe business activity provides a remarkable opportunity for societal transformation,” said Bill Boulding, dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “We therefore have the responsibility of using the platform of business as a force multiplier to tackle pernicious and persistent issues of racial equity, justice, and fairness that plague society.” 

The application is available now through Jan. 29 at Applicants will apply to one of four industry tracks: Business products and services; consumer products and services; energy and sustainability; or life sciences and health care. Each applicant will receive an initial evaluation by a panel of operators and investors experienced in each track.

Semi-finalists will be selected by Feb. 26 and invited to pitch in a semi-final round on April 8. A final round of pitches will take place on April 9.

Eligible teams and companies must meet these criteria:

-- One founder, co-founder or C-level executive who is a current student within one year of graduation or a recent alumnus (from the classes of 2016–2020) from a college or university in the United States.

-- U.S.-based team or company with a desire and ability to scale.

-- Received less than $300,000 in funding to date (not including funding from founding team).

“pitch” supports three of the pillars of Duke’s strategic framework – empowering the boldest thinkers, forging purposeful partnerships and engaging a global network. 

“pitch” is also aligned with North Carolina Central University’s commitment to creating a culture of creativity, innovation and collaboration among the broader community in order to spur economic development.

Individuals, businesses and organizations are invited to participate as sponsors and spectators at the virtual event April 8-9. There are several opportunities for naming prizes and event stages. Sign up for updates at