‘Gathering of Angels’ summit at Rutgers a success
There’s nothing like success to attract more success.
The America21 Project produced three successful events in rapid succession preceding its unprecedented gathering of angels and entrepreneurs at Rutgers University in mid-November.
Silicon Valley in California and Long Island, New York served as coast-to-coast bookends on Nov. 3 and 9 respectively — surrounding the meeting of 70 local leaders in Portland, Oregon on Nov. 4, who came together at the University of Portland to discuss the establishment of a local Urban Innovation Roundtable. The UIR is slated to convene in 2012 for the purpose of implementing strategies focused on developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem and job growth in disconnected sectors of Portland.
On Nov. 15 and 16, more than 120 investors, entrepreneurs, business and government leaders registered to attend the first-ever “Gathering of Angels” Summit at Rutgers University School of Business in Newark, NJ. The rain couldn’t dampen the excitement felt by attendees, many of whom instinctively knew they were witnessing a transformative event.
“I just wanted to say, that was a phenomenal event! You really did an excellent job coordinating and managing the entire process and I take my hat off to the entire America21 Project team for being pioneers in this movement.”
The America21 Project partnered with The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED), led by Dr. dt ogilvie (lowercase intended) to present a definitive turning point that would mark a new era of economic priority for minorities and urban America. The historic event brought together investors and entrepreneurs with a focus on job growth and wealth creation in disconnected urban sectors of society. Major sponsors included investors like Mitchell Kapor of Kapor Capital and Robert Blackwell of the Electronic Knowledge Interchange.
The summit opened just before noon with an energetic and informative keynote by John Sibley Butler, Ph.D., Director of the IC2 Institute and the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Business (McCombs School of Business) at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Butler is also a Distinguished Scholar and Visiting Professor at Rutgers Business School. Dr. Butler energized the audience, which wouldn’t let him leave until nearly an hour beyond his segment. That level of energy and interest would set the stage for the entire summit, as the continually evolving times and program agenda was dictated by the attendees.
Dr. Butler’s poignant presentation led into the CNN documentary, “Black in America, Part 4: New Promised Land, Silicon Valley,” followed by an energized panel discussion with four of the featured entrepreneurs: Wayne Sutton, Hank Williams, Hajj Flemings, Anthony Frazier and Navarrow Wright (CTO of Interactive One).
The evening program featured 13 entrepreneurs pitching to a panel of four judges. Each entrepreneur presented a 10-minute powerpoint followed by a 5-minute Q&A with the judges. The entrepreneurs were judged on a scale of one to five in two categories: presentation and level of fundable interest. The top four companies were invited to pitch on day two to an audience of investors, which included a representative from Goldman Sachs. Founders engaged in a Q&A with the audience following each presentation.
The four top presenting companies were:
Sumazi: Sumaya Kazi, Founder
House of Mikko: Kai Freeman, Co-founder
Nexercise: Benjamin Young, Co-founder
Just Like Me, Inc.: Yaba Baker, Founder
Maisha Walker (CEO of Message Medium and author of “The Internet Strategist” at Inc. magazine)
William Rolack (Director, New York Chapter of National Association of African Americans in Human Resources)
Natalia Oberti Noguera (Founder, Pipeline Fellowship)
Eugene Dibble IV (Principal, Capstone Management Services; Founder, Main Street Initiative; Director, Entrepreneurs Playground, LLC.)
Note: As of this writing, I’ve been informed at least three of the 13 presenting companies have received requests for private discussions with interested funders.
“Thank you for inviting Team Fenom to pitch at the 1st annual ‘A Gathering of Angels’ summit. It was very rewarding to be exposed to the process and to invaluable resources. The panel discussions were informative and enlightening.”
Dinner followed the entrepreneur pitch session, with a moving keynote by Chris Rabb, author of Invisible Capital.
Chad Womack, Ph.D., a biotech entrepreneur and co-founder of The America21 Project opened the second day with a soul-stirring amount of data and compelling information in his presentation titled, “The America21 Project: Empowering Black and Urban America to Compete in the 21st Century Innovation Economy.”
True to form, the audience of energized intellectuals refused to let Dr. Womack leave the floor without an elongated Q&A session.
The followup panel continued the excitement with, “The State of High-Growth and Tech Entrepreneurship in Black America / Access to Capital.”
Of course it, too, ran long with enormous energy and enthusiasm for the subject matter.
Audience members were urged to grab lunch and return to the Bove auditorium, where Johnathan Holifield, co-founder of The America21 Project, put on an economic clinic that George Fraser proclaimed was a “Harvard level” introspect analysis and solution-oriented visionary understanding of the economic landscape of America, and in particular the economically disconnected urban sectors.
Johnathan Holifield had acquired a few impromptu nicknames by the time the Q&A session was forced to a close.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that history was being made with the sheer amount of intellectual capital being shared in the room among a wealth of accomplished individuals, each with their own extensive networks to share. Networking was also part and parcel of the premium assets of the venue.
“… reiterating what a pleasure it was to attend your event! I received such great feedback from participants and connected with so many people I was honored and excited to reconnect with or meet I want to thank you for inviting me and doing such a great job!”
“The Internet Strategist” at Inc. magazine
President & Founder, Message Medium
As tough as it was to top Johnathan’s awe-inspiring 10-point “Trim Tab” presentation, the panel tasked with answering the question, “Where is Black Capital?” raised the roof with the overflowing energy in the room.
Panelists included George C. Fraser, founder of FraserNet, who opened the session with insight from his own experiences and knowledge, some of which is shared in his book on networking, “Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships.”
Shahara Llewelyn provided significant insight from her wealth of experience at the top of the Black wealth elite in New York for decades. Her passionate perspectives ushered excitement among the attendees that matched the energy George Fraser had ignited.
Other panelists also provided a variety of insight and knowledge:
Marc Mathis, director of Early Stage East.
Pedro Moore, aspiring venture capitalist.
Tim Reese of Forge Intellectual Capital and co-founder of the Minority Angel Investment Network.
Terry Hicks of Ben Franklin Technology Partners and co-founder of the Minority Angel Investment Network.
Although another panel session was scheduled, the length of the program compelled us to move directly into a Town Hall forum co-hosted by Johnathan Holifield and Dr. dt ogilvie. The lively discussion with the audience revealed some direct and specific steps forward that were documented by dt.
“I thought the event was well run and timely. There is a lot of momentum for high growth entrepreneurship and I’m excited about your efforts to capitalize on it.”
Adjunct Professor, NYU-Poly
Jarvis Sulcer, education director at the Level Playing Field Institute, articulated a specific step he would take to connect several entrepreneurs who presented at the summit to investors in Silicon Valley. He challenged others in attendance to not let the momentum of the event subside, but to allow it to manifest in direct, measurable action.
The America21 Project heeded Jarvis’ advice. Following the reception, we jumped into a vehicle and the three of us headed to Cleveland, Ohio, where over the next couple of days, we met with Jumpstart America, Bioenterprise, TechBelt and NorTech. All of the meetings were highly successful.
The America21 Project is currently partnered with Bioenterprise to co-produce the nation’s first Minority Biomedical Entrepreneurship Conference in May 2012. Interested attendees and sponsors should send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put BIOMEDICAL CONFERENCE in the subject line.
Subscribe to our blog for updates on our progress as we continue make progress toward developing innovation ecosystems in Black and urban America. Look for progress soon in Cleveland, Portland, Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, Long Island, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
Thanks to everyone who attended the historic “Gathering of Angels” investor and high-growth entrepreneur summit — the first of its kind focused on Black and urban America. The “gathering” was a symbolic beginning of a monumental journey marking the divine convergence of three separate paths walked by the three A21 co-founders who did not know each other and had never all been under the same roof together … until we convened at Rutgers. Now, as instruments of change, and with the support of our funders, we will work with others serving to transform communities and lives across the country through the visionary work of The America21 Project.
“I wanted to thank you for your leadership and success at the recent ‘A Gathering of Angels’ conference at Rutgers. This is yet another example of your incredible vision, commitment and leadership in the realm of bringing opportunities to urban entrepreneurs. Without question you have done the heavy lifting and now have the opportunity of establishing an infrastructure to move this initiative.”
Eugene H. Dibble IV
Entrepreneurs Playground, LLC
Co-founder, The America21 Project