(L-R) Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Obi Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo founded BearWay Capital to invest in minority-owned businesses by providing access to funding and networking opportunities. (Courtesy picture)
By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
August 1st Bear Way Capital will launch its HBCU New Venture Challenge, a business plan competition for students enrolled in the nation’s top 21 historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). The venture capital firm will announce its winner on Nov. 1, and the grand prize will be $25,000 in seed funding.
The five founding partners of BearWay Capital are Akin Akinhanmi, Joe Akoun, Emeka Igwilo, Obi Obiaka and Sanmi Kalesanwo, and each of them is a graduate of Morgan State University School of Engineering. When they were students there, they found themselves immersed in an environment where new business ideas were flourishing, but they noticed that their fellow students were not receiving adequate funding to bring those ideas to fruition. Instead, venture capitalists were investing primarily in young entrepreneurs at predominantly white institutions, according to Igwilo.
“No one has a monopoly on good ideas,” Igwilo said. “However, the difference is that there is a lack of equitable access to funding for underrepresented entrepreneurs, but what BearWay Capital is really trying to achieve through this competition is to bridge that funding gap that exists and to focus on HBCUs.”
The competition will consist of four rounds, three of which will take place virtually and one which will take place in person, and students can participate alone or as a team. In the first round, students will submit a 200-word abstract and a 90-second video to showcase their business idea. Students who move on to the second round will submit a detailed business plan and BearWay Capital will provide them with a template so they can get an idea of what is expected of them.
The third round will consist of live virtual pitches in which students present an updated version of their initial business plan to a panel of judges. In the fourth round, the competition will conclude with a public presentation held at Morgan State University. Throughout the final rounds, BearWay Capital will mentor young entrepreneurs.
“At this point, we want to make sure they get the right skills and they get the right mentorship that allows them to have the best idea possible to put it in a format that is accessible to those who will judge, as well as the general public,” Kalesanwo said.
In addition to seed capital, winners will also receive mentorship from industry experts to help them accelerate their business. Although there is only one winner, students will still have the opportunity to publicize their entrepreneurial endeavors and BearWay Capital may invest in them in the future.
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