Black History Month 2022

10 Black Founders Share Their Biggest Entrepreneurial Challenges

In honor of Black History Month 2022, we are spotlighting 10 Black entrepreneurs who are part of the Elevate Capital portfolio. We asked these inspiring founders, "What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced during the past two years, and how did you overcome them?"

Elevate Capital is Oregon’s first institutional venture capital fund that explicitly targets investments to support underserved minority and women entrepreneurs with early-stage funding. During Black History Month, our commitment to advancing racial equality and economic opportunities for Black-founded startups is ever more critical.

Not only during February but every day, we need to recognize the contributions, achievements, and influence Black entrepreneurs and leaders have in U.S. history. We also celebrate and acknowledge the Elevate Capital team and its investors, who work tirelessly to make it all happen.

In honor of Black History Month 2022, we are spotlighting 10 Black entrepreneurs who are part of the Elevate Capital portfolio. Their achievements, passion, perseverance, and ability never to give up inspire us all. We asked these inspiring founders, “What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during the past two years, and how did you overcome them?”

Entrepreneurs Share Advice on Embracing Change and Overcoming Challenges

Blendoor: Stephanie (Lampkin) VanPutten

Stephanie Lampkin

“The greatest challenge I’ve faced during the past two years has been responding to institutional virtue signaling during a time of unprecedented social and environmental consciousness; executing a strategy that authentically aligns our company’s values, vision, solutions, and path to scale.

The easier path (check-the-box DEI/ESG solutions) capitalizes on this moment to benefit a small few over a relatively short period of time. The more challenging path (organizational re-architecture solutions) requires leveraging this moment to develop scalable solutions that will yield high returns and globally positive social impact.”

About Blendoor: Blendoor is a blind recruiting app that uses augmented intelligence and people analytics to hire and manage a diverse workforce. The app tracks how far different demographics of people make it through the hiring process to identify where bias is happening—either at the individual hiring manager level or through a specific system or process in the recruiting funnel. Stephanie (Lampkin) VanPutten is Founder and CEO of Blendoor.

Forest Devices: Carmelo Montalvo

Carmelo Montalvo

“Transition is one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered in the past two years—things rapidly change in a startup environment, and transition can be difficult to cope with. I can’t say that I’ve overcome something as constant as change; however, I can say that I am standing toe-to-toe with it.”

About Forest Devices: Forest Devices is a medical technology startup developing a novel stroke screening device to detect early signs of strokes. The company’s diagnostic platform, AlphaStroke™, the first stroke and Large Vessel Occlusion (LVO) detection device, is designed to support prehospital healthcare providers to triage patients directly to the right hospital. Carmelo Montalvo is Co-Founder and COO of Forest Devices.

Goalsetter: Tanya Van Court

Tanya Van Court

“As a Black female founder of a fintech company, there are many challenges that come with successfully carving a space for yourself in this industry. But I would say that by far, the most challenging was fundraising for our seed round. In simple terms, this is a period where you are selling your idea to the world and that means encountering a lot of rejection along the way.

I learned that I couldn’t spend my time trying to counteract the naysayers and convince the non-doers to get on board. Rather, I spent it on those who truly believed in Goalsetter and who were willing to put me in rooms where opportunities abound. So much of fundraising is about networks—you have to find your tribe.”

About Goalsetter: Goalsetter is a savings and financial literacy app that provides FDIC and Mastercard-backed debit cards for teens and savings accounts for the whole family. The debit card and savings app teaches kids and teens finance through games, memes, and pop culture. Tanya Van Court is Founder and CEO of Goalsetter.

Hue Noir: Paula Hayes

Paula Hayes

“The biggest challenge over the last two years has been dealing with what has felt like constantly changing circumstances and unpredictability. Those two constant factors have made it hard to plan and drive business. My primary product category, makeup, was hit very hard by pandemic lockdowns, cancellation of special events, and mask mandates.

Overcoming challenges has required a tremendous amount of patience, creativity, resilience, and adaptability. It has been difficult, but we have learned a lot about ourselves and our capabilities. We’ve had time to reflect on both where we are and the future we envision under a post-pandemic ‘new normal,’ we are driving the business towards that future.”

About Hue Noir: Hue Noir’s mission is to change the face of beauty by putting women of color at the center of the beauty industry. Paula Hayes, Founder and CEO, is a product chemist who blends color, science, and technology to design textures and shades that work for all women of color. Hue Noir develops innovative makeup solutions for customers with nuanced skin tones ranging from fair to deep.

Obatala Sciences: Trivia Frazier, Ph.D.

“The past two years have been filled with unexpected events. The first challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic, as New Orleans was among the first to have a peak incidence in the country. We used that time to focus more of our efforts on marketing our products and services. We strengthened our pipeline of channel partners (vendors), increased the visibility of our products, and worked on increasing accessibility for our customers.

We were forced to have more of our operations virtually. We learned there is an opportunity to connect with our customers through this mechanism and continue operations in this manner. This has helped us identify areas to increase operational efficiency moving forward. As a result, we have built relationships with some of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies.”

About Obatala Sciences: Obatala Sciences is a biotechnology company that is revolutionizing drug development within the fields of obesity, diabetes, and regenerative medicine. The company provides research enabling products and brainpower to scientists in industry and academia to advance tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Dr. Trivia Frazier is Founder and CEO of Obatala Sciences.

Paerpay: Derek Canton

Derek Canton

“Over the past two years, the biggest challenge was finding the right team, community, support system, and access to resources to grow and scale Paerpay after pivoting the business to survive a global pandemic. To overcome this obstacle, I participated in programs like Techstars, reached out to other minority founders who faced similar challenges crossing the chasm of scale, and transparently spoke about our wins and challenges with those around me as I was seeking wisdom.”

About Paerpay: Paerpay enables merchants nationwide to accept contactless payments without altering their payments architecture: pay at the table, takeout, and digital menus. No new hardware, changing processors, or downloading apps are required. Paerpay can help recover walkouts from guests, even after the check is closed in the POS system. Derek Canton is Founder and CEO of Paerpay.

Revry: Alia Daniels, Esq.

Alia Daniels

“We have always been very good at trusting our instincts about where the industry is moving and we saw FAST (Free Ad Supported Television) as the new frontier several years ago. Our business roadmap focused on scaling this aspect of the business, all while in a pandemic and traditional methods of networking and growing partnerships weren’t an option. We were able to lean into relationships that we’d been developing to help us successfully scale.”

About Revry: Revry is the first global streaming network representing the breadth of the queer experience with live and on-demand LGBTQ+ movies, shows, news, music, podcasts, and original content. Alia Daniels is Co-Founder and COO of Revry. Alia is a socially conscious media entrepreneur and attorney who advocates for underrepresented communities in and out of the entertainment industry.

SHYFT Power Solutions: Ugwem Eneyo

Ugwem Eneyo

“The past two years brought new challenges and dynamics for nearly everyone, as we all navigated our way through a global pandemic and all the changes that it brought. With a globally distributed team, many of whom work remote, it was important to keep the culture intact and maintain momentum, despite nearly every aspect of engagement being virtual.

The team doubled in size, which meant there were members, including leadership, who had not met each other and in some cases, had never been on the ground with customers or products. My role as CEO and growth as a founder became more dynamic. I needed to hire, fundraise, and keep the team excited with limited ability to have human interaction that I had historically relied on. I leveraged communities with other founders and support from advisors, who were navigating similar dynamics.

I had to be far more intentional about team building, meetings, and company events that would foster new levels of engagement. And I ultimately re-established our company’s core values during this time, to better reflect the organization’s unique strengths and keep that at the forefront. This ultimately brought out the best of the organization and I’m proud of the team we have today.”

About SHYFT Power Solutions: SHYFT builds award-winning IoT technology that will transform how we use energy. Their technology solutions focus on data-driven approaches and a connected platform to support intelligent energy management solutions for solar, storage, generators, and grid connections. Ugwem Eneyo is Co-Founder and CEO of SHYFT Power Solutions.

theCut: Obi Omile

Obi Omile

“Our biggest challenge the past two years has been a lack of investor network. For example, understanding how to bring context gaps, finding investors who invested in companies within similar audiences or industries, and building relationships for warm intros. Another challenge is hiring—leaning into employee referrals and building a company culture that is attractive to candidates.”

About theCut: theCut is a mobile application designed to connect barbers and barbershops with customers. The company’s platform lets users handpick talented barbers anywhere, anytime, enabling users to select barbershops according to their choice and budget. Today, tens of thousands of barbers trust theCut with their business. Obi Omile is Co-Founder and CEO of theCut.

Time Study: Kishau Rogers

Kishau Rogers

“As a technical founder, one of the things that I’ve learned is that your toughest challenges are rarely technical. Often it’s the pressure to navigate multiple misaligned systems, conflicting stakeholder interests and dysfunctional behaviors that lead to burnout and bloated, over-engineered solutions that ultimately fail.

Finding simple ways to navigate a complex landscape has worked for me. The best thing you can do is lay a proper foundation and a clear “North Star” that allows you to simplify your decisions, every day.

During the past two years, I became a morning person. Each day I manage complexity by prioritizing my health (at 5:00 am Mon–Fri), then with my “North Star” as my guide, I focus my day on the most important next steps and the systems and people that can support us in getting there. Everything else is irrelevant.”

About Time Study: Time Study is a technology firm that powers its Time Intelligence platform using machine intelligence to activate and transform enterprise data into real-time insights on how time is spent (at work). The platform impacts workforce effectiveness, operational efficiency, and compliance. Kishau Rogers is Founder and CEO of Time Study.

A Pathway to a Healthy, Thriving Community

Brandon Ross joined Elevate Capital in October 2019. As a Senior Associate–Analyst, Brandon manages Elevate Capital’s back-office efforts, assists with due diligence, and builds long-standing relationships with institutional investors.

Brandon Ross

“Black History Month is a time for us to learn about entrepreneurs like Free Frank McWorter, an American born into slavery, who managed to buy not only his freedom but that of 16 family members,” says Brandon. “Free Frank would later go on to found and develop the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois, providing a place for his family and others to build an integrated community centered on brotherly love and the pursuit of freedom.”

“The definition of entrepreneurship is, ‘the activity of setting up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.’ Through examining stories like Free Frank’s, it’s evident that the definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ far exceeds its dictionary definition for Black Americans. For us, it is a pathway to freedom and a healthy, thriving community. That is why Elevate Capital seeks to invest in Black founders and why I love the work I do.”

Black Entrepreneurs Leading the Way as Champions of Change

Join Elevate Capital in supporting Black entrepreneurs, not just during Black History Month but throughout the year. We will continue to intentionally invest in Black-founded startups so founders can unleash growth potential and bring financial reward and generational wealth to their communities.

The founders, investors, and associates are inspirational leaders and champions of change who know how to embrace and overcome challenges. They are influential leaders who create and deliver a compelling vision and lead others by making a positive difference and impact every day of the year.

Namaste and Sincerely,

Nitin Rai
Managing Partner, Elevate Capital

More from the blog: