Florida startup fund supplies 2 Black Orlando entrepreneurs with cash and knowledge
Aubrey Perry, founder and CEO of Orlando-based craft brewery rewards app Crackem, was one of two Black founders who landed an investment deal from the Seedfunders Opportunity Fund.
Two years ago, Orlando-based Crackem was a brand new, unknown company.
However, things have changed for the maker of a brewery rewards app, founder and CEO Aubrey Perry told Orlando Inno. “Now, people pick up the phone when Crackem calls.”
Many of the changes that helped Crackem pick up some notoriety in the craft beer industry were fueled by a 2021 investment by early-stage investment firm Seedfunders’ Opportunity Fund.
Two years after the fund dedicated to Black entrepreneurs launched, it has made two investments into Orlando-area startups. The relatively small investments — $50,000 into each firm — are meant to supplement or substitute the early money startups often raise from friends and family.
The investments have made measurable differences for Crackem and Orlando-based College Thriver Inc. Not only did the deals provide the companies with capital to grow, but they also equipped the founders with knowledge to seek their next, larger rounds of funding.
“We wouldn’t be where we are and have access to some of the resources we do without that fund,” Perry said.
Crackem brews up more growth
The Crackem app launched in 2020, but the $50,000 check from Seedfunders, along with a $25,000 investment from Orlando-based StarterStudio, enabled Crackem to undertake more marketing and sales initiatives. For example, Crackem in March sponsored the Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival in Tampa, one of the state’s marquee beer festivals.
Meanwhile, Perry was able to bring on a co-founder, and he plans to fill some sales roles in June.
The company wants to scale further, and Perry said the mentorship from Seedfunders prepares him to begin to seek more capital this year. “We know we’ll have to raise a significant amount of money to scale this nationwide.”
Founder of College Thriver ready to engage more investors
Like Perry, College Thriver founder and President Shawntia Lee went through an accelerator program at StarerStudio, which she said prepared her to seek early funding. Lee got it from the Seedfunders Opportunity Fund in 2021, which helped her move forward with her firm’s college guidance platform for students of color.
While the cash helped College Thriver as the company made changes to its product, Lee said one of the biggest benefits of the Seedfunders deal was learning startup investment lingo like term sheet, convertible note and SAFE note. “As a new entrepreneur, I easily could’ve been taken advantage of. Now, I know what to look for.”
Now, the company is in partnership talks with high schools and corporations to get more students using College Thriver. One potential partner is Common App, which more than a million students use each year to apply to college.
More money to deploy for Seedfunders
Seedfunders, which is based in St. Petersburg and has iterations in Orlando and Miami, launched the Opportunity Fund to provide early capital for Black entrepreneurs with ambition and good ideas but little to no funding, Seedfunders CEO Geoff Keith said.
While 70-80 companies have applied to the fund, only two investments have been made. The biggest challenge is most of the entrepreneurs who apply are much further along than where Seedfunders wants to focus its dollars, Keith said. “Most of the people who came in the door already had raised funding and had revenue.”
The Opportunity Fund can make up to two more investments with its current funds, Keith said.
The longstanding difficulties founders of color face in landing investment dollars seem to be improving, though only gradually, Keith added. “It feels like it’s started to move in the right direction, but it just started. It’s a little easier than it was two years ago, but it’s not easy enough.”