Editor’s note: ‘Breaking Glass’ is a twice-monthly feature focusing on the issues facing women and minorities in high-tech. It alternates on Mondays with ‘High Tech’, which returns next week.According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), minority-owned firms receive only two percent of private equity capital investments in the U.S; and three percent of all Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) investment dollars. Moreover, the study also confirms minority-owned firms are surpassing the growth of all U.S. businesses, growing at a rate of 17 percent a year, six times the growth rate of all firms.

And, as the U.S. population grows, it’s becoming increasingly diverse ethnically. The minority population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, will account for nearly 90 percent of the total growth in the U.S. population in the next 50 years — nearly 117 million people. Namely this minority population growth represents an exploding potential for consumer buying power — more than $1 trillion dollars.

This “equity gap” in funding for minority-led firms represents a tremendous amount of unrealized benefit for the nation’s economy, as well as untapped potential within the minority community, according to a white paper filed by the Emerging Venture Network in Washington. Organizations like Emerging Venture Network (EVN) and Springboard Enterprises, also in D.C., are helping to change the disparaging statistic by plugging minority business owners into a vast network of VCs and providing them the tools they need to get funded.

Boot camp begins: Finalist for Springboard 2002

It’s not the kind of military boot camp you’d traditionally think of, but eight weeks from now, the participants will be looking forward to ‘graduation’ — that’s for sure. Beginning today at 8 a.m. at Cisco System’s headquarters, nearly 20 participants representing various technologies seeking venture capital dollars will begin what’s going to be a tough eight weeks, says Ann Wein from the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED). That’s because chosen women entrepreneur finalist will spend their first full day in an intensive training session — AKA boot camp — learning about the fundamentals and key elements of high-stakes venture capital presentations, from elevator pitches to business plans.

The pressure is on, and the countdown to the magic date of Sept. 27 has begun.

Taking place in Chapel Hill, it’s the first ever regional Springboard: Southeast 2002 Forum. Springboard Enterprises, a national program that assists women entrepreneurs in gaining access to equity markets, and the CED are co-hosting the event. To date, Springboard Enterprises, based in Washington, has helped women-led companies raise more than $750 million.

Making the finals

The finalists for the forum were selected from candidates recruited from Florida to Maryland. More than 100 applications were received, and only 20 percent are now part of Springboard’s boot camp, according to organizers. Three of the Triangle-area finalists include: Michelle Hunt, CropSolutions, Inc.; Ping Fu, Raindrop Geomagic; and Lisa Ferstenberg of Durham’s StemCo Biomedical, Inc.

Part of the boot camp process is offering coaching, mentoring and training for each participant. The coaches, made up of investors, business professionals and seasoned entrepreneurs, are drawn from technology companies and VC firms. They will provide valuable insights and experience on how to best capture the attention of investors — advice that won’t be taken lightly.

“We’re thrilled with the outstanding quality of the applicants we received for Springboard,” said Monica Doss, CED president. “CED has made a strong commitment to increase its support for women entrepreneurs, and we are confident that Springboard will accomplish that goal. In addition to the access to the nation’s private investment community, presenters will take away tremendous knowledge and experience from the intensive coaching.”

The next big milestone is a final review session scheduled for Sept. 10, when the entrepreneurs will practice their presentations before a panel of investors. Following on Sept. 26, the presenters will prepare their booths and be featured at a reception. At the Forum the next day, the entrepreneurs will present their businesses to an audience of investors with the hope of a big payoff — raising the capital they will need to ‘springboard’ their respective business enterprises to the next level.

Promoting Georgia’s tech sector

The collaborative efforts of two non-profit trade organizations hope to promote Georgia’s technology industry for minority and women-led entrepreneurs by holding the Georgia Technology Forum 2002 beginning Oct. 21 at the Cobb Galleria Centre. The theme: “The Knowledge Agenda: Technology Leadership in an Era of Change.”

The EVN and the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) announced last week their alliance to hold the forum designed to match minority entrepreneurs with public and private equity capital. EVN, made up of a blend of corporate, non-profit, government, academic, and entrepreneurial leaders, will help identify and select nine early stage companies from the Southeast region to present to panelist at the October forum. Industries likely to be represented are: biotechnology, software development, networking and supply chain management. The organization has a track record on how to bring these initiatives to bear. Last fall, EVN’s executives were instrumental in the success of the Southeast i-DealFlow Forum, the first-of-its-kind minority venture capital forum. The 2001 forum, also held in Atlanta, featured 15 minority-led companies seeking more than $70 million. To date, six companies have received funding.

“EVN has developed a proven model for coaching minority entrepreneurs to achieve success within the venture market,” said David R. Simmons, TAG’s president in an issued statement. “Through our relationship with EVN, TAG will extend the network of regional investment opportunities to minority-led companies.”

GTA Forum attracts top speakers

This year’s GTF will feature keynote speakers: Newt Gingrich, United States Speaker of the House, 1995-1999; Robert Reich, 22nd United States Secretary of Labor; Travelocity Founder Terry Jones; Tom Noonan, chairman and CEO, Internet Security Systems; William Johnston, president and CEO, Inhibitex and Gina Smith, former national technology correspondent, ABC News.

Entrepreneurs must apply to present by entering the MBDA national business plan competition before Aug. 2.

For more information on the sources listed in this column:

Georgia Technology Forum 2002: www.gtfonline.org

Technology Association of Georgia: www.tagonline.org

The Emerging Venture Network (EVN): www.evn.org

Springboard Enterprises: www.springboardenterprises.org

The Council for Entrepreneurial Development: www.cednc.org

Have a story idea? Feedback? Contact Cindy Stranad (cstranad@nc.rr.com)