DURHAM – Talk to the founders of black-led SpokeHub – hatched right here in the cradle of Durham and the first of its kind to bring a unique version of augmented reality to social media – they’d say there’s no need to celebrate. They’re just getting started.
But by all accounts, they’ve already beaten the odds.
This week, SpokeHub confirmed to WRAL TechWire that it has hit the $2 million mark after recently closing its second seed round.
For any startup, this is a significant milestone. But considering the well-documented fact that black founders often face disproportionate barriers to accessing funds, it’s a noteworthy achievement – even more so because most of the funds though not all – were raised by African-American investors.
- More coverage: Black investors are making waves in startup ecosystem.
“This is huge. The message is there are some impactful and very intentional African-American investors across the country,” said Richard Berryman III, one of SpokeHub’s five founders and head of Business Development.
Added American Underground’s top executive Doug Speight: “SpokeHub’s capital raise is truly historic. Not only because they’ve raised $2 million but because they’ve raised it from black investors.”
It was only last December that the team – which also includes founders Robert Hartsfield, John York, John McAdory and Terry Johnson – launched its app. The team added an augmented reality and video feature (AR/VR) just a few months later.
“As far as we know, we are the first social platform to integrate AR/VR technology natively into the app, and give the AR purpose through our chat technology,” said Hartsfield, who serves as chief executive officer.
“We have a big vision for where we are going,” he added. “We are humbled to have raised the $2 million, but we have a long way to go.”
Black angel investors remain nameless
The company wouldn’t disclose the names of its latest investors for “compliance reasons,” but said that funds were raised from local and out-of-town investors.
Asked if they’d intentionally sought out funding from only black investors, Berryman answered with a resounding no.
“We did not solely seek out black investors. We pitched to any and everyone that we had the opportunity to get in front of. There were tons of folks,” he said.
But Hartsfield did point out:
“We are honored to disclose that a majority of our investment dollars have come from African-American investors.”
So why is that the case?
“I don’t know. I can’t answer that question,” he said. “But what we found is, the power of what SpokeHub is, and its potential impact is resonating with the people who are supporting us.”
From humble beginnings to growth mode
Back in 2016, the team was just starting out. It was among a handful of startups to take part in the inaugural Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange Black Founders. The week-long immersion program hosted by American Underground focuses on addressing the funding gap through mentorship, training and access to capital.
Since then, the company’s trajectory has skyrocketed. It opened its new office in RTP’s Frontier building last year, and another office in Charlotte in June. It‘s also working on projects with a host of companies using its AR SAAS [software as a service] technology and data on-demand solution.
This June, it partnered with sports analytics firm STATS to provide real-time insights to conversations about the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
SpokeHub has also been working closely with Durham’s Chamber of Commerce (DCC) for over a year. Through Spokehub’s platform, the Chamber has been able to connect members across industries and showcase development projects in Durham using AR technology. It is also exploring new ways to use AR for economic development.
“It’s limitless,” said Myra Wooten, DCC’s Director of Marketing and Communications. “If we can use technology and AR [to tell Durham’s story], then it expands it even further. Because now the storytelling doesn’t have to be pen, paper, images or just renderings. You can sort of bring that to life for people in a way that I don’t know if anybody else is doing.”
With this latest cash infusion, SpokeHub is now in “growth mode,” but executives would not elaborate on where it plans to spend the funds.
Another part of the equation is keeping the team diverse. The company is proud to boast that among its eight full-time employees, many of its executives are women.
“The key for us is that we didn’t set out to only hire this way,” said SpokeHub’s Vice President of Marketing Taylor Glymph. “We simply scouted for the best person for each role.”
Above all, they hope to inspire the next generation of black entrepreneurs.
“We want to give people a forum to have real conversations and aggregate the voice of a community to impact change,” said Hartsfield, adding: “We’re not in Silicon Valley, we’re not in London, we’re headquartered right here in Durham with plans for further expansion. We did that on purpose because what we are doing is starting a movement.”
SpokeHub’s founders are expected to attend AU’s ImBlackInTech mixer on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at American Underground, 201 West Main Street, Durham, from 6-7.30pm.