DURHAM – A wide variety of companies selected for the 2018 Google for Entrepreneurs Black Founders Exchange, a week-long intensive immersion program for high-growth potential startups led by founders of color, which will take place at the American Underground from Sept. 23-28.

The week coincides with Black Wall Street Homecoming, an annual conference for early-stage entrepreneurs that celebrates content, connections, and culture, as well as the Art of Cool Festival, Durham’s annual music, culture, and innovation festival.  It culminates in a pitch event next Friday at noon.

“This has grown into a truly international program welcoming black startup leaders from across the country and around the globe,” said Doug Speight, executive director of AU.  “This week in September is going to be groundbreaking for the program, the American Underground and our city as we continue our commitment to fostering one of the most diverse entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country.”

The immersion program is in its third year and is designed to prepare participating founding teams to raise a seed round of capital by giving them a behind-the-scenes view of what investors look for in a company and a founding team prior to making investments.  Startups will receive mentoring and training from local experts and Google representatives and enjoy the opportunity to receive feedback directly from investors in one-on-one meetings. One key training is focused on how to build networks, and another instructs founders on how to recognize and overcome racial bias in the fundraising process.

“These founders are tackling a diverse range of challenges, from water scarcity to solar power,” said Nicole Froker, partner engagement manager for Google for Entrepreneurs. “Innovation can come from anywhere, but the resources needed to succeed are not evenly distributed.”

The goal of the program each year is for at least half of the participating startups to receive a seed funding round within nine months.  “That’s why we’re excited to bring together this diverse group of startup founders and to equip them with the resources and connections they need to raise funding and build game-changing companies,” said Froker.

In each prior year, this objective was accomplished sooner—at the program’s closing pitch event in front of dozens of venture capitalists and corporate CEOs.

According to information tracked by American Underground, the 12 companies participating in 2016 and 2017 have collectively raised over $5.5 million in equity or debt capital since completing the immersion program.

SpokeHub, a Durham-based startup company whose founding team participated in Black Founders Exchange in 2016, just last month completed a raise of $2 million from primarily black investors.

In addition, nine alumni companies have received funding from Backstage Capital: Bandwagon, CapWay, Care Academy, CEEK VR, Ilerasoft, Partake Foods, Please Assist Me, TresseNoire, and Zyrobotics.

“When you consider that less than 50 men and women founders of color have raised over $1 million in venture capital prior to 2017,” said Speight, “You begin to understand how exceptional this program and participating companies are.”