ATLANTA – A few years back, NBA legend Charles Barkley appeared as a guest on ABC’s Season 10 of “Shark Tank.”

Shortly after, Cary entrepreneur Ashlyn Sanders wrote him “on a hunch” to tell him about her own startup.

Much to her surprise, he wrote back.

“I was invited down to pitch to him and several of his advisors,” Sanders, 28, recalled. “A few months later, I was actually given the call that he would invest.”

Flash-forward to today: Sander’s startup NeuroVice, which has developed a tongue protector for seizure sufferers, has raised an additional $300,000 from angel investors.

An early rendering of PATI.
Source: NeuroVice

“It’s thrilling that Ashlyn’s company and one-of-a-kind device has garnered the attention of investors and supporters,” Barkley wrote in an email to WRAL TechWire.

“She’s on the fast track to revolutionize medical support for those suffering from seizures while simultaneously saving lives, I couldn’t be more proud of her diligence and tenacity.”

Collectively, Black women founders raised $700 million in 2018 and 2019, up from $289 million raised in 2009 to 2017, according to ProjectDiane.

However, that accounted for just 0.27 percent of the $276.7 billion in startup funding raised by all companies during that period.

According to Barkley, investing in Black-owned businesses — especially those in the tech field — is imperative to growing diversity in that space.

He is already well known as an angel investor. Back in 2017, he pledged $1 million to fund Alabama black women’s tech startups.

“Ashlyn is a burgeoning example of what’s possible with a little bit of help from old veterans, like me,” he said.

William (Tré) Clayton is another angel investor backing Sander’s startup.

Originally from Clayton, N.C., he is based out of New York City and is a venture fellow with Collab Capital, an investment firm targeting Black founders. However, his investment in NeuroVice is a personal one, not through Collab’s fund.

He believes part of the funding problem for Black female founders comes down to the lack of representation within the venture capital world.

“We have been excluded for so long that as of 2018 less than 3 percent of venture capital investors were Black,” he said.

“Investing in Black women like Ashlyn and Neurovice is but one wave in what I hope will become a sea of change with regard to venture capital as to benefit the next generation of founders.”