Tech program TechRise launches to support city’s Black and Latino entrepreneurs

Several national and Chicago-based organizations have joined together to support early-stage Black and Latino tech entrepreneurs through ample funding and resources.

The program TechRise was created by the nonprofit P33 in partnership with Verizon and 1871, a private business incubator and technology hub, among others, with the goal of narrowing the wealth gap in Chicago, generating thousands of tech-related jobs and giving $5 million in grant funding to Black and Latino entrepreneurs.

Desiree Vargas Wrigley, executive director of TechRise by P33, said in helping to establish the initiative, she thought of ways to give diverse tech founders what they need most — capital and resources for those who don’t have family or personal wealth to tap into and the chance to build community and connection, particularly for those on the south and west sides of Chicago.

“We’re thinking about how can we bring together corporate philanthropy and institutional philanthropy, high-net worth individuals, founders and investors, and collectively become the friends and family for diverse founders so that we can have more parity in our tech ecosystem,” Vargas Wrigley said.

She said TechRise will host weekly pitching competitions, where five competitors pitch their tech startup idea to a panel of judges for the chance to win $10,000 to $50,000.

Vargas Wrigley said the competition will serve as “the first fund of its kind” to finance tech startups in their early, idea stage.

Contestants who don’t win can pitch again 90 days later, and every applicant is directed to resources or mentors for support.

“If you’ve been losing sleep at night because you’ve been thinking about this thing and you just don’t have the dollars to get started … or you just don’t know where to get started, then we want you to apply,” she said.

Nia C. Mathis, vice president of state and local government affairs at Verizon, said TechRise will have its official virtual launch even March 10, with speakers discussing challenges tech startups face.

Mathis said Verizon contributed seed money for the $5 million fund, a platform for an online community of Black and Latino companies and sponsorship for 1871’s 12-week BLK•Tech program, which helps build Black-led tech startups and will be available to TechRise applicants.

She said Verizon will give entrepreneurs access to its 5G Labs to generate ideas about how their businesses can thrive.

Vargas Wrigley said typically only 1.9% of venture capital in Chicago goes to founders of color, and P33 is aiming for that percentage to increase to 50%. She added that 100% of the funds put toward TechRise will go to diverse founders, with no overhead.

Steven E. Shaw, community engagement manager of state government affairs at Verizon, said Chicago has all the assets needed to form a thriving tech community, such as leading research universities and a diverse industry.

“We can create the type of ecosystem in Chicago to make [the city] a destination for … Black and Latinx tech talent,” Shaw said.

CEO of 1871 Betsy Ziegler said in addition to providing capital and community, TechRise will provide competitors with access to education, mentorship, and support from industry experts and peers, starting with 1871’s BLK•Tech program and Latino incubator.

For 1871’s Black entrepreneurs, Ziegler said she hopes taking advantage of TechRise’s starting capital — critical in early stages of business development — will help them thrive.

She said most new jobs come from startup companies and small businesses that are able to create their own wealth and hire their own employees.

“There’s never been a more important time for entrepreneurship,” Ziegler said. “[It] is the fastest way to job creation, and we’ve never needed jobs more than we need them right now.”

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