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P33 to continue pitch contest for Black, Latino startup founders


“It feels amazing,” Izuakor said of winning. “I’m still in shock and I’m super grateful.”

TechRise launched in April with a $5 million fund to invest in startups owned by diverse entrepreneurs. The program aims to funnel more funding to minority-owned startups, which receive just 1.9% of all startup funding in Chicago, according to P33. Corporate sponsors like Verizon, Discover and Valor Equity Partners contributed to TechRise’s fund.

To date TechRise says 119 startups have participated across 30 competitions. Including last night’s prize, the program has awarded more than $920,000 to 42 startups.

According to data from P33, startups that competed in TechRise have collectively gone on to raise $7.2 million in funding and create 420 new jobs. Of the winning teams, 62% were founded by women, 76% by Black entrepreneurs and 22% by Latinos.

Because this year’s program was successful, P33 intends to host another TechRise program in 2022 to disperse even more funds, Desiree Vargas Wrigley, the program’s executive director, said at the competition.

Cyber Pop-up beat six other startups at Wednesday’s competition, all of which were chosen to compete for winning previous TechRise competitions earlier in the year. Grapefruit Health, a platform that connects at-risk seniors with nursing students founded by Eric Alvarez, won the People’s Choice Award and $25,000.

Cyber Pop-up, which helps small businesses with their cybersecurity needs, intends to use the funding to expand the team and product, Izuakor said. The startup has raised small amounts of funding from other pitch competitions and micro-funds and is currently in the process of raising a $2 million round.

Izuakor was named to Crain’s 20 in Their 20s list when she was a senior manager of global security strategy and awareness at United Airlines. Izuakor, who holds a doctorate in security engineering from the University of Colorado, left United in 2019 and launched Cyber Pop-up in 2020.

TechRise is one of many new funds in Chicago that have launched to address funding disparities in Chicago. Others include LongJump, a startup founder-led fund for underrepresented founders, and Fifth Star Funds, a venture philanthropy fund operated by Samir Mirza that’s invested in Cyber Pop-up.

Besides TechRise, P33 operates and assists with many other diversity-focused initiatives around town. The organization, founded by Penny Pritzker and Chris Gladwin and led by CEO Brad Henderson, helps run programs at the Discovery Partners Institute and the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs, both aimed at creating a more inclusive tech workforce.

Earlier this week, P33 released a report linking the lack of diversity in the tech workforce to the few Black and Latino people graduating with computer science degrees in Illinois.

“The more that we can highlight things like (TechRise), the more people understand the value and the huge opportunities that are being missed when Black and Brown founders are overlooked and underestimated,” Izuakor said.



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