1 Softbank unveils $100 million fund for entrepreneurs of color.

SoftBank this week announced a $100 million Opportunity Fund that will invest only in companies led by people of color. Just 1% of venture-backed startups are led by black founders, according to Crunchbase.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, SoftBank Group International CEO Marcelo Claure told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday that the company put it together in 24 hours after speaking to SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son. “The whole thing is to do something about it. I see a lot of people have good intentions, but I think each one of us needs to contribute to make change in America,” he said.

The fund will start with $100 million of its own capital and could grow that with more investments. SoftBank will not take a traditional management fee. Half of its gains will be reinvested into subsequent Growth Opportunity Funds and SoftBank said it will also donate part of its gains to organizations that create opportunities for people of color. 

Claure will lead the fund alongside Shu Nyatta, a managing partner who works on the company’s Innovation Fund, Paul Judge, founder of TechSquare and chairman of Pindrop, and Stacy Brown-Philpot, of TaskRabbit and many other roles, were named to the investment committee.

The Opportunity Fund is the third investment vehicle announced by SoftBank in the last several years. The biggest is the $100 billion Vision Fund and last year it launched a $5 billion Innovation Fund focused on Latin America and managed from its Miami office.

2 Not just another pitch competition

Pitch Competitions are held so often these days, it’s hard to stand out from the pack. This one does. On Saturday, you can view the first ever pitch competition put on by LEAP (Ladies Emppowerment and Action Program) that supports incarcerated women. Four LEAP graduates will pitch their ideas to virtual attendees and you can vote on your favortite. And yes, there will be big checks, too.

Founded in 2009, LEAP is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower incarcerated and justice-impacted women through in-prison education, housing and employment support, and mentorship. Entrepreneurship training is a part of their services. Its impact is impressive: LEAP has graduated 207 women, 96% were employed or started their own business within two months and all were provided with post-release housing.

Find out more on LEAP’s website  here, and show your support by RSVPing for Saturday’s event here.

Thanks to New Tropic for the heads up on this event.

3 Synapse to host Converge, a 3-day virtual conference

Even though large scale conferences have largely been sidelined by COVID-19, Synapse, a Tampa-based nonprofit organization that promotes the state’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, is ensuring Florida’s innovation community doesn’t miss a beat during this time by launching Synapse Converge, a three-day virtual conference June 9-11. What sets Converge apart is participant’s ability to be actively involved in the conference before it even begins. Instead of joining rooms and simply listening to presentations, Converge attendees will be able to submit questions to speakers and break-out session leaders prior to the event, as well as participate in live chats and Q&A’s, recreating the true connected feeling of an in-person conference.

More than 120 speakers are included in the conference, including Anna Mason, partner in Revolution’s Rise of the Rest, Thaddeus Bullard of WWE, Rob Chestnut, Chief Ethics Officer of Airbnb and Jeff Hoffman, board chairman of the Global Entrepreneurship Network. There will also be – of course – a startup pitch competition.

The conference will kick off the evening of June 9 with Libate & Learn featuring networking expert Nathan Perez. June 10 will feature breakout sessions and industry shocases in fintech, heathtech, energy/sustainability and AI/data/cyber. June 11 will kick off with a lunchtime keynote and be followed by breakout sessions by organizations throughout the community.

Tickets are $25 and Synapse will also be donating a portion of revenue to an organization supporting innovation in response to COVID-19. Learn more and buy tickets at converge.synapsefl.com

4 And the Accelerating Innovation winners are …

Archangel Lightworks, Agriculture Intelligence and Vital Vio as the top three winners of the 2020 Aerospace Innovation & Tech Forum presented by the Florida Venture Forum and Space Florida. Aerospace and innovative tech companies from related industries were invited to apply to present in a virtual competition for the Space Florida Accelerating Innovation (AI) awards, totaling $100,000.

 Archangel Lightworks was named the top company and received $40,000. Agriculture Intelligence, Inc., and Vital Vio were each awarded $20K. Additionally, all 20 finalist companies, including 7 from South Florida, received $1,000.

Archangel Lightworks, of the United Kingdom, plans to enter the US market with its US headquarters in Florida. It is an optical communications company that builds products and services employing laser (optical) communications for the aerospace sector. These products and services include space terminals that can be mounted on satellites, air terminals that are mounted on drones or manned aircraft and ground communications terminals.

Runner-up Agriculture Intelligence, of Gainesville, is dedicated to making agriculture smarter; its flagship product is an AI-based software engine called Agroview that changes how growers view their fields. Runner-up Vital Vio, of New York, develops antimicrobial light that illuminates and protects surfaces and meets international standards for continuous and unrestricted use around people.

5 New speaker series focused on navigating recessions

SWOT305 announces a new free speaker series that will feature entrepreneurs who steered their companies through the Great Recession and came out the other side, offering advice to help startups avoid as many pitfalls as possible navigating the coronavirus recession. The first speaker will be CEO turned angel investor Mark Kingdon on June 17 (register here) followed by executives and investors Richard Ginsburg and Darius Nevin on July 8 (register here).

The Knight Foundation has partnered with Krillion Ventures to provide entrepreneurs actionable advice and information in this time of Covid. Through their initiative, SWOT305, founders get proactive, customized coaching to help them make smart, thoughtful and fast decisions in these unprecedented times.

 Krillion Ventures managing partner Melissa Krinzman has helped entrepreneurs steer through other recessions and has stepped up again with this free offering. She and ed-tech serial entrepreneur Jamie Nacht Farrell have been helping entrepreneurs strategize a way through their own realities and come up with their own actionable game plan. Apply by signing up through its website, where the form will ask you about your current needs and they will get back to you with next steps if they are a good fit. Find out more here.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

 

Nancy Dahlberg
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