Garry Johnson III, the founder and executive director of First Founders Inc., is leading the charge in Philadelphia to empower Black entrepreneurs in the tech space. Through initiatives like the Black Tech Pitch Contest, Johnson and his collaborators are working to bridge the funding gap and provide resources to Black-owned businesses that are using technology to transform their ventures.
The Black Tech Pitch Contest is set to take place on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at Quorum on 3675 Market Street in Philadelphia. The competition aims to provide a platform for local entrepreneurs; Johnson and other ecosystem builders in Philadelphia have joined forces to award $50,000 in grant funding to Black-owned businesses.
In a recent conversation with Tonya Pendleton on WURD’s “Reality Check,” Johnson shed light on the purpose of the contest: “We organized this competition to provide resources for local entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology to scale their businesses to new heights and make sure that they’re positioning their companies to be profitable businesses.” This event is not just about acknowledging these companies, Johnson said, but providing them with startup capital to fuel their growth.
The Black Tech Pitch Contest is open to Black-owned businesses within the greater Philadelphia region. That means that any Black-owned business, from a local coffee shop to the next big mobile app, can participate.
Johnson says that the contest is about more than just the prize money. Applicants gain access to a boot camp that offers training on building a business model, establishing revenue streams, and preparing a final pitch.
He urged individuals of all ages and backgrounds to get involved. “Technology touches all aspects, and there are many ways to break into technology, even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur yourself,” Johnson said.
Older individuals who may feel less comfortable with technology may see the competition as an opportunity to apply their wisdom and experience to a new industry. For those who don’t want to start their own businesses, becoming mentors or advisors to younger entrepreneurs can be a great way to share their insights and connections.
“Come out and support because you’re going to get to see local businesses, local entrepreneurs who are operating businesses that maybe you didn’t even know existed in the community,” Johnson said. “You’ll get to just see the magic that we have right here in Philly.”
The funding gap in Black tech
The lack of funding for Black tech companies is a critical issue that the Black Tech Pitch Contest aims to address. Johnson said the problem stems from deep-rooted racism and discrimination.
Traditional investors may not believe that Black entrepreneurs can build billion-dollar companies. However, examples like Partake Foods, a woman-owned company with vegan cookies and pancake mix in major stores, or Squire, a business management platform for barbers, demonstrate that Black-owned businesses are not only thriving but also attracting significant investments. Johnson believes that the Black Tech Pitch Contest can help break down barriers and increase access to resources, all while scaling their business to reach beyond local markets.
“[These companies] have gone on to raise venture capital, and they have some really significant investors and a lot of growth that their business is experiencing,” Johnson said. “We have black unicorns right here in our community. They look like you. They are solving problems that our communities have.”