Mission Possible: FutureLAND makes investments in minority-owned startups

Collaboration is key to FutureLAND’s success, and the main reason it’s working with other organizations to create opportunities while overcoming barriers.

CLEVELAND — FutureLAND was a conference celebrating the diversity in tech. Pitch competitions, panel discussions, and networking with an artist flare, all to tap into minority communities that are traditionally overlooked.

“We are investing in tech founders, entrepreneurs, creators,” Alysha Ellis, director of education for FutureLAND, said, “and we are infusing the conference with arts and entertainment.”

Organizers want to make FutureLAND a movement to support minority business founders.

“It is, ‘How do we collectively own something?'” Ellis stated. “That’s why I believe FutureLAND is a movement, because folks can take ownership in it. They can relate to it.”

Collaboration is key to FutureLAND’s success, and the main reason it’s working with other organizations to create opportunities while overcoming barriers.

“Barriers to entry are real, whether we are talking access to capital [or] general access to connections,” Teleangé Thomas, chief operations and relationships officer of JumpStart, said.

According to JumpStart, a venture development nonprofit, less than 2% of venture capital goes to minority owned businesses. But investing in these companies can pay off big, like $224 million of economic output in Ohio last year.

Black-led organizations produced $158 Million, and Hispanic-led groups produced $66 million according to “The 2021 Economic and Fiscal Impact Report” published by JumpStart.

To achieve success, Thomas says minority entrepreneurs need to be visible in the development community. That’s why JumpStart partnered with the Cleveland Browns for events like 1st & Tech and the Small Business Training Camp. That’s where Saidah Farrell picked up digital marketing tips for her online gourmet marshmallow business.   

“I’m in my fourth year in business, and I realize I need the mentoring and I need the coaching in order to grow my business,” Farrell, owner of the Marshmallow of the Month Club, said.

“If we are going to win collectively, that means we have to be tapping into all of our disservice talent, ensuring there are opportunities,” Thomas added.

Creating a community is vital to keeping these innovators and jobs here in Cleveland, whether it’s through tech that makes motorcyclists safer or an augmented reality social media app.

“Cleveland is a great place to start a company,” Scott Ijaz, CEO and co-founder of Helmy, said. “They give you a lot of support. The city takes care of you, and they really want use to succeed.”

“It is a little bit harder than starting it up somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Montre co-founder Cambron Jones noted, “but as long as you have unique product, I think people will find you.”

“We have the will, we have talent, we have the opportunity,” Thomas said. “And as we know, tech is going to continue evolve and bring new opportunity into the region, and we want all of those things to coexist to go further, faster, together.”

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