Colleen Williams


Colleen Williams

Colleen is a Houston-based writer with a passion for technology.

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Former Dropbox Product Managers Raise An $18M Series A For Their Fintech Startup Lendtable

Lendtable — a Black-led fintech startup — has raised an $18 million Series A funding round led by O1 Advisors with other participants including SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund , Valor Equity Partners, and the CEOs of Complex Networks and Social Finance, Inc (SoFi), Socii Capital and Streamlined Ventures. Founded in 2020 by former Dropbox product managers Mitchell Jones and Sheridan Clayborne, Lendtable offers cash advances to allow employees to take full advantage of their 401(k) match all at once without needing to use any of their own money. Once their money has been vested, the San Francisco-based startup takes a portion of the profit earned. Jones and Clayborne were inspired to solve the problem of underutilized 401(k) matching by their own families’ financial struggles. “I’m obsessed with trying to help people save and invest their money. I come from a lower-middle-income Black community in Dayton, Ohio,” Jones told AfroTech. While an undergraduate at Yale Unversity, Jones...

Nov 12, 2021

Elise Smith And Heather Shen's Praxis Labs Raises $15.5M In Oversubscribed Series A Round

Praxis Labs, a Black and Asian-woman-founded company utilizing the power of virtual reality (VR) for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) training, just raised $15.5 million in an oversubscribed Series A round. This is the second major funding round for the company, which raised $3.2 million in February 2021, AfroTech previously reported. According to their website, Elise Smith and Heather Shen, both Stanford graduates, launched Praxis Labs in late 2019 to leverage their unique experiences and perspectives to “build the most efficacious and impactful learning experiences.” In a press release, Praxis Labs indicated that the financing round was co-led by Norwest Venture Partners and Emerson Collective. Other investors in the round included Penny Jar Capital (anchored by Steph Curry), Precursor Ventures, Concrete Rose Capital, Ulu Ventures, SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and Firework Ventures. “Our society is more segregated than ever, and the workplace is often the most...

Oct 22, 2021

ClipDart Is The Mobile Barber Service Black Students At PWIs Have Been Waiting For

When Kyle Parker began attending a predominantly white institution (PWI), he quickly realized that getting a decent haircut would be a challenge. In his predominantly white college town, there were no Black barbers. In fact, the closest Black barber was two hours away by car. The ordeal seriously impacted his mental health as he wasn’t able to look and feel his best. He also realized that other Black students were probably facing the same challenges, so he began dreaming up a solution. “Being African-American, I didn’t have the option to walk down the street to my favorite, affordable barbershop while attending Grinnell College in Iowa. The barbershop was a large part of my culture that was missing and became a factor in why I transferred after 3 years. Wherever I decided to attend, I had to have an equal chance to a great barber as most of my classmates. I knew it would tremendously help my mental health,” Parker told AfroTech. He eventually transferred out of Grinnell College but...

Jun 27, 2021

Overlooked Ventures Launches $50M Fund For Non-Traditional Founders

When Brandon and Janine met on social media, they immediately bonded over their passion for supporting underrepresented founders. Janine had already been investing in women and Black founders, and Brandon had dreams of launching a $10 million fund to do the same. Eventually, they decided to join forces to launch their shared dream: a venture capital firm that invests in typically overlooked founders. Enter, Overlooked Ventures. Brandon and Janine recently announced their intention to raise a $50 million fund through their new firm Overlooked Ventures. In addition to soliciting support from traditional investors, they are opening up their fundraising to the public. “The people that have the most power are the community members and the founders in that community. And if the community believes in you and gets behind you like we’ve seen that they do at Overlooked Ventures, anything’s possible,” Brandon explains of their philosophy. Brandon and Janine are even more unconventional in...

May 26, 2021

Shellie-Ann Kerns Is On A Mission To Decolonize The Food System

When Shellie-Ann Kerns left her home in Jamaica to join her husband in Washington State, she wasn’t sure what to expect. They moved to his family farm in Gray’s Harbor and she immediately began imagining ways to make the land productive. Family Roots “Farming for me, it’s in my blood on my mother’s side, and from her great grandmother, all the way down. My father’s family is also agricultural,” she said. “It’s something that I understand how it works. Something that I’ve just always been passionate about. When I came here, it was winter. And I needed to plant something. I did some research and I saw that, ‘hey, you can plant garlic in the middle of winter.’” Her first batch of garlic did so well that Kerns continued to plant garlic every winter. Now she’s taking her farming up a notch and making it a community affair. For her, farming is about supporting her community on a basic level. Decolonizing The Food System “What’s really driving me is the ability to feed the community,”...

May 15, 2021

Consumer Warranty Startup Upsie Raises $18.2M In Series A Round

Upsie, a consumer warranty startup led by Clarence Bethea, has raised $18.2 million in a Series A round led by True Ventures, according to a press release. The St. Paul, MN-based startup’s mission is to provide affordable and reliable warranties for electronic devices. Other notable Venture Capital (VC) firms and angel investors also participated in the round, including Concrete Rose VC, Avanta Ventures (CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA insurer), Kapor Capital, Samsung Next, Massive, Backstage Capital, Awesome People Ventures, Imagination Capital, Uncommon VC, Marc Belton, Daren Cotter (Founder and CEO of InboxDollars), George Azih (Founder and CEO of LeaseQuery), Richard Parsons, and several others. Upsie was born out of frustration with the expensive warranties consumers are often offered with their electronic device purchases. “Oftentimes when you walk into that big box store, they’re charging you so much money. They’re charging as high as 900% more than they should,” Bethea explained...

May 13, 2021

More Black Executives In Corporate America? Valence Wants To Make That Happen

Since opening its platform for applications in March 2020, Valence’s membership has exploded. They managed to build an impressive network of Black professionals and creatives spanning industries such as tech, entertainment, sports, and finance. Many large companies now recruit through the platform in an effort to pull in more diverse candidates. “We came to market with a real focus on building community, ensuring that the community had access to one another on the platform, access to opportunities through jobs and companies that were offering those opportunities, and access to capital through the valence funding network,” explains Emily Slade, one of the Valence co-founders. Now, Valence is going a step further to help Black professionals thrive and ascend the ranks in their chosen industries through BONDS — their new mentorship program for Black professionals at or near the executive career levels. What is Valence BONDS? “It’s a membership-based community that’s really focused on...

May 11, 2021

Former Googler Megan Gray Develops Health Monitoring Technology For Drivers

Megan Gray —  a former Google employee — has established herself and her startup, Moment AI, as respected names in the (Artificial Intelligence) AI startup world. Gray and the Moment AI team are on a mission to integrate health monitoring into the driving experience so that drivers can be alerted to potential deadly health episodes even before they begin to feel ill. Moment AI has participated in the Softbank and WeWork-backed Emerge accelerator . Gray has also spoken at NVIDIA’s GTC DC and several conferences about the work she and the Moment AI team are doing to make the roads safer for everyone. Moment AI also holds a patent for the technology they’ve developed. For Gray, Moment AI’s mission is all too personal. Where It All Started For The Former Googler When Gray suffered a seizure on a flight one day, she was left completely confused. Up until that day, she had been a healthy young woman with no medical issues. “It felt like something was kicking me in my head,” she explained...

May 6, 2021

Black-Founded Accelerator Offers $25K Of Non-Dilutive Funding To Startups

Milk Way Tech Hub, a Milwaukee-based tech hub led by Nadiyah Johnson, is now accepting applications for its summer 2021 accelerator program. In a press release, Milky Way explained that they are aiming to build a “national program aiming to connect tech entrepreneurs with Milky Way Tech Hub consultants, local and national industry business leaders to build disruptive and transformative technology companies.” The program accepts startups at all stages and guides them through a rigorous two weeks of workshops, mentorship and feedback. “Workshops will cover a range of topics including design and prototyping, developing an investment pitch, driving revenue through understanding IP and more. Each team will present their startups on demo day,” the press release explains. At the end of the program, each participant startup is eligible for up to $25,000 worth of non-dilutive cash awards. The press release also stated the program is supported by Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and...

Apr 7, 2021

Sandra Richards Helps Black Athletes Manage Their Wealth as Head of Global Sports & Entertainment at Morgan Stanley

As part of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting some of the most powerful Black women who you may not have heard of. To that end, we sat down with Sandra Richards, Head of Global Sports, Entertainment, and Segment Sales at Morgan Stanley. Background Born and raised in Long Island, NY to Jamaican parents, Richards went on to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Seton Hall University. She had initially planned to attend law school but ended up pursuing several opportunities outside the legal industry. “I had an opportunity to work at the Jackie Robinson Foundation. And I worked there for five years before coming to Morgan Stanley. When I joined Morgan Stanley, I joined their wealth management space with our Wealth Management Studies in the diversity and inclusion area for our global wealth managers space,” Richards said. “Now, I run our global Sports and Entertainment Group as of 2018,” she added. Why She Loves Her Role “I think the most rewarding part is certainly...

Mar 31, 2021

6 Black Women Leading the Modern Aviation Industry

In honor of Women’s History Month, AfroTech has decided to celebrate Black women at the helm of the modern aviation industry. Check out six Black women leading the industry below: Stephanie C. Hill, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Rotary and Missions Systems Photo Credit: Instagram / @StephanieC.Hill Stephanie C. Hill is executive vice president of Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) for Lockheed Martin Corporation. In her 33-year tenure at RMS, she’s held several senior positions, serving as president or vice president for different arms of the business. She is also a champion for women and people of color in STEM careers. In a recent interview with The Network Journal, she spoke about her passion for helping the next generation of leaders: “Our industry requires top talent in engineering and science, and our nation right now is facing a critical shortage of STEM workers,” she told The Network Journal. “We have to encourage as many young people as possible to pursue STEM...

Mar 29, 2021

James Andrews Has 1.7M Clubhouse Followers. Now, He's Helping Other Creators Thrive Through Audio Collective

A native of Palo Alto, CA, James Andrews has been passionate about culture, marketing, and advertising for a long time. He became a record executive in his twenties and over the past couple of decades has built and sold two companies. His newsletter, SoulPurpose, was featured in the Wall Street Journal in 2000 . In 2017, he founded Authenticated Ventures, an agency of “seasoned leaders who understand the power of storytelling and ideas combined with sound business strategy.” From Authenticated Ventures, he launched The Authenticated, “a marketplace community of companies, ideas and hustlers.” Then, in 2020, he took The Authenticated to Clubhouse. As one of Clubhouse’s most-followed personalities with a following of 1.7 million, it’s not hard to see that James has cracked the code to the Clubhouse attention market. He hosts multiple events per week and rooms are often packed with hundreds to thousands of listeners. Now, he’s joining forces with other Clubhouse power-creators to help...

Mar 20, 2021

Praxis Labs, Led By Elise Smith, Raises $3.2M in Seed Round

Praxis Labs, a virtual-reality-based (VR) diversity and inclusion platform startup led by Elise Smith, announced its launch as well as raising $3.2 million in a seed round led by SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund. Investors also included Norwest Venture Partners, Emerson Collective, Ulu Ventures, Precursor Ventures and Firework VC. In the press release, Praxis Labs reiterated its mission to “redefine work cultures, develop inclusive leaders and drive sustainable change for individuals and organizations.” Their founder and CEO, Elise Smith, is a Dartmouth and Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) graduate. “Praxis Labs is changing the way clients train employees on and measure D&I through research-backed VR experiences. The platform simulates first-hand incidents of bias and discrimination in the workplace from the perspectives of either an employee who encounters bias or discrimination firsthand, or of a co-worker who is complicit in the encounter. Unlike traditional, static...

Feb 23, 2021

Insurtech Startup Loop Closes $3.25M Seed Round to Offer 'Fair Car Insurance For All'

Loop — an Insurtech startup led by John Henry and Carey Anne Nadeau — announced today that it has raised $3.25 million in seed funding. According to its website, Loop is “building an inclusive future for auto insurance.” In their announcement, they stated: “Loop, a B-Corp auto insurance MGA that leverages AI, big data, and telematics to create more fairly priced insurance products, announced today it has closed a $3.25M seed round led by Freestyle VC, with participation from Blue Fog Capital, Fontinalis Capital Partners, Concrete Rose, Uprising Ventures, and Backstage Capital.” After the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, Nadeau and Henry partnered in July of 2020 to embark on something more meaningful. “We believe there’s a large market opportunity in pricing people more fairly and building a community-first brand in the auto insurance space,” Henry said in a statement. Nadeau, co-founder and co-CEO of Loop, also added: “The technology and data to assess risk more...

Jan 13, 2021

Black-Founded Crowdfunding Platform SpreadKarma Wants to Make 2021 the Year of Giving

The holiday season might be over but SpreadKarma, a Black-founded crowdfunding platform, wants to stretch the giving season through the entire year. SpreadKarma — founded by Baltimore school teachers Sherman Barksdale and Kellie Brown — enables “fundraisers for changemakers,” explains Brown. Their website elaborates that SpreadKarma “provides exposure, support, and access to funding for campaigns that create positive social impact in underserved communities.” “We also have a distinction, where we allow changemakers to set up funds instead of one time campaigns. We’ve had a fund called the Buy It Back Black fund, that is a recurring fund,” Brown said. “And then that fund, every month, distributes the money back out to the community to support Black-owned businesses.” The platform launched in October of 2019 and, to-date they have helped change-makers raise over $60,000 for causes that include safe housing for trans people in need, rehabilitation for domestic abuse survivors, and...

Jan 6, 2021