The best founders seek out great mentors and guidance from folks who know best, but during the coronavirus pandemic, asking for help when it’s needed is critical for all entrepreneurs.
Ureeka, a startup founded by Melissa Bradley, David Jakubowski and Rob Gatto, is looking to provide that mentorship and guidance through their platform, which just closed on an $8.6 million funding round from Bullpen Capital, Chicago Ventures and Salesforce Ventures.
“There is an intentionality in our business to go after what we see as the fastest growing, largest and most interesting market opportunity, which is not the Harvard and MIT pedigree, but underrepresented entrepreneurs,” said Bradley. “Small and medium businesses account for 99 percent of all business in this country and there has been a real missed opportunity around serving them.”
The company says that female led venture-backed business performance is 63 percent higher than investments in all male teams, while the same businesses have 12 percent higher revenue and use 33 percent less capital, with a 15-25 percent lower failure rate. Since the recent recessions, businesses owned by people of color are the fastest growing segment, with 38 percent growth between 2008 and 2012, according to Ureeka. Meanwhile, Hispanic-owned businesses have seen 46 percent growth from 2007 to 2012, with $700 billion in sales globally, creating 8 million jobs with a total payroll of $254 billion, the startup says.
Ureeka pairs these entrepreneurs with mentors and coaches to get answers to their most pressing questions. The idea for the startup came when the cofounders were judging a pitch competition in Michigan and got to talking about the challenges associated with starting a company, particularly for underrepresented founders.
The Ureeka founders noted that black, hispanic and women founders begin businesses with approximately half of the capital that white men do, on average, and that loan rejection is three times higher for minority entrepreneurs than their white counterparts.
“In talking with Melissa, I realized that there are some basic things I was taking for granted,” said Jakubowski, formerly Head of Data & Analytics, Emerging Business & Partnerships at Facebook. “For example, I could pick up the phone and have an answer to my question in 30 minutes.”
After testing for months, Jakubowski and Bradley (Managing Director of Project 500, adjunct professor at Georgetown’s Business school and presidential appointee under both President Clinton and President Obama) launched Ureeka to give access to mentorship to underrepresented small and medium business owners, agnostic of sector or region.
These entrepreneurs can hop on the platform with a question and get an answer from a mentor or coach in under two hours. Mentors, experts from just about any sector of business, give their time to the platform for free. Coaches, on the other hand, are paid contractors (many of whom have their own business or operational position at a large company). Ureeka members can also start up conversations with other members, and access on-demand webinar-style content on topics that are common to the whole community, such as adapting to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ureeka has more than 200 mentors on the platform, many of whom hail from companies like Facebook, Snap, Salesforce, Google, and Adobe, among others. Ureeka members can also pay a premium ($3,000/year) to have access to a dedicated coach, who can then follow along with the various questions and issues that arise and ultimately skip over the exposition and context-gathering part of the conversation. Those that opt for a dedicated coach get two hours each month of one-to-one video chat with their coach.
Alongside the funding announcement, Ureeka is also announcing that it will be facilitating the SMB grant programs from Facebook and Salesforce. Facebook’s grant program will provide $100 million to SMBs in the United States, and Salesforce’s Small Business Grants will provide $10,000 individually to SMBs.
According to the company, Ureeka members see 2x revenue growth once they’re connected to mentors and coaches, and the founders noted that many Ureeka members graduate to mentors or coaches and pay it forward to new members.
The for-profit business charges $200/year for members to join, and the company takes less than 15 percent margin. Ureeka is also waiving its fee for all businesses impacted by coronavirus through 2020.
The company also has a vendor partnership program, helping members find the right vendor for their need without being overwhelmed by thousands of Google search results. In fact, many vendors are Ureeka members themselves, creating a virtuous circle within the Ureeka community. Big corporations that would like to be included in the Ureeka vendor program must provide a dedicated line of communication for the Ureeka community.