Behind the scenes of the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic pitch competition featuring HBCU students and alumni competing for funds to kickstart their entrepreneurial dreams
“I called up a couple buddies of mine — Charles King over at MaC Ventures and Serena Williams over at Serena Ventures — and we wanted to do something to sway the system a little bit,” Michael B. Jordan said in an interview. “We put together $1 million for Black entrepreneurs, it’s a crazy stat that less than 2% of venture capital goes toward Black founders. Black ideas, Black products, Black dreams, it’s their chance to take it home.”
Michael B. Jordan’s Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic basketball showcase had much more going on than just basketball games. The HBCU-centric event included an NBA 2K tournament and a career fair that featured stars like Michael Vick, Claudia Jordan, Micahel Rainey Jr., and companies like Morgan Stanely, Capital One, and Wasserman.
But the crowning achievement of the proceedings? Giving founders who are HBCU students or alumni the opportunity to receive $1 million in structured investments from Serena Williams’ investment company, Serena Ventures, and MaC Venture Capital.
Three finalists, Khalil David, Candice Blacknall, and Brandon Stokes, stood in front of Serena Williams, Serena Ventures’ Alison Stillman, CFA, and MaC Venture Capital general partner Michael Palank to pitch their businesses in hopes of winning the $1 million prize. The finalists were advised by Amazon, Invesco QQQ, and Public.com.
David, a graduate of Morehouse College and CEO of TracFlo, started his company in 2014. TracFlo is an online platform that eases the tracking of ongoing costs for construction and contracting projects. Blacknall is the head of GABA, an AI-powered career discovery and development company that uses social media content to drive mentorship and growth. Stokes is the co-founder and CEO of Blacksteel, a company that issues credit cards based on income and cash flow rather than credit score.
“These new inventors are so passionate about what they do,” Anna Paglia, Global Head of ETFs and Indexed Strategies at Invesco US, said in an interview. “The ability of these new inventors to adapt and bring new ideas, concepts into these ever-changing environments is really inspiring.”
And in addition to the $1 million investment from MaC Ventures and Serena Ventures, the winning founder also received a $10,000 stipend from Audible to fund one year in a shared workspace in Newark, New Jersey if they choose to relocate to the area.
“We have a very intentional purpose around amplifying underrepresented voices and growing the tech and innovation ecosystem,” said Aisha Glover, the company’s vice president of urban innovation in an interview. We wanted to figure out the best way for them to be a part of the excitement that is going on in Newark.”
Each of the finalist companies were also aware that the competition was an HBCU exclusive event for a reason. As Shayna Jamison, Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator, said: “Our presence here is further evidence of Amazon’s growing investment in the HBCU community. In 2018, we committed to US Congresswoman Alma Adams and the HBCU Partnership Challenge, and have been continuously investing in the space ever since.”
As Sruthi Lanka, Public.com’s CFO, added in an interview, “Public’s mission is to make the public market work for all people. And so inherent in that statement is a desire to serve minorities, people of color, women, and people who are traditionally underserved by financial services. And so HBCUs are exactly in line with the demographic of the people that we want to serve through the company but also the talent that we’re trying to attract. We want to build a company that looks like the community we’re building.”
Alongside Amazon and Public.com, Wheels Up was also a key sponsor of the competition.
“Accessibility and inclusion are critical to our brand purpose, so when we learned of the opportunity to be a part of the Legacy Classic Startup Pitch which offers HBCU students and alumni a transformative moment like this, we absolutely jumped at the chance to be included,” said Lee Applbaum, Chief Marketing Officer at Wheels Up. “Serena has been a longtime investor, Member, Ambassador, and friend of Wheels Up, and Michael is someone we admire for all his work on and off-screen, so this was a partnership we knew we had to be a part of, and one we are immensely proud of.”
In the end, the panel of Serena Williams, Allison Stillman, and Michael Palank chose Khalil David’s TracFlo to be awarded the $1 million.