Five Austin companies joined Google's second Startups Black Founders Fund on Wednesday, earning $100,000 each as part of the $10 million initiative geared toward giving Black entrepreneurs access to funding for their startups.
The fund gave $100,000 to 50 founders nationwide, including Austin companies CustomerX.i, Journey Foods, Sandbox Commerce, The Mentor Method and Tadeblock.
The founders will receive the funding without giving up any ownership of their startups and will gain access to Google technical support including up to $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits. The Austin companies will also join a select few—the fund is only two years old and last year rewarded 76 Black-led startups with up to $100,000 as well.
Google's Startup funds can be used to boost Black founders' companies into success—last year, founders raised up to $50 million in capital after recieving the funds, and 80% of the companies used their funds to create jobs.
Founders from last year's batch then paid it forward by nominating new companies and announcing the winners via Zoom.
Here's a look at those 5 founders in Austin:
Hakeem James- Customer X.I
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to help small restaurants thrive.
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to keep mom-and-pop shops alive. That's why he started his company to bridge "the gap between online and offline" and give restaurants and small businesses a centralized location to analyze their data against competitors.
"The question we ask internally: is it simple enough for my grandmother to use? For the record, my grandmother sometimes picks up the phone upside down," James told Microsoft.
The company's data can help businesses small and large better understand their customers—from their names to their drink choices—to build better relationships and customer loyalty.
But it hasn't been easy, especially as labor shortages and COVID safety policies affect restaurants during the pandemic. James said he heard about Google for Startups at Austin's entrepreneur hub, Capital Factory. He and the team will use the funding to create "freemium" plans as they seek to keep restaurants open.
"It has also allowed us to offer our products to restaurants that need it most on a freemium basis to keep their doors open and accelerate their growth when it has never been harder to do so," James said. "Being recognized and backed by Google is monumental for us; it is a signal to our partners of our growing success in the market and the expanded capacity we now have to serve our clients."
Riana Lynn- Journey Foods
Lynn said the startup fund will help level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs that may not get the funding they need.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is a strong step in increasing the significant discrepancies in funding to many groups of founders, especially founders of color," Lynn said. "The funds will be used to add more science and engineering talent to our team and improve our impact in supply chains."
The company takes a step further back in the food industry process by merging research and development for food companies. Through comprehensive food data, Journey Foods helps provide insights on ingredients, pricing, manufacturing, and supply chain information to companies across the food industry.
From suppliers to packaging companies, Journey Foods hopes to reduce waste and costs by streamlining the food creation process.
Sterling Smith- Sandbox Commerce
Sandbox Commerce CEO Sterling Smith wasn't given a heads-up when he earned a spot in the Black Startups Fund- instead, he thought he was in his final interview.
Smith, who founded the app company in 2018, expressed his gratitude for the funding.
"Everyone involved, I really appreciate you guys betting on Sandbox," Smith said. "I can tell my mom now, right?"
Sandbox Commerce looks to create simple apps for companies without any technical or coding skills needed. The company looks to especially help the underdogs, including small businesses or underrepresented companies, in bridging the gap between computer skills and entrepreneurs.
Janice Omadeke- The Mentor Method
The Mentor Method is a consulting firm that helps companies recruit and retain employees through mentorship. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
The Mentor Method, founded by Janice Omadeke, has been featured by Forbes and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its multi-step method of promoting employee retention and fulfillment. Omadeke has also won Capital Factory's $100k Female Founder competition award.
The company focuses on inclusivity, closing opportunity gaps and building talent through its mentorship method, which involves a matching algorithm that brings employees and mentors quickly together. The Mentor Method has been used by high-profile programs including the Department of Education and Glassdoor.
Omadeke said the startup will use its fund to create jobs, including a Product Coordinator, and boost an employee benefits package.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund will help us scale faster and address the core needs of companies seeking to retain their employees," Omadeke said.
Mbiyimoh Ghogomu- Tradeblock
Now a company used by tens of thousands, Tradeblock had humble beginnings—it was once just an Instagram page for sneakerheads.
Founder Mbiyimoh Ghogomu teamed up with childhood friends Tony Malveaux and Darren Smith to transform the page throughout the pandemic and create a network for sneaker lovers to enjoy. With their motto "Kicks as Currency," sneakerheads can trade sneakers without ever touching their piggy bank.
For Ghogomu, the company and Black Starters fund are both about one thing-fostering community.
"Getting recognized by Google as part of the Black Founders Fund is a game-changer for us," Ghogomu said. "My co-founders and team have been working really hard to disrupt the sneaker x tech space and inspire community building. The funds, relationships and overall support that Tradeblock is gaining will take us to the next level."
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Rounding out the last-quarter corner of October, we are thrust toward the season of "the little death"—the sign of Scorpio—both inevitably transformational and potentially orgasmic.
This dying is simply a very natural and necessary process, as the year begins its closing. In Scorpio season, we are invited to look directly into our shadow and that of the world around us. This marks a significant end-of-a-cycle that began six months ago. This is the month of embracing the cycles of life, of looking death in the eyes, of embracing the very powerful process of transmutation and as we dive into it, remembering that rebirth is always imminent.
(*Note: When reading your monthly horoscope, it is always good to read not only your "SunSign" but also your "Ascendant"— referred to as your "Rising Sign".)
Aries: March 21-April 19
Arians, you may have felt like you have been on the stand the last months, and you have in many ways with so many planets in opposition to your Sun! Alas, you may feel emancipated from the resistance and this month return to your preferred state of passion and enthusiasm spurring new horizons of creative endeavors. Your flame may be burning so hot in fact, that you may well ignite a romantic interlude, however the dynamic may well end up requiring more than you are interested in investing. Your bigger picture continues to be on personal achievement, however this year you are learning that 'it takes a village'. The Nov. 19 full moon eclipse teaches you to let go of attachment, and the need to control all the strands of the web.
Taurus: April 20-May 20
Pleasure-seeking Taurus, Scorpio season is the double-edged sword for you. The Soul's 'urge to merge' entices you, while also eliciting apprehension as this level of union may open up the cellar doors. The Nov. 4 Scorpio new moon falls in your relationship sector this month, so just surrender to the pleasure principle as it allows and 'trust the process' that follows. Remember you are being activated this year to evolve, and getting our hands and hearts dirty is sometimes required. The Solar eclipse on Nov. 19 falls in your sign, which ignites a very karmic path that will unfold over the next year and a half in your favor. Your calm, steady, and creative demeanor and your gifts will be called to the front lines to bring a necessary balance to the world.
Gemini: May 21-June 20
Geminis, we love you for always 'keeping it light'. However, Scorpio season may require you to face some issues that have been boiling beneath the surface, especially in the workplace. Remember 'Twins', you are learning about duality this go-round, and that you can't have the 'light,' without also embracing the 'dark'. Freedom comes from this natural and necessary process of healing so sit back and learn something this month. The Taurus Solar eclipse Nov. 19 that falls in your 'house of The Mystic,' will reward you with a leap in your spiritual consciousness.
Cancer: June 21-July 22
Delicate Cancers, you have been forced out of your shell over and over, in the last year. The current evolutionary shift has so needed your gifts of love and compassion. Scorpio season for you may bring a wave of emotionality but nothing a good cry cannot navigate. This year your motherly gifts are called out of the house and into the larger community. At the Taurus solar eclipse, you may find yourself at the end or the beginning of the very significant community role. Remember that when one door closes, another opens, and that truly, 'home is where the heart is'.
Leo: July 23-Aug. 22
Bright-light-Leo's, Scorpio may not be your favorite season (except perhaps the costume party!) as the emerging shadows appear to be in contrast to your ever-lasting light! But relax and remember that 'dark', merely means 'hidden', and once revealed, gains access to more light! Hey Lions, the transformation for you this month, is with home and work. Change, healing, and progress are keywords, which may require fast decisions. The Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse lands in your career sector, so the question to ask is…"is this really what I want to be doing?" Your exuberant playfulness, joy and creativity are your greatest gifts. Be sure they are intricately woven into your path.
Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21
Creating order out of chaos is your specialty, vigilant Virgos. You welcome Scorpio season to clear out the cobwebs and get on with things. Do be careful not to become too focused on the distortions, remembering that 'what we focus on expands'. You are a pinnacle of this time of 'the Great Shift' and are upgrading quickly to meet the collective needs. The Scorpio new moon, and the Taurus lunar eclipse fall in your axis of 'information, knowledge, communication, and beliefs'. You are upgrading your mental circuitry. Don't hold onto anything, and trust that you will end up where you belong.
Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23
Love-hungry Libras, we know you always love Scorpio season because it means going deeper into the intimate realms and you are absolutely fine with whatever it takes! However, this month's Scorpio new moon invites a rebirth to your relationship with yourself, which is a reward after a long journey of introspection and growth. This journey brings you to a place of balance with self and others. This is your deepest work in this lifetime, so celebrate with an extra dose of self-care! There could be some financial upgrades this month. Consider partnering up, as a way of combining resources. Your gift of diplomacy may be called upon surrounding the Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse.
Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21
This is your big month all-powerful Scorpios… Happiest Re-Birth-Day to you! This is your moment to push the 'reset' button, shed last year's skin, and embody the fullness of your passion and purpose! The Nov. 4 new moon, also in your sign, is the invitation to surrender any old emotional pain and story, and get clear about your higher mission—as your strength and depth are greatly needed at this evolutionary threshold. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger relationship shifts, though exciting, may be fleeting, but remember every romantic soiree serves your evolution in some manner. Home and family continue to be a bit in flux, so live from the heart... while learning to let go and trust.
Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sagittarians, you are the leaders of great thought. You have been tested the last year to open your mind-horizons into areas that have brought discomfort. Sometimes you find it easier to hold onto old learned beliefs because the emerging new truths feel too destabilizing. The Nov. 4 New Moon awards you the opportunity to 'let go and trust' that all is going to be ok. You will continue to be tested in your capacity to 'listen' and communicate compassionately with others. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger some chaos at the job site but observe it with a higher mind, relax into the process; this restructuring is necessary and of the highest order. A renewed self-care regime could be the missing component to the balance you seek.
Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Wise and focused Capricorns, this month you may find great fulfillment putting your hard work to good use within the community. Though not your initial intention, your industrial focus may also come with unexpected healing of a past hurt around the Nov. 4 new moon. This year has put focus on refining your character, and to reassess what you truly value. Finances have also been serious business with the need to balance your spending with saving. But the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse is begging for you to lighten up a bit and play. Do something spontaneous and be open to a little romance, expected or unexpected!
Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Revolutionary Aquarians! You were born for these times and find yourself on the front lines of this fast-moving evolutionary train! Though you might have hoped humanity would be further along by now, you must not lose heart and continue to fine-tune your mental channels in order to guide us into the future. The Nov. 4 new moon may offer a new direction in your career, while the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may bring unexpected change in the home-front. You of all the signs understand that it is 'the storm' that precedes the greatest shifts... Keep holding the light and guiding with the certainty of your soul's light.
Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20
It's been rough waters for you this past year Pisces, as your empathic nature feels all the collective alchemical turmoil deep within. You are closing out some massive cycles requiring deep inquiry, surrender and trust. The Nov. 4 New Moon invites you to stretch your comfort zone and peer into the less pleasant aspects of life, in order to avoid bypassing and embody a balanced approach. You will be rewarded by the Lunar Eclipse Nov. 19 with an invitation to speak, write, teach, or perhaps just soul-enriching connections with others. Remember that your endless well of compassion is your greatest gift, and so needed on the planet at this time.
Shannon Gill is an Evolutionary Astrologer, Jungian Counselor, and the co-founder of 'The Shift Foundation' at Samadhi Retreat Center. To learn more about her work, or to schedule a personal session, you may contact her at shannonleigill.com.
Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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