They had the viral content for their start-up tech company, PeduL, which connects college students with scholarships.
But Kayla Michele and Chisa Egbelu, two Rutgers graduates, needed funding after leaving their production assistant gigs at NBC in 2017.
“We needed to be introduced to the world of venture capital and what that looks like,” Michele said. “We didn’t know nothing about the world of venture capital.”
The door swung wide open for the young minority entrepreneurs – she’s 24, he’s 26 – when they signed up with The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED), a program of Rutgers Business School that was formed in Newark to help small businesses in the city, spur economic development and target urban business owners.
CUEED’s executive director, Lyneir Richardson, had the Newark based company enroll in one of its programs – the Black and Latino Tech Initiative – which showed the pair how to raise money and build their brand.
“We did a crash course in how to deal with venture capitalists, how to get your pitch ready,” Michele said.
PeduL now has $2 million in scholarships and 500,000 students on its site, a five-month old business that found its way after Michele and Egbelu saw how friends were unable to afford college.
Michele was in a similar situation. She couldn’t attend her dream school – New York University – when she did the math. After the financial aid package, she still would need $160,000.
“I was stripped of an opportunity, not because I didn’t earn my acceptance letter, but because I didn’t have access to capital,” said Michele, who received enough money from Rutgers to attend college.
“I didn’t want anyone to ever have to feel that way,” Michele said.
CUEED, in its 10th year, and its expertise has made that happen for more than 400 entrepreneurs that the business center has helped in its work to target minority business owners.
We see them every day.
From auto body and coffee shops to folks running entertainment ventures and operating solar power companies. They provide services, pay taxes, support the little league team.
“They are the anchors and drivers of economic development,” said Richardson.
Numerically, 70% of the entrepreneurs are African-American or Latino; 60%t are women and 40% are residents from Newark and Essex County. They’ve been the traditional restaurants and beauty shops, but Richardson said many of them are moving into growth industries like technology, cannabis, health care and solar energy.
Jeff Billingsley, one of CUEED’s shining stars, is home grown and hasn’t looked back as chief executive officer of Cobblestone Multimedia, a company that produces film, television and music content.
“CUEED helped me to build capacity with infrastructure,” said Billingsley, who has hired camera operators, film makers and photographers. With CUEED, his profits have increased by 10% in the last three years.
“CUEED is very focused on generating wealth and revenue and how do you do that and how do you get to the bottom line,” he said.
Of the 400 businesses that CUEED has assisted, over 160 are generating more than $1 million in revenue through a program that Richardson said is the first of its kind in the country. While most universities, and that includes Rutgers, have business programs for students, Richardson said CUEED is unique because of its social impact.
“Our center says can we use the university’s platform, research, space and equipment to be able to drive inclusive economic development to strengthen local markets and specifically be able to help African-American and Latino and other diverse entrepreneurs in urban settings,” Lyneir said.
After 10 years, CUEED is not satisfied. Over the next decade, Lyneir wants to see 1,000 urban entrepreneurs generating over a million dollars in revenue.
Getting there, however, takes money. Many businesses are too small at this point to walk into bank and get a loan. The friends and family route, said Lyneir, generates a lot of applause and nothing more.
Lyneir hopes to change that with the Black and Latino Angel Investment Fund of New Jersey, a group formed last year to help minority businesses survive and grow.
“We’re using our own wealth to help grow other companies that have been through the Rutgers program that we think have growth potential,” he said.
So far, the group has raised $350,000 and is looking to reach more investors.
“Instead of complaining about it, this is a way of putting your money where your mouth is,” he said.