When Tye and Courtney Caldwell, co-founders of McKinney-based startup ShearShare, pitched investors in Silicon Valley on their app that connects hairstylists with empty salon space, the first reaction they got had nothing to do with the technology. It was about their race.
“It was not a wake-up call because we do live in the South, and we’ve been Black for many years,” Courtney Caldwell said. “This has been our experience every day. We were immediately reminded that the world is the same in [Silicon] Valley as it is in Texas, as it is in New York. … Being Black in America is pretty consistent.”
Mandy Price and Star Carter, co-founders of Dallas-based tech startup Kanarys, had similar experiences in their prior law careers. They turned that into inspiration for a platform where employees can anonymously review companies’ performance on issues like diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace.
As the pandemic brought challenges faced by Black-owned businesses to the forefront, tech behemoth Google rolled out new initiatives to give them a boost, including a startup accelerator for Black founders. It accepted the two North Texas companies into its inaugural class for a three-month program designed to equip entrepreneurs with mentorship and technical support.
“I thought [the programming] was phenomenal, not only from the technical standpoint of being able to help us accelerate some of the machine learning and AI we’re using within our platform but also being able to touch on topics unique to Black founders and the challenges that we do have with respect to raising capital,” Price said.
The companies were among 12 startups selected nationally. In addition to the accelerator program, Google created a $5 million fund that provides up to $100,000 cash to select startups. Both Kanarys and Shearshare received the maximum funding.