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Highlight: Rutgers University Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Focuses on Inclusion in the Innovation Sector

The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED) at Rutgers Business School is working to make inclusion in the innovation sector a focal point. CUEED is driven by recent studies with some sobering statistics, including that fact that less than 1 percent of all high-growth technology startups are led by Black or Latinx entrepreneurs. Minority-owned businesses are also 34.7 percent less likely to receive an investment from the $48 billion VC industry.

In September 2020, EDA awarded a $300,000 Build to Scale program grant to CUEED’s newest tool, the Black and Latino Angel Investment Fund (BALIF) of New Jersey. The EDA investment empowered the organization to hire an expert fund manager and administrative support to lead their due diligence efforts, and also immediately catalyzed $115,000 from other private sector Angel investors.

“We are looking for growth companies owned or led by people of color who want to pitch to the Angel Fund,” said Lyneir Richardson, CUEED’s Executive Director. “Equally important, we are continuing to meet (by Zoom) with people who are interested to join us as Angel Investors. We can be the ‘friends and family’ round of capital and help people of color scale their companies.”

At their last meeting, CUEED voted to make their first investment in a firm called WearWorks. Founded by a diverse team of three entrepreneurs, WearWorks offers new technology for the blind and visually-impaired. The business prides itself on being a haptic design company that delivers detailed and nuanced information through touch. Its first product, the WAYBAND, was born after helping a blind person run the NYC Marathon without sighted assistance. The “Virtual Corridor” technology helps individuals go and stay in the right direction based on vibrations they feel on their WAYBAND device.

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Actual WAYBAND device and rendering of how the technology helps a walker/runner stay within the “virtual corridor.”

CUEED also developed and sponsors The Black and Latino Tech initiative, a Pre-Accelerator Program in collaboration with strategic partners of the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem. The mission is to provide Black and Latino startup entrepreneurs with educational training, coaching, mentorship, networking, potential funding, and connection to resources and experts. The program focuses on mentoring startup founders to increase the probability of securing admission into an accelerator and/or obtaining seed funding.

CUEED boasts a decade of experience helping entrepreneurs and the region’s economy. It is the first university-based center of its kind in the U.S. to successfully integrate academic research with private industry, government, and non-profits to foster entrepreneurial and economic growth in urban communities. CUEED’s impact on the New Jersey economy is spotlighted in the video here.

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