• Diversity

PowerMoves: An Oasis for Minority Entrepreneurs

Morgan Stanley helps PowerMoves.NOLA support minority tech start-ups.

Being a twenty-something black female CEO of a technology startup, an industry in which minorities have been historically under-represented, has given Jewel Burks a backbone of steel.

“I’m at the point now where I don’t have any fear about entering any room,” says the CEO of Partpic. “I’ve encountered situations where people don’t believe I am the CEO of the company and where people have made demeaning remarks around my age and my experience. I’ve encountered it all. But all of that gives me more energy and motivation.”

Burks is fresh from winning one of the Morgan Stanley-sponsored pitch competitions at the second annual PowerMoves.NOLA Conference in New Orleans, held this July.

It’s an event that provides minority business owners of high-growth startups with guidance, support and access to capital they often struggle to get but need to help their businesses climb to the next level.

“Recent studies show that only about 2% of all venture capital goes to under-represented entrepreneurs,” says Earl Robinson, CEO of PowerMoves.NOLA

The Atlanta-based Partpic has developed visual-recognition technology that could revolutionize the business of selling industrial parts, and take the frustration out of do-it-yourself home improvement projects.

Can’t find a replacement part for that flimsy plastic thing that no longer keeps your sliding closet door from falling off its runner? Snap a picture of the piece and upload it into the Partpic app, which instantly hunts down its name, the model number and the parts company that has it in stock.

Partpic is licensing its proprietary technology to industrial-parts distributors and retailers who can use it on websites and mobile apps to drive business.

Burks Wins Funding – And More

Burks’s confidence, energy and dynamic presentation skills helped her beat stiff competition at the Morgan Stanley Series A Pitch for later-stage startups and win $25,000 for Partpic. But the rare experience of getting coaching and support from investors, advisors and peers attending the PowerMoves conference was just as big a win.

“PowerMoves is absolutely necessary,” says Burks. “There are few platforms where entrepreneurs of color can go and get some validation around what they’re doing. It’s an amazing confidence booster.”

Platforms like PowerMoves are instrumental in providing minority entrepreneurs with a place to bring their ideas, products and businesses to market, says Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Global Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor, Morgan Stanley. “As a leader in providing clients with access to business-crucial capital, we are proud to partner with PowerMoves to connect diverse businesses and talent with the resources they need to achieve their goals.”

Burks herself had to rely on competition money, similar to the $25,000 she won at PowerMoves, to get Partpic to a point where it could attract seed money.

It’s been a hard slog, but to Burks it’s infinitely better to at least try to get a startup going than watch someone else pick up on the same idea and make a fortune.

“I had another idea several years ago when I was in college and I sat on it and didn’t push it forward. It ended up that someone else came up with the same idea and turned it into a multimillion dollar business. After that, I said ‘never again.’ You just have to go for it.”

Morgan Stanley’s sponsorship of the PowerMoves.NOLA conference also included the FinTech Showcase, which gave five financial technology entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their business models to investors and business leaders in the tech industry.

Another event was the Big Break Power Pitch competition, where four consumer-focused startups run by women pitched their businesses to a panel of judges, moderated by Harris.

Thanks to PowerMoves, entrepreneurs like Burks, and around 300 others who have participated in its conferences in the past 15 months, have been increasing their opportunities to meet and spend time with VC companies. After the first PowerMoves.NOLA, the  entrepreneurs raised an additional $15 million in new capital for their start-ups within a few months of the competition.

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