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Celebrating Black Entrepreneurs and Providing Resources to Advance Their Ventures

On March 31st, Tsai CITY hosted its annual Startup Yale entrepreneurship competition in collaboration with other university innovation centers. This year, we were pleased to add the first-ever Black Venture Summit Prize, an effort to increase venture funding for Black founders in the region. Tsai CITY partnered with CTNext, a Hartford-based organization that empowers communities of Connecticut to shape their future, and with the Yale School of Management’s Black Business Alliance (BBA), a student organization created to enhance the experience of its members and the broader Yale School of Management community through professional, social, and cultural events. To qualify for the Black Venture Summit Prize, a founding venture had to either operate within the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or New York and either identify as Black or have recognized a critical issue inside the Black community and created an entrepreneurial initiative to address that issue.

There were 53 applicants for this inaugural prize, an outstanding turnout for a brand-new prize. The finalists included Halo Braid, InDeHealth, Lots of Berries, PTH – Path, and Webquity. In the end, Webquity, a startup dedicated to providing tools to aid students using digital technology to access those resources equitably, taking into account variations in students’ learning abilities, was the winner and awarded $20,000 to help advance their venture.

Kianjai Huggan, founder and CEO of Webquity, pitching at the inaugural Yale Black Venture Summit.

Established in 2021, the four-person team that comprises Webquity are Kianjai Huggan, founder and CEO; David Pellegrini, COO; Sophie Liu, special education and product manager and Katie Yarnold, UX/UI designer. “When searching for team members, I looked for individuals who shared my vision and were passionate about working towards equitable education,” said Huggan. “David, Katie, and Sophie all bring unique skills and perspectives to the table as impressive professionals, and I am grateful to have them on board.”

The idea for Webquity arose with Huggan during her time as a curriculum coordinator at Black Girls CODE, an organization that focuses on creating pathways for young girls of color in the tech world. She noticed an inaccessibility of online content among some of her students due to their visual dyslexia and visual impairments and began brainstorming ways to fix that educational disparity. Webquity was created to empower students with visual dyslexia and minor visual impairments by providing accessibility tools for equitable online education. With a well-developed business plan and leveraging her background in both engineering and education, Huggan, along with her team, presented to business experts, investors, members of the Yale community, and residents of the surrounding City of New Haven and took home the prize.

Now in its final development phase before launching, Huggan shared what she expects to see in the future with Webquity. “In the next five years, we plan to be working with educational institutions and web users globally and expand our reach by developing products to address additional learning needs and continue to positively impact students’ lives. We are excited about the possibilities and look forward to seeing where this journey takes us.”

The Black Venture Summit Prize was spearheaded by five individuals: Zoe Hunter, managing director of Tsai CITY; Julian Love (SOM ’23) and Mea-Lynn Wong (SOM ’23), BBA co-presidents; Onyeka Obiocha, executive director at CTNext; and Tobi Shitta-Bey (SOM ’24), Innovator’s Toolkit student coordinator for Tsai CITY. The collaboration among the three sponsoring organizations, CTNext, Tsai CITY, and the BBA, provided an innovative new platform for a group of business owners and startup founders who all too often are not adequately or equitably supported as they develop their ventures. “Supporting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and disciplines is at the core of our work; this is just one way we do that,” said Hunter.

Attendees networking at Yale’s first-ever Black Venture Summit.

This year’s summit saw more than 175 attendees, many of whom had never heard of Startup Yale before the event.  “Through the launch of the inaugural summit, we’re excited to center Black entrepreneurship at Yale and are hopeful that it will drive meaningful impact for years to come,” said Wong.

With the great success of this inaugural prize, and the summit led by CTNext and SOM’s BBA, the future of the Black Venture Summit is bright. “I’m excited to see how this prize—and the summit—will grow next year. I’m thrilled that Tsai CITY was able to provide a launching ground for it to take shape,” says Hunter.

Happening April 4-5, 2024 at Hotel Marcel