Camelback Ventures Giving Underrepresented Entrepreneurs an Equal Shot

Minorities are less likely to receive investment funding. Aaron Walker is changing that.

Camelback Ventures logo

Aaron Walker, founder of Camelback Ventures (Source: Nobleimpact.org)

Someone may have the greatest idea for a business, but without knowing how to move forward with that idea and, more importantly; how to fund it, that idea can dry up like Hughes’ raisin in the sun.

Entrepreneur Aaron Walker knows this, which is why he created Camelback Ventures. His organization recently held its 2015 Camelback Summit in San Francisco, California, which was a litany of workshops, speakers, and advice for minority entrepreneurs.

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Camelback Ventures is a nonprofit social venture fellowship and seed fund. From donations provided by various foundations, corporations, and individuals, it makes investments in promising ventures by entrepreneurs who are from communities of color, female, or immigrants.

“Camelback Ventures is the friends and family capital our fellows need at the earliest stages of their startup. This early funding is often the most difficult for people with less access to influence and money–particularly people of color and women,” says Walker. “Camelback provides that access, not only to capital, but to 1:1 coaching and connections to critical stakeholders. Our model helps local entrepreneurs sustain their social ventures, thus, advancing opportunities in under-resourced communities,” he says.

Highlights of the summit included a day of workshops held at the IBM Innovation Center in San Francisco. Attendees received advice ranging from how to negotiate term sheets to understanding grant agreements.

Demo Day showcased Camelback’s 2015 fellows—entrepreneurs at nascent stages of their business ventures who have been accepted into Camelback’s Fellowship program to receive guidance and to help them raise funding. Eleven fellows pitched their ventures in 2-3 minutes.

High-Caliber Connections

For Walker, Camelback Ventures is not just about “throwing money.” “It’s about coaching,” he said. “Creating capital and connections is our real value-add.”

For fellow Jonathan Johnson, the “caliber of connections,” is what makes his experience with Camelback invaluable. “I’m probably one of the youngest to sit with the alumni team, and entrepreneurs need those kinds of support.” Johnson is the founder and CEO of Rooted School, a New-Orleans charter high school that prepares students for entry-level jobs in high-demand sectors. Through Camelback, Johnson managed to raise upwards of $320,000 in funding.

“Camelback Ventures’ Demo Day was like a three-hour snapshot of the entire nine-month fellowship experience. We were presenting our social ventures to a room full of stakeholders, folks with powerful connections,” says Johnson.

Aimee Eubanks Davis is the founder of Braven (formerly, Beyond Z). Braven partners with colleges and universities, young professionals and employers, with young people from the inner-city to offer a leadership and readiness course, as well as robust, campus-based alumni programming in preparation for the job market.

Eubanks Davis was motivated to found Braven from her own upbringing. “As an African American who grew up on the south-side of Chicago, I realized I didn’t have the same level of connection and capital as others.” Walker coached Eubanks Davis. She encourages other entrepreneurs to apply for a fellowship. “A lot of other incubators are not funding us.”

“Having so many education champions and potential investors come out to support the 2015 Camelback Fellows was validating. They expressed a genuine interest and listened to our pitches, then sat with us in small breakout groups and gave us their feedback on the ‘challenge’ we presented,” says Eubanks Davis.

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