Last November, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien explored Silicon Valley through the eyes of eight African-American entrepreneurs. All participants of the inaugural NewMe Accelerator class, the Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley cast invited viewers into their journey as startup founders competing in an industry comprised of less than 1% of entrepreneurs that look like them. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the tech innovators to see what they’ve been up to one year later.
Chris Bennett is a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School graduate and serial entrepreneur, with expertise in finance, operations, and team building. But he also specializes in programming languages like Python, HTML, and CSS. How did he get such a curious mix of skills you might ask? Well, while studying economics in college, he and a friend launched LiquidBooks.net, a drop-off service to help fellow students sell their books at a higher value. They were pulling in $100,000 a year but after graduation he let the website lapse and went to work in the real world.
But finance wasn’t the right fit so he eventually made his way to Silicon Valley. Bennett is also one of four friends who launched Black Founders, a Silicon Valley-based organization with the mission to increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech. Black Founders was launched at the same time as the NewMe Accelerator, and since has also hosted education forums for hundreds of tech entrepreneurs in Atlanta and New York City.
While participating in the NewMe Accelerator, Bennett pitched his idea for Soldsie.com (formally Central.ly). It allows retailers to sell their products on Facebook by letting shoppers go into a product’s comment section and write “sold” to buy items. Bennett and his co-founder built an entire back-end system that allows merchants to manage sales and collect payments. Bennett wasn’t one of the main entrepreneurs featured in the documentary, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t walk away with a war chest of resources. Below he talks about the accelerator experience, advisor feedback, and why Silicon Valley is “the place for tech startups.”
I worked in finance because…
I got a solid job offer in private equity after college and I never had any experience with a tech company (besides LiquidBooks) so I didn’t apply to any tech companies in college. I was really frustrated working in finance and it took me exploring a couple of industries before I realized I should work in tech. I decided to move to the Valley because one of my best friends from college left Bain Capital to work at a startup. That was the first time I realized the potential of startups and the opportunities they afforded. After two years, I’m still in the Valley.
The way I see it…
If you are going to be a technology entrepreneur then you should be in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. It has the best and biggest network of talent, investors, and mentors here. I moved to the Valley before NewMe and had no intention to leave afterwards. We are based in the Mission District in San Francisco.
Following NewMe we raised…
An angel round to keep us going. We are using the investment to hire additional people and invest in marketing to attract new customers and inform the market about selling on Facebook.