Preston L. James, II is the Cofounder and CEO of DivInc, A former 20-year veteran at Dell where he served in executive leadership roles in Enterprise IT Sales and Consulting where he led teams responsible for driving $250M+ in revenues. He also served as the Managing Director for the Dell Global Center for Entrepreneurship, where he oversaw the $100M Dell Credit Fund. Preston earned his Bachelor’s of Science and Engineering degree at Howard University, in Washington, DC.
Great ideas can come from anyone, but has the startup ecosystem been really listening? Only 1% of Venture Capital is invested into Black and Latinx startup companies combined. Only .46% of Venture Capital has been invested in Black and Latinx women founders. For women in general the percentage is 3-4%. As of 2020, according to Project Diane Report, only 93 Black Women founders have raised more than $1M for the startups. Beyond gender and race bias in the startup ecosystem, there are three other major barriers that severely limit the opportunities for underrepresented founders. The barriers are associated with lack of access to essential resources/opportunities such as 1) Education of fundamentals and Best Practices to building a successful startup company, 2) Human and Social Capital Networks such as startup mentors, talent pools, advisors, coaches, and serial entrepreneurs, and 3) Financial capital to scale and grow startups. DivInc provides accelerator programming, culture, and infrastructure for early-stage underrepresented founders. The goal is to assist them in successfully navigating the startup ecosystem and capture the opportunities that enable them to become investor-backed companies.
All of DivInc's programs are focused on our underrepresented startup founders. We intentionally and strategically collaborate extensively across the ecosystem to bring people/resources together through joint events, our programs, and networking opportunities that normally would not come together. As a result, we help expand networks and thus open the doors to access to greater opportunities for the entire ecosystem, founders, mentors, investors, talent pools, corporations, universities, government, peer accelerator programs, etc. Our work helps to transform ecosystems to make them more authentically diverse, equitable and inclusive across the board as we inherently attract and actively recruit many founders, mentors, investors, universities, foundations, and corporate partners into the ecosystem for the first time. As a result, we help broaden the ecosystem with more innovators, and with more innovators our ecosystems become more vibrant and robust. We still have a long way to go, but we firmly believe our model is a difference-maker.
Undoubtedly, we believe that leveraging the best practice of Techstars regarding recruiting, programming and the mentor network will accelerate DivInc's success. Building stronger relationships with MDs will enable greater access for our founders and thus increase opportunities for our founders as well.
In late 2012, I became the Managing Director of Dell's Global Center for Entrepreneurship working closely with tech startups to help them scale and grow their businesses. In short, I got bit by the startup bug and really drawn to the true innovation happening in the startup world. It was in this role that I noticed the lack of diversity in the startup ecosystems globally. I was often the only black person in the room and there were always very few women, if any. In 2014, when I took early retirement from Dell after 20 years, I was invited to become a mentor at Capital Factory in Austin, the center of gravity for startup entrepreneurs. At the time, I was the only black mentor out of about 100. I also became an angel investor and joined Central Texas Angel Network where at the time I was the only black angel investor out of 125 members. Between networking events, demo days, and investor deal flow, I quickly realized that the lack of diversity was not going to get any better unless something was done. I was in a very unique position where I was rapidly developing relationships with underrepresented founders on one side as well as the Mentor/Investor/Coworking/Accelerator on the other where neither could really find the other. By developing an intimate understanding of both sides we created DivInc to serve as a bridge within the startup community while also addressing the specific barriers that all party's faced. DivInc became the first of its kind serving tech startups founded by people of color and women in the state of Texas.
After 25 plus years in the corporate world and being a father of four kids, DivInc represents my legacy work. We exist to achieve equity, not just in entrepreneurship, but in our society as a whole. We exist to reduce the racial and gender wealth gaps. We exist so that in our future, the "minority" will be the majority innovators and job creators. We exist to inspire the next generation of founders of color and women. We exist so we don't have to exist.
So many to tell, but one of my favorites is Anthony Gantt who is the founder of At Ease Rentals who participated in our cohort #6 at the end of 2019. He's a Marine and father of six. When he first met with me, he was really just kind of all over the place and fumbling around with his idea/concept. But he was very intelligent, coachable, fearless and you could tell he had the hustle. He was a go-getter. But selling his idea/concept wasn't gaining traction for him. When he applied to DivInc, I knew I really liked him but wasn't sure if he would be able to pull things together well enough to make the cohort. He was very impressive through the application process, but still, the concept needed stronger legs. Upon participation in the DivInc program, Anthony's light bulbs had lit up and things became very clear to him as he executed the things he had been coached to do. From that aha moment, he's just been so laser-focused, extremely confident, and making tremendous strides for the business. He recently won a $100K pitch competition and he's now in the process of closing out a $750K round of funding and just recently accepted into the Mass Challenge program. He's on his way to an exciting exit within the next two to three years.
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