Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership Co-founder and CEO Jill Johnson. (GeekWire Photo / Nate Bek)

Open up your networks.

That’s the message to investors from Jill Johnson, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL), a Newark, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurs with a focus on women and minority founders.

Johnson was in Seattle this week to host a networking and showcase event called Creating Conscious Collisions, which aims to create environments where entrepreneurs, investors, allies, and policymakers can connect.

Johnson told GeekWire that startup investors can boost returns and gain richer insights into the innovation economy by opening up their network to a more diverse group of founders, potentially landing deals that others would otherwise overlook.

“With respect to women of color entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, there is amazing innovation that exists and lots of creativity and brilliance,” said Johnson. “The challenge is that we’re not seeing them being funded in the way that it should.”

The percentage of venture capital dollars going to startups led by only female founders hasn’t surpassed 3% over the past decade. U.S. startups with at least one female co-founder raised $5.8 billion in the third quarter across 612 deals, compared to total deal value of $32.7 billion across 2,715 deals, according to PitchBook.

Johnson said many women of color founders lack connections to the people, entities, and organizations with resources, including capital.

“Unfortunately, too many people have just not had exposure, or any reason to meet people outside of their network,” said Johnson, who began her career as an analyst at Goldman Sachs before founding IFEL with her father in 2002.

Yolanda Barton, founder of RevereXR, presenting her startup Revere XR at the Creating Conscious Collisions event in downtown Seattle Wednesday evening. (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership Photo)

Seattle is the seventh stop on a 10-city roadshow for Creating Conscious Collisions. The event was hosted at the Madison Centre in downtown Seattle and featured slideshows from six startups led by women of color. Keep reading to learn more about their companies and traction.

Yolanda Barton. (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership Photo)

Yolanda Barton is the founder of Revere XR, a Seattle interactive storytelling startup “bringing history to life.” The company uses virtual, augmented, and mixed reality along with AI to create interactive learning experiences. The idea is to capture historical events, making them as “captivating as viral videos” for students of history, Barton said. The company has beta tested with 700 users across three cities and is a finalist for the Pharrell Williams Black Ambition Award. Read more.

Henny Damian. (LinkedIn Photo)

Henny Damian is the founder of Joola, a Seattle savings and rewards app for friends and family to build access to capital and gain financial wisdom. The startup is implementing gamification features, which allows users to earn points, collect badges, and compete with friends to save capital. The company has saved members more than $270,000 in capital, Damian said. Read more.

Yasameen Sajady. (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership Photo)

Yasameen Sajady is the co-founder and CEO of Maazah, a Minneapolis, Minn.-area family-run startup that sells a green chutney sauce and aioli, inspired by Afghanistan cuisine. The company, co-led with Yasameen’s sister Sheilla, was selected to be part of Kroger’s food accelerator cohort in 2021. Maazah is set to launch at Costco, Target and Whole Foods, Yasameen said.

Anisha Vinjamuri. (LinkedIn Photo)

Anisha Vinjamuri is the founder and CEO of Umm Skincare, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that sells skincare products that infuse principles of the ancient Indian medical system called Ayurveda. The startup sells to retailers, more than 30 spas, and is in the process of building its direct-to-consumer platform. It’s on track to reach its year-end target of $500,000 in revenue, Vinjamuri said.

Julie Pham. (LinkedIn Photo)

Julie Pham is the CEO of CuriosityBased, a Seattle consultancy that aims to help people build communication, collaboration, and inclusion skills by fostering curiosity. Pham, who previously served as an executive at the Washington Technology Industry Association, authored a book titled: 7 Forms of Respect: A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work. The company aims to scale through a digital course and by licensing its intellectual property, Pham said. Read more.

Reetu Gupta. (Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership Photo)

Reetu Gupta is the co-founder and CEO of Cirkled In, a Seattle-based social media-style platform for students to showcase their profile, records, and accomplishments to better discover opportunities that are relevant to them. “What LinkedIn did for professional recruitment, we are doing the same thing for youth recruitment,” Gupta said. The startup has raised $1.5 million to date, garnered a user base of 910,000 users, and achieved $600,000 in annual revenue. Read more.

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