Buffalo, N.Y., March 30, 2020 – We’ve all heard what’s not happening because of the coronavirus epidemic, but there is so much more to report in the way of initiatives responding at this time of need. Timed perfectly for Women’s History Month, Launch NY, Upstate New York’s first and only venture development organization to provide pro bono mentoring and the most active seed fund in New York State to high-growth startups across the 27 westernmost counties of the state, announced its latest investments from both its nonprofit and for profit seed fund in three female-founded startup companies who are already making a difference in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.
Launch NY’s nonprofit Seed Fund, LaunchNY SEED FUND LLC, which has invested over $2.7 million since its 2016 inception, added women-led Walkabout Workplace, CaHill, and Agapé, to its portfolio of 54 companies, accompanied by co-investment from its for profit LaunchNY Seed Fund I, LP, which includes 27 companies. The for profit LP Fund started investing in 2019 as a returns-based investment fund for accredited investors looking to make a profit while also having a positive impact on the Upstate New York entrepreneurial ecosystem and regional economy. Women-led businesses comprise 37% of Launch NY’s portfolio, whereas Pitchbook cites that typically less than 3% of venture capital funding goes to female-founded businesses in the U.S. annually.
Walkabout Workplace is a Buffalo-based company that offers a digital workplace or digital office for people who work remotely. Co-Founder and COO Antoinette Forth said the timing with COVID-19 has meant all of her staff is “heads down completely” as they respond to the demand of companies instituting remote work situations.
“While we never wished Coronavirus happened, it is very gratifying to be able to help businesses during this difficult time,” she said.
Forth, credits her Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at Launch NY for helping her see the big picture. Forth’s EIR, Elisa Miller-Out provided valuable input and sound advice that allowed Walkabout to secure the necessary funding to bring her product to market. Launch NY’s EIR program provides pro bono mentoring to startups from seasoned professionals and experienced entrepreneurs in order to make the companies investment-ready for Launch NY and other investors’ capital.
Forth is excited about what the future for Walkabout holds, citing the launch of a remote learning program that teaches coding with 10 campuses across the country and online interactions. She also wants other women entrepreneurs to focus on the present and not be afraid to take risks. “Be prepared. Know your business, competition and customers, but don’t wait until your product is perfect,” Forth advises. “Bring on clients from the beginning and be honest with them.”
CaHill, also based in Buffalo, provides a unique software platform that delivers on market trends for construction equipment rental to municipal and government agencies, in addition to providing access to skills and workforce development programming. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, CaHill has added a dedicated module as part of its workforce safety e-learning solutions.
The company originated because founder Carley J. Hill saw a need to empower America’s workforce and exert her social conscience to “leave things better than we found them.” CaHill boasts several milestones, including recognition from the U.S. Department of Defense, over 500 users and 1,500 completed modules and new office space for her expanded team. Hill also marks becoming a Launch NY portfolio company as another landmark event in CaHill’s timeline. “We worked very hard and for a long time to be among the esteemed to have received investment from Launch NY,” she said. “It meant a lot to our team to see that their time and effort was recognized and validated through investment funding. It is a pleasure to now refer to ourselves as one of the elite chosen!”
Hill advises other women entrepreneurs that once they’ve built a strong foundation, they should “engage a beastly strategy, approach the market like ninjas, steam roll the doubters and woman-splain your way to the top. We are approaching and addressing a workforce shortage that is becoming dire, yet has seen very little attempt at solution,” she said. Until CaHill was launched, that is.
Agapé is a relationship wellness app designed to prompt meaningful conversation and self-reflection through personalized daily questions. Headquartered in Rochester, CEO Khadesha Okwudili had an epiphany two years ago after being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition which precluded her dream of becoming a heart surgeon.
“Honestly, I was devastated,” she said. “But it forced me to reevaluate what was important to me. I decided that if I had to choose between success, love and health, I would choose love every time. That’s where I got the idea for Agape.” In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Agape has developed new features and content in their relationship enhancement system to help support harmony among couples during this time of uncertainty.
Okwudili feels like as a female entrepreneur, she often has to work harder than her male counterparts to be both understood and respected. “Whether in conversation or during a pitch, I find myself giving twice as much to get half the result,” she said. “However, I don’t let it discourage me. In fact, it motivates me.”
She also stresses the need for self-confidence, especially when negotiating with potential investors. “You have to believe in yourself, your company and your team,” she said. “Don’t sign whatever is presented to you without reviewing it with a lawyer. This is your legacy, protect it.”
Agapé is on an upward trajectory, with a successful beta cohort of 250 users who reported the app had become a habit in less than three days, and 93 percent saying their participation has had a positive effect on their relationship. Okwudili also said becoming a Launch NY Portfolio Company was a huge milestone for Agapé.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find firms that are willing to invest into pre-launch companies, but Launch NY is leading the way,” she said. “To get this vote of confidence from the most active seed fund in New York State is an amazing opportunity that we do not take for granted!”
For more information about Launch NY, its programs and other entrepreneurial opportunities, visit its newly-redesigned website at www.launchny.org, and follow Launch NY on its Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages.