Business

Google helped her help busy women, and she left Durham with $25,000

Charlene Brown, founder of Reciprocare, and Stephanie Cummings, founder of Please Assist Me, sport their Google for Entrepreneurs sweatshirts with Bernard Worthy, founder of Loanable.
Charlene Brown, founder of Reciprocare, and Stephanie Cummings, founder of Please Assist Me, sport their Google for Entrepreneurs sweatshirts with Bernard Worthy, founder of Loanable. courtesy of Stephanie Cummings

When she would come home from another 70-hour work week, Stephanie Cummings did not have the time or energy to wash the dishes, buy the groceries or take out the trash.

She had watched other women leave their careers when the balance between work and home became impossible. So Cummings started a company, Please Assist Me, to help busy women like her.

The mobile app lets users pay a weekly fee for a Please Assist Me team to do the tasks they need done – anything from hand-washing dishes to mailing packages to fluffing pillows. When the user returns home, the chores have been completed.

“Our mission is to help the busy professional get a hold of their life again,” Cummings said. Please Assist Me began serving homes in Nashville, Tennessee, where Cummings lives, in May.

Cummings aims to raise $400,000 to expand her business.

After a trip to Durham, where Cummings attended the Google for Entrepreneurs Black Founders Exchange, she has the first $25,000.

Breaking the mold

The exchange, sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs and Lincoln Financial Group, is an annual the week-long program aimed at narrowing the funding gap between white and minority-led businesses.

Hosted by American Underground startup hub in downtown Durham, it brought together 10 companies founded by African American entrepreneurs, eight of which were founded or co-founded by women.

A 2016 report by the National Venture Capital Association found African-Americans made up only 3 percent of the workforce that helps investors decide which businesses to fund – think “Shark Tank.”

And, African-American women receive only 0.2 percent of investments, according to Digital Undivided.

Cummings, who has since left her job in health-care technology, is now one of the 0.2 percent.

“Sometimes it’s easier to believe in a founder who looks like Mark Zuckerburg rather than an African-American female because they don’t fit your mold of what a tech founder should look like,” Cummings said.

Please Assist Me received its $25,000 investment from one of the exchange’s advisers, the founder of Backstage Capital. Backstage Capital invests in companies started by entrepreneurs who are often overlooked, including women and members of the LGBTQ community.

Investment gaps

The future for minority and female entrepreneurs is looking brighter, said Cummings, originally from Creedmoor, North Carolina.

“I don’t think most people know that African-American companies don’t get funded at the rate that others do or that African-American female companies are rarely funded,” Cummings said. “I think that [Google’s] bringing light to that problem allows people to check their own conscious bias and really consider somebody that they wouldn’t have before.”

American Underground has been a leader in promoting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. Adam Klein, chief strategist of American Underground, said they “wanted to reinforce our commitment and goal of building the most diverse tech hub in the country” through hosting the Black Founders Exchange.

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Bernard Worthy and Justin Straight, co-founders of Loanable courtesy of Bernard Worthy

The October event offered speakers, mentors and advisers on how to raise money to kick-start a business. Klein said the majority of speakers had firsthand experiences as minorities in the startup community, either as women or entrepreneurs of color.

Participants, who didn’t have to pay for the expert advice, were chosen from110 applicants.

Bernard Worthy’s company, Loanable, offers an online platform for users to make loans to family and friends. After an early career in corporate recruiting, Worthy came to Durham for coding school. Paying for his tuition gave him the idea to help students pay for school with the help of family and friends.

He is currently working out of American Underground.

Meeting with the entrepreneurs who were only a year or two ahead of his company in funding was particularly helpful, Worthy said.

“The exposure to those folks and to know where funding and resources can live for those who don’t necessarily have the networks was great to hear and really encouraging,” he said. “By extending the network of capital you can extend the network of opportunities.”

Cummings agreed.

“I think having that connection with people who look like you – although anyone can help – just adds that extra ‘hey, I understand the same struggles.’”

Cummings and Worthy hope to return to next year’s Black Founders Exchange to share their own experiences with funding and growing their companies.

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