June 18, 2020 / 7:44 PM / 16 days ago

Softbank set to invest in more than a dozen U.S. minority-led startups

NEW YORK, June 18 (Reuters) - SoftBank Group Corp will invest $2 million or more in 14 U.S. startups led by black founders and other underrepresented groups, the company said on Thursday, as part of its effort to fund more a more diverse array of entrepreneurs.

The investments will back the inaugural members of the Emerge accelerator program which partners with Softbank's WeWork Labs and SoftBank Investment Advisers to mentor minority-led startups.

SoftBank Vision Fund Chief Executive Rajeev Misra said the company is committed to fostering diversity and breaking down some of the hurdles that minority entrepreneurs face.

The first class of the Emerge program, a program created by Softbank that matches up minority founders with SoftBank professionals for eight weeks, pitched their companies to more than 100 investors in online video presentations on Thursday.

The firm is donating at least $150,000 to each of the 14 founders through the Emerge accelerator program.

Earlier this month, SoftBank launched a separate $100 million Opportunity Growth Fund earlier this month to support and invest only in founders of color, marking an concerted effort to bankroll ideas from a more diverse groups.

Throughout the years, black founders have struggled to find financing for their companies. According to a study by RateMyInvestor, a platform that allows startups to anonymously critique interactions with venture capitalists, black people make up 1% of venture-backed founders.

Jeff Housenbold, managing partner of SoftBank Investment Advisors, said that investing in black founders and other entrepreneurs of color is crucial in bringing equality to these communities.

"Funding diverse founders is not charity," Housenbold said at the start of the virtual event.

The second group of the Emerge program is set to begin later this year. (Reporting by Arriana McLymore Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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