Black startups receive over $500,000 from NC IDEA seed grant


Sonja Ebron, left, and Debra Slone co-founded Courtroom5 together to help more people deal with the complexities of the courthouse.

Sonja Ebron, left, and Debra Slone co-founded Courtroom5 together to help more people deal with the complexities of the courthouse.


NC IDEA, one of the state’s leading foundations for supporting start-ups, is awarding more than half a million dollars in grants to seven black-led startups across the state.

The new funding comes from an initiative launched by the foundation following the death of George Floyd in 2020.

Black-led startups still receive only a small fraction of funding compared to other startups — even as venture capital funding levels hit record highs in the state last year. One study estimated the share of black startups in venture capital at just 1.2% for the first half of 2021, Crunchbase reported.

To ensure the foundation identifies promising black entrepreneurs, NC IDEA created the Black Entrepreneurship Council, a black-led council that directs some of the foundation’s outreach to the black business community in India. State.

“Having a more inclusive candidate pool is important,” said Thom Ruhe, CEO and President of NC IDEA. “And we’ve been trying to do that for a few years, really focusing on increasing the number of black founders who apply.”

Ruhe noted that many companies start with a cashed-out 401(k) or tap into a net worth line. “Some of my early businesses I funded by taking out loans from existing 401(k)s or through my home equity line of credit that I had,” he said. “But a lot of black founders don’t have those resources.”

After working with the council, NC IDEA identified seven eligible startups to receive seed funding, valued at $75,000 for each company.

The companies that received the seed grants were:

Courtroom 5

Courtroom5, a Durham-based firm set up by Professors Sonja Ebron and Debra Slone, aims to help those who cannot afford lawyers in civil matters.

Every year in this country, millions of Americans go to court without a lawyer, even though this puts them at a disadvantage in many cases. In some states, as many as 80% to 90% of civil cases involve an unrepresented litigant — and often they’re low-income or part of a vulnerable population, according to a 2015 study from George Washington University Law School.

Courtroom5 works as a management platform for people who choose to represent themselves in court. The company’s platform offers a step-by-step guide to navigating civil cases, helps litigants know what documents or information they will need, and provides automated templates for drafting pleadings and motions.

Last year, Courtroom 5 was named one of the 10 startups to watch by the NC Technology Association. The company has raised around $500,000 from investors, according to Crunchbase.


LoanWell, based in Durham, is the creator of a loan origination platform for community development financial institutions, which often serve low-income and minority communities.

The company, founded in 2017 by Bernard Worthy, helps many of these institutions bring their loan origination process online.

Based at the American Underground campus in downtown Durham, LoanWell has raised $3.1 million from investors and has approximately 15 employees.

The company previously received a $100,000 grant from Google’s Black Startup Fund, The News & Observer previously reported.


Charlotte-based BatteryXchange makes portable battery charging stations.

Founded by Desmond Wiggan Jr. and Aubrey Yeboah in 2019, the company seeks to set up its kiosks at events, universities or businesses, where users can rent a portable battery and charge their phone while walking around.

The company had previously received a $50,000 seed grant from NC IDEA last year.

Davos Company

Davos Corporation of Durham is an online lender matching platform that helps customers find collateral for each of their loans.

Founded by Amber Bond, who previously worked for the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, Davos seeks to make it easier for entrepreneurs to access capital, by providing collateral to a lender.

“We help the borrower by taking on some of the risk of the transaction, which makes it more attractive to lenders,” Bond told online publication GrepBeat in 2020.

Capital Freeman

Freeman Capital is a Charlotte-based financial technology company that seeks to close the racial wealth gap by helping more people of color get into investing and wealth management.

The Company’s platform teaches financial literacy to its users and offers individual investment management.

Freeman, founded by Calvin Williams Jr., previously received a $50,000 grant from Google’s Black Startup Fund. It has now raised $1.7 million from investors, according to Crunchbase.

Renaissance fiber

Renaissance Fiber, which counts Winston-Salem and Wilmington as its home, hopes to create more eco-friendly textiles using hemp and other natural fibers.

All of the company’s hemp is grown in the United States, and the company creates hemp that can blend with cotton, polyester, wool, and other fibers.

Smart Girls HQ

Founded by Abi Olukeye in 2018, Smart Girls HQ began as an effort to engage more young girls in science, technology, engineering, and math pursuits.

The Charlotte Company is building a digital platform that will provide resources and activities that teachers and parents can offer young girls around STEM education.

The company received a $256,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program last year to advance its platform, online publication Charlotte Inno reported.

This story was produced with the financial support of a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh through an independent journalism grant program. The N&O retains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to

This story was originally published January 21, 2022 8:30 a.m.

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Zachery Eanes is Innovate Raleigh’s reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. It covers technology, startups and high street companies, biotech, and education issues related to these fields.


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