Pitch competitions cap the Thurgood Marshall College Fund entrepreneurship program Thursday evening

Nearly 100 students from 38 historically black colleges and universities gathered at the American Underground hub in Durham for an entrepreneurial conference will participate in two rounds of pitch competitions Thursday evening in Durham. The event caps the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s week-long Opportunity Funding Corp. Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the American Underground.

The program is designed to “train future innovators from historically black colleges and universities in the skills needed to generate economic success.”

“Our Opportunity Funding Corporation is the future of TMCF because we are literally identifying the next generation of global entrepreneurs from the Black College Community,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, TMCF president & CEO in a statement.

He said the students gathered at American Underground were provided with resources, and knowledge, to bridge the business-building gap for HBCU students in this ever-changing, expanding and growing economy.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund acquired OFC in 2013, as a vehicle to re-infuse an entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurship skills and experience into the African-American community, with HBCUs as the central hubs. OFC takes a holistic (and intersectional) approach to infusing education and professional development in innovation & entrepreneurship.

“Each year I grow more and more impressed by the creativity and talent of our HBCU participants,” said M. Scott Lilly, OFC president and Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s chief program officer. “We are identifying, developing and most importantly deploying students who are exposed to some of the world’s best corporations like our event title sponsors Apple and John Deere. Conference participants will also engage with event partners Wells Fargo, UPS, and, MATI Energy

Featured speakers during the week included:

  • Gamal Codner, founder, Georgia Tech’s Flashpoint.
  • Antwon Davis, co-founder, Spendefy
  • Shuya Gong, creative engineer and designer, Food+Future coLab
  • Felecia Hatcher, speaker and author
  • Hassan Riggs, founder and CEO, Smart Alto
  • Kehlin Swain, founder and CEO, Xplosion Sports

The first round of pitches occurs from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the American Underground Tobacco Campus (not the Main Street location), Suite B020.

Clarence Bethea, founder of the startup Upsie, which sells extended warranties for smartphones, TVs, and other electronics, will speak during dinner from 6:30 to 8 p.m., followed by a final round of pitches. Bethea, featured in Fast Companymagazine last November, started Upsie in 2015. It has been growing 25 percent month on month. It raised $1.5 million in angel funding. Bethea has a compelling personal story. He went from selling drugs on the street in Atlanta as a teen to a basketball scholarship in Minnesota, where he met the CEO of a company who became his mentor and steered him toward a business career.

The final pitch session following the dinner from 8 to 10 p.m. will be at Square 1 Bank, 406 Blackwell St., Suite 240, in Durham.