Several Northern Kentucky founders and entrepreneurial support organization officials gathered at the Braxton Brewing in Covington last Thursday for Hues of Innovation — a networking seminar for Black and brown founders in Kentucky.
“It gives me great pleasure as a startup founder to be here and to see our ecosystem in Kentucky growing,” said Ricky Mason, one of the event’s keynote speakers and a serial entrepreneur from Louisville who’s worked in both the public and private sectors.
Covington was the first of three stops on the Hues of Innovation Roadshow. Later in the summer, the event will happen in Paducah and Lexington. The purpose of the roadshow is for founders of color to network, showcase ideas and gather information to help them gain access to financial resources critical to launching a venture or business.
In addition to Mason, the event’s keynote speakers included angel investor Chris Redd and fund manager Robert LaMothe. The trio discussed some of the hurdles facing people of color in Kentucky’s contemporary startup scene and the overall state of entrepreneurship in the commonwealth.
LaMothe serves as the president of Commonwealth Seed Capital, a venture capital fund in Lexington. The fund’s primary focus, he said, is to invest in early stage Kentucky businesses to facilitate their expansion and scalability.
LaMothe also has experience working with founders from his time as a member of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator.
One of the common themes LaMothe, Mason and Redd discussed is access to capital and, more specifically, how having greater access to capital can positively affect entrepreneurs of color.
A 2021 report from the Knight Foundation found that while approximately 6% of all fund managers in the United States are minority-owned, those managers receive just .7% of US dollars under management.
“It has to be said that we want to be intentional about having diversity,” LaMothe said when speaking about funds and their relationships to founders of color.
Emmanuel Yimfor, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, conducted a study that found that investment firms with Black partners have a higher propensity to invest in a startup with a Black founder.
“We know from looking at the research that we typically invest in the people that we know, or people that are like us who we can relate to,” Mason said. “With the shortage in investment in Black businesses and diverse businesses, we know that’s a direct correlation to the lack of fund managers who are diverse.”
One of the resources the three speakers touted was Kentucky’s State Small Business Credit Initiative, or SSBCI, which is designed to provide funding for early-stage businesses. A portion of this funding is targeted toward startups and businesses owned by Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals.
“I’m really excited about it just because of the opportunities that are offered,” Mason said.
When speaking about the state entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole, LaMothe said Kentucky was well positioned due to its uniquely defining industries such as horse racing and bourbon.
Additionally, he noted Kentucky has the ability to develop a robust statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem, as opposed to other states whose entrepreneurial ecosystems may be concentrated more heavily in certain cities. He illustrated this example by contrasting Kentucky with Ohio.
“You have Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland — they all have their own ecosystems,” LaMothe said. “Kentucky really can deliver a message of state pride.”
The event was hosted by Blue North, a Covington-based nonprofit that supports local entrepreneurs, in partnership with Network N’ Chill, a digital and in-person event series for entrepreneurs.