The changing face of Angels: the number of black investors is small but growing, and they are filling the gap in funding for minority startups.

Author:Brown, Carolyn M.

DAYMOND JOHN HELPED revolutionize urban fashion in the 1990s as founder, president, and CEO of FUBU (For Us, By Us). He guided the iconic brand into a multimillion-dollar business, placing it at the same table with such designer sportswear labels as Donna Karan New York and Tommy Hilfiger. These days John is known for being a "shark" on the hit reality series Shark Tank. Every Friday night some 7 million viewers tune in to the ABC show that features a panel of investors, or "sharks," that consider offers from aspiring entrepreneurs seeking capital.

John, a member of the cast since the show's premiere in 2009, along with four other prominent chief executives, listens to business pitches (a contestant's one-hour pitch is edited down to a 10-minute segment) from everyday people hoping to take their company or product to new heights. Using their own money, the sharks have invested more than $20 million, having completed more than 30 deals with an average valuation of $250,000. John is the show's second leading investor.

Studies show that African American-owned firms are less likely to receive angel investment. In the first half of 2013, only 8.5% of startups pitching to angels were minority-owned; 16% were women-led, according to a report by the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire. Only 15% of those minority-owned businesses were successfully funded, while 24% of the female entrepreneurs received angel investments. Moreover, ethnic minorities account for less than 5% of the angel population.

Like John, a number of people are providing startup and early stage capital to companies, including those owned by minorities. Take tennis champion Serena Williams, who invested in the mobile and video sharing app Mobli. And actor Wendell Pierce has invested in a chain of convenience stores. Sterling Express, and a grocery store called Sterling Farms.

"Where Deals Are Made," the slogan of the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo, also includes the deal flow of angel investment. Returning to Columbus, Ohio, for the second time (May 14-17, Hyatt Regency), the conference will serve as a gathering place of angels. Entrepreneurs will get the chance to meet with and present their businesses to investors who are looking to write checks for enterprises that are fundable and scalable.

ABC's Shark Tank is also coming to Columbus to hold auditions at the conference. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators will get the chance to...

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