Seeing the innovation economy in black and white

Black entrepreneurs matter: And LaunchPad Huntington is teaming up with the nonprofit Minority Millennials to make sure Long Island knows it, with the Island's first minority-specific business-pitch event.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

In a true first for the Long Island innovation economy, an historically underserved population of regional entrepreneurs will step up to the plate Thursday night at LaunchPad Huntington.

In conjunction with the 501(c)3 organization Minority Millennials, LaunchPad Huntington Director Phil Rugile has scheduled Ideas Impacting Culture: Minority Millennial Pitch Night, a chance for several non-white innovators to pitch products and services to a panel of established business professionals, also comprised of non-Caucasian businesspeople with a wealth of professional experience.

For the Lindenhurst-based nonprofit, it’s a simple matter of math: By the early 2030s, according to the Minority Millennials website, non-whites will make up the majority of the American working class, while Millennials – loosely defined as the demographic cohort born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s – already make up 27 percent of the national minority population.

To that end, the organization works to represent minorities and millennials in public-policy issues affecting their workplace future – and in a world where entrepreneurial pitch nights are part and parcel of a growing innovation economy, arranging a pitch-a-thon specifically for minority entrepreneurs seemed like a logical step, Rugile noted.

In fact, it’s surprising that one hasn’t been scheduled before now, according to Rugile, who senses a “this-is-why-you-build-an-ecosystem” moment in the making.

“It’s amazing to me that this is going to be the first minority-oriented pitch night on Long Island,” he told Innovate LI. “We’re tapping into a new talent resource on the Island that people have not previously uncovered.

Daniel Lloyd: Public-policy protagonist.

“Just because of that, it’s an exciting event.”

Rugile traces Thursday night’s pitch event to the 2017 Startup Weekend Long Island, a Hofstra University-centered TechStars gathering the LaunchPad Huntington director helped organize with longtime friend and collaborator Aaron Foss (creator of the uber-successful robocall terminator Nomorobo), among others.

Intrigued by the TechStars event, Millennial Minorities founder Daniel Lloyd reached out to organizers, who directed him to Foss and Rugile, and soon the like-minded rainmakers were talking shop.

“I started engaging him and understanding what he was looking to do,” Rugile noted, and the parties eventually agreed that a minorities-only pitch night made sense – with the LaunchPad honcho making the case that Lloyd’s best option was to hold it at the busy Huntington co-working space.

“I suggested that if they did it at LaunchPad Huntington, they’d probably get more attention,” Rugile said. “Then they can take it directly into the communities they’re trying to serve.

“So that became the plan,” he added. “Build awareness through LaunchPad and then take it on the road, in places like Hempstead and Wyandanch, places where Minority Millennials is looking to really make an impact.”

Thursday night’s pitch-a-thon has certainly generated attention: Rugile said the LaunchPad was anticipating “at least” 50-plus attendees, with five minority entrepreneurs pitching a variety of ideas, including the professionally focused social-networking app Common Connect; the “agricultural drone service” DGI (for “Drone Grown International”); and Colored Colors, a business designed to network artists and local businesses.

Also on tap: presentations by the makers of Lingually, an app designed to connect multilingual business partners, and Tha Grind, a recruiting service designed to help unguided youths become collegiate student-athletes.

Phil Rugile: Equal-opportunity rainmaker.

The presenters will pitch to a panel of business experts representing a wide variety of professional backgrounds. Among them are Derek Peterson, founder of Hauppauge-based “environmental technology” expert Soter Technologies, and Bay Shore native Marcus Damas, a standout basketball star from Towson University who played two season of professional basketball in Sweden before launching New York City-based creative marketing agency Fueled By Culture.

Also weighing in: award-winning entrepreneur, author and speaker Anthony Frasier; Daphne Gordon, project administrator at Suffolk County Community College’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Center; and Marsha Guerrier, founder of NYC-based small-business consulting firm Women on the Rise NY.

The high-caliber panel adds gravitas to a first-of-its-kind event that organizers hope will open both eyes and doors – and fits perfectly with LaunchPad Huntington’s entrepreneurial mantra, according to the facility’s director.

“We’re very interested in creating a more formal process for minority entrepreneurs, to help them learn how to set up a pitch deck and make a professional pitch,” Rugile noted. “And I’d like to partner with some of the other resources on Long Island to help Minority Millennials acquire funding to cover more of its costs.

“I like to get things rolling and then hand them off to the people who can really make them work,” Rugile added. “That’s the model.”