SoftBank set to invest in more than a dozen U.S. minority-led startups

NEW YORK (Reuters) - SoftBank Group Corp 9984.T will invest $2 million or more in 14 U.S. startups led by black founders and other underrepresented groups, the company said on Thursday, as part of its effort to fund more a more diverse array of entrepreneurs.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The investments will be made through a subsidiary, SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will back the inaugural members of the Emerge accelerator program.

The first class of the Emerge program, co-created by SoftBank Investment Advisers and WeWork Labs that matches up minority founders with SoftBank professionals for eight weeks, pitched their companies to more than 100 investors in online video presentations on Thursday.

SoftBank Vision Fund Chief Executive Rajeev Misra said the company is committed to fostering diversity and breaking down some of the hurdles that minority entrepreneurs face.

“By significantly expanding the reach of our accelerator, we’ll be able to partner more closely with even more exceptional founders and help them scale their start-ups,” Misra said in a statement.

The firm will invest at least $150,000 in each of the 14 businesses, a source familiar with the matter said. These companies include energy management platform SHYFT Power Solutions and water quality startup Aquagenuity.

SHYFT Power Solutions lets consumers track electricity usage in homes and businesses. The company’s co-founder and chief executive, Ugwem Eneyo, said the Emerge accelerator helped her find and collaborate with other founders.

“At a time when people are having more conversations about systematic racism, biases and other forms of inequality, I was excited to see that Emerge had already committed to fostering an ecosystem and resources to support underrepresented founders,” Eneyo said in a statement.

SoftBank launched a separate $100 million Opportunity Growth Fund earlier this month to invest only in founders of color, marking an concerted effort to bankroll ideas from a more diverse group.

(This story corrects pronoun for SHYFT chief executive Ugwem Eneyoc to “her,” not “him” in paragraph seven)

Reporting by Arriana McLymore; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman