First-Ever National Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurs Challenge Awards $1.475 Million in Financing

Shark Tank-like competition helps minority-owned companies’ grow their businesses

ST. PAUL, Minn.--()--Nine ethnic-minority business owners from across the country competed in the finals event for Meda’s $1 Million Challenge Powered by Chase at the Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) Studios in St. Paul. $1.475 million in financing was awarded to the following companies:

  1. HabitAware, St. Louis Park, MN, has wearable technology that helps people with body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as compulsive hair pulling or nail biting, take control of their condition. They were awarded $400,000 in financing.
  2. Ilerasoft, Chicago, IL, provides a software solution that aids hospitals in optimizing their medical equipment utilization by improving their capital planning and budgeting. They were awarded $200,000 in financing.
  3. Vemos, Minneapolis, MN, enables hospitality venues to manage, understand, and grow their business from a single dashboard. They were awarded $200,000 in financing.
  4. Cytilife, Minneapolis, MN, provides the Smart Campus platform to help students and college administrators make data-driven decisions to help reduce college dropouts. They were awarded $125,000 in financing.
  5. Mobility 4 All, St. Paul, MN, is a kinder, gentler ride hailing service for seniors and people with disabilities. They were awarded $125,000 in financing.
  6. PopCom, Columbus, OH, makes vending machines and kiosks "smart" with unprecedented software and artificial intelligence capabilities at the point-of-sale. They were awarded $125,000 in financing.
  7. LegacyArmour, Minneapolis, MN, is a secure online asset protection platform to organize important information in encrypted vaults that is automatically delivered to designated recipients on a scheduled date or life event. They were awarded $100,000 in financing.
  8. SquarePac, Austell, GA, uses design and metal fabrication expertise to create solutions that help clients maximize space, reduce freight, save money, and promote safety. They were awarded $100,000 in financing.
  9. Virtue Analytics Inc., Woodbury, MN, provides an eEnrollment Management platform that allows educational institutions to leverage the power of machine learning and predictive modeling to make better decisions across the admissions process. They were awarded $100,000 in financing.

The challenge was held by the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda), the top-performing minority business development agency in the nation, and the City of Saint Paul. Chase is the presenting event sponsor.

“We are very excited to award more than a million dollars in financing to all nine companies,” said Gary Cunningham, President and CEO of Meda. “The competition was stiff for the top prizes, but these companies rose to the challenge, and we look forward to seeing how they all leverage this investment in their businesses.”

Coinciding with the finals event, Chase announced an additional $250,000 investment to the initial $1 million Program Related Investment (PRI) from the NEXT Fund for Innovation (NEXT Fund). After the judging, an additional $225,000 investment from Meda was announced, bringing the total amount of financing awarded to $1.475 million.

“We know the importance of investing in minority-owned small businesses, so increasing Chase’s commitment in this program was the easy decision,” said Gavin Borowiak, Managing Director at Chase. “Selecting the top winners from among these creative, innovative, passionate entrepreneurs – now that was hard. We congratulate all the participants and can’t wait to see the positive impact their work will have on their lives, business, and communities.”

In all, more than 200 businesses across the country applied to participate, and 19 semi-finalists competed.

Minority business owners have historically found it difficult to gain access to capital. This type of funding often plays a big part in determining the success or failure of the business. Studies have shown that financial, human, and social capital, as well as racial discrimination, are primarily responsible for disparities between non-minority and minority businesses. Achieving parity is key to significant U.S. economic growth, creating new jobs and raising wages in economically disadvantaged communities. To help solve this dilemma and bring attention to this issue, Meda, the City of Saint Paul, and Chase hosted this first-ever national ethnic-minority Million Dollar Challenge.

About Meda

Meda was founded by a group of Minnesota business leaders who saw minority business ownership as a positive, long-term response to rising economic inequity within minority communities in our state. Meda provides business development services, access to capital and corporate and governmental market support for minority entrepreneurs. Over the years, Meda has helped launch more than 500 minority businesses and assisted more than 20,000 Minnesota minority entrepreneurs. Today, Meda clients employ 6,000 Minnesotans and have a combined annual revenue of $1 billion. Meda operates a growing Community Development Fund Institution (CDFI) that provides needed capital for minority businesses to become sustainable. Meda is also the host organization for the Minneapolis Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center, which has been recognized by the MBDA as the top performing center three consecutive years. For more information, visit

About JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.6 trillion and operations worldwide. The firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, and asset management. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves millions of customers in the United States and many of the world's most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands. Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at


Kenny Devine