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Zuley Clarke, co-founder and CEO of Humblee, is a Spring 2017 graduate of Prosper Women Entrepreneur’s (PWE) Startup Accelerator. Her B2B company, based in Brooklyn, New York, helps creative teams quickly create social video.
“We help midsize businesses create videos for social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram,” said Clarke. “Without a partner like us, these companies have a hard time creating that kind of original content for their products. Our affordable and fast solution, allows them to create shareable, 30-second videos in no time.”
The name Humblee came from the intention of Clarke and her co-founder, Aneri Shah, to convey the importance of authenticity in social marketing. “We were trying to get at a desire for authentic content and real stories,” she says. “[It’s about] sharing true and honest moments about your brand, being more real and humbler, and being able to expose yourself rather than going the more highly produced and expensive agency route.”
Humblee got significant traction in their first year of business. Clarke said, “We validated the problem we were solving for marketers with actual sales from brands like Trello, Sotheby’s and Yardley and we developed the first version of our platform. All this was done while we bootstrapped our business with a small initial investment and profits from sales.”
Getting into PWE
The Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator offers a three-month business development program, invests $50,000 in exchange for equity, and provides mentor-ship to 5-6 women-led companies twice yearly. The program also delivers a curriculum focused on educating company leadership and provides office space at the T-REX startup incubator in Downtown St. Louis.
Humblee’s founders decided to apply for PWE’s accelerator because they were ready to level up. “We were at the point where we needed to scale customer acquisition and expand our team,” Clarke says. “To grow, we decided to fundraise by seeking angel investment and applying to accelerator programs. PWE was attractive because it seemed like the best of both worlds. We would have access to angel investors who would prepare us to fundraise in three months and would provide a modest investment that would serve as a bridge to our larger raise later in the year.”
When Humblee was selected for PWE’s program, Clarke was surprised to learn how selective the program is. “The PWE Startup Accelerator only extends an offer to five or six companies.” News outlets from Brooklyn to St. Louis reported on their success.
As a Brooklyn-based CEO, Clarke was initially concerned about the role that travel would play in her participation. “What was great was that they didn’t require full-time residency,” she says. “For the first month, I would travel back and forth every other week. Then I realized that in order for them to facilitate meetings, I had to be available, so I decided to stay in St. Louis the last month. The mentors were quicker at making introductions when they knew I would be there.”
The accelerator made two significant impressions on Clarke and her business. “When we started the accelerator we had limited financial resources, so our approach to the business had been steady but slow. Mary Jo Gorman (Lead Managing Partner of PWE Startup Accelerator), warned us very early on about threats to our business. She said, ‘More well-funded companies will be coming behind you.’ Her advice led both my co-founder and me to radically change our minds about raising money. We have to do it in order for us to grow faster. We can’t execute as quickly as desired without it.”
“Second, the mentor-to-CEO ratio is three or four mentors to one CEO, so you have these incredible titans of business completely focused on the success of your company. And, the mentors have skin in the game. They invest time and wealth and you are one of very few who receive it. The value in having their expertise is invaluable…it’s worth your time and travel. Your mentors open their networks to you; they intentionally propel your business forward, and it doesn’t end after the program. You forever have a team of accomplished entrepreneurs on your side.”
In addition to developing strong mentor relationships, Humblee did a lot of work during the three-month program. Clarke said, “We left with target customers, a go-to-market strategy, 3-year financial projections and a solid investor deck.”
The PWE Startup Accelerator has graduated a total of 27 companies and invested over $1.5 million into their success. Applications are now open for its sixth cohort, which will run from August through November of 2017. Companies with at least one woman in a position of leadership are encouraged to apply.
Applications are due May 19. Learn more and apply online here.