More than 90 entrepreneurs from across the country gathered in the nation's capital on Tuesday as President Barack Obama hosted the first-ever White House Demo Day to showcase business innovation.
Another goal is to empower a more diverse group of entrepreneurs to support "inclusive entrepreneurship," or the notion that starting a business can be an option for anyone—regardless of background, race, gender or age.
"Unfortunately in the United States, less than 3 percent of the venture-backed companies are led by women, and less than 1 percent are founded by African-Americans," U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said in an interview with CNBC. "So we really have to open up the access to money to all these extraordinary entrepreneurs to fuel our economy, fuel job growth."
To be clear, unlike a traditional private-sector demo day, entrepreneurs weren't pitching potential investors.
As part of Demo Day, the White House also announced several related initiatives, including commitments to advance opportunities for women and minorities. The 40 venture capital firms include Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. The group collectively will also track VC diversity and will share survey results with the public.
Additionally, big-name tech companies including Google, Amazon.com and Box are stepping up to promote diversity withintheir work forces. Facebook is promising to include more women- and minority-owned ventures Facebook does business with in its supply chain.
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Entrepreneurs like Betsy and Emily Nunez were there to show off their company, Denver-based Sword & Plough. Born in a military family, the sisters are now taking military surplus items and repurposing the materials into bags.
They have refashioned 30,000 pounds of military surplus gear, supported 38 veteran jobs and donated 10 percent of their profits to organizations that support vets.
"Whenever possible we try to incorporate veterans into our business model from our designer of the bags to sewers to quality assurance managers to even models," said Emily Nunez, an active duty Army officer. "This is a huge honor, we are so excited to be invited for this event."
Also on hand was Moziah Bridges, now 13, from Memphis, Tennessee. Moziah launched his company Mo's Bows, designing and selling bow ties at age 9. His goods are available online and sold in local boutiques, as well as Neiman Marcus and select Bloomingdale's locations.
His products are made in America, and he has sold 2,000 ties in four years, and racked up $300,000 in sales.
"I love being my own boss—I get to tell people what to do," Moziah said. "I feel great getting to show my bow ties to the president."
Also as part of Demo Day, the Small Business Administration called out 116 cities and accelerators for their dedication to innovation. The SBA recognition included cash awards. About $4.4 million will go to 88 start-up accelerators. Twenty-seven other prizes of $50,000 each was awarded to cities and Native American communities as part of the SBA's "Startup in a Day" initiative.