Graveti is a social venture that increases the tech and entrepreneurial activity within the Minneapolis-Saint Paul startup ecosystem system for marginalized communities with a strong focus on the black and latinx communities. We caught up with co-founder Alex Rodriguez on the eve of Graveti’s first summit to learn more.

Talk about the mission of Graveti. What’s the challenge and what are the opportunities?

Our mission is create pathways to success in tech and entrepreneurship to build generational wealth, while building an inclusive community the Minnesota startup ecosystem. We want Minnesota to become a hub that helps professionals and founders of color have the resources they need to win and give back.

The biggest challenges are lack of funding (a problem everywhere), mentorship/sponsorship and community. We need more capital so founders can build startups and scale earlier, we need a mentorship loop so people have someone to rely on for guidance and a community that lets people of color and marginalized communities know that they’re not alone and can build together. Additionally, we need to be more aware of our bias and work harder on being inclusive. That starts from the top with CEOs.

The opportunity is big because the black and latinx population are the fastest growing demographics respectively. With the area becoming a tech a bigger tech hub, we believe we can fuse the two to build something special. It’ll take time, but with the demographic shift we think we are on the right track and can build a special community locally that can expand nationally. There are going be a lot of unicorn/public founder/CEOs of color in 10-15 years.

What’s the most important work Graveti can do to begin creating those pathways?

The most important thing we can do in the near term is be a platform that brings to together a community so founders have a network of people in similar stages, professionals get to build their network, and resources and education can be shared. Additionally, we can provide resources to benefit them in their careers or bring resources from others they might have not had access too. We look to be in the center of the community, directly or indirectly.

You must need to collaborate. What are the types of partners you want to work with and how should they engage with Graveti as a platform?

Our sponsors are also our partners and they help support our mission and work. Additionally, we look for partnerships that can be a win-win for both parties. There are many organizations in town that are niche focused and specialize in certain things.

If there’s an organization that is the leader in helping X do Y, then we want to be able send people that way or they can tap into us for potential talent they may have not known about. We also like to collaborate on events. In June we have a pitch night in partnership with MNstarter and in August we are partnering with Healthcare.mn again. We know our partners also want to build more robust and inclusive startup ecosystem.

If someone supports what we do and the values align then they should reach out to us to see how we can work together.

You’ve got a reputation for being everywhere. With all that time spent immersed in the community, what’s making you optimistic about the future of our local startup ecosystem?

I’m optimistic for a couple of reasons. One is that we have a tight-knit community here. Although there’s still some work to be done to be more inclusive, we tend to know what’s going on and multiple people support one another.

Additionally is that there’s a lot of “movers and shakers” in this community. The ones who care about community building tend to stick around and keep pushing the startup ecosystem forward. We also have more startups starting and raising capital or bootstrapping to a healthy business. And more founders of color are also in the game – and that is increasing.

Looking ahead five years, what’s one thing you hope to be able to say about the impact that Graveti has made?

If I had to narrow it down to one thing; I hope we have grown tenfold+ as a startup ecosystem, while being one of the most diverse communities for professionals and founders of color with many of the top and fast growing companies led by people of color creating generational wealth.

Alex Rodriguez is the co-founder and CEO of WorkMand and the founder of Graveti. He was a CODE2040 Entrepreneur in Residence at COCO, powered by Google for Entrepreneurs. Alex, an active volunteer throughout the startup community and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the region, was named Minnesota Tech Hustler of the Year in 2015 by TECHdotMN.

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