Global investment bank Credit Suisse is launching a new initiative called the Entrepreneurs Circle to support African-American entrepreneurs in the U.S.

The bank has selected 12 members to start the program, which will offer access to bank loans, members of the investment bank’s staff, and an ability to share tips and tactics for growing their business ventures among the membership.

It’s one of a number of avenues that the bank is taking to reach out to the African-American business community.

The Entrepreneurs Circle is part of Credit Suisse’s Private Banking and Wealth Management New Markets initiative, which is looking to advance financial opportunity among women, African-Americans and the LGBT community.

“Data clearly shows that African-American business owners are under-represented among all business owners and are generally underserved by large, global financial institutions,” said Pamela Thomas-Graham Credit Suisse’s head of the new division.

For Heather Hiles, the founder and chief executive of ed-tech startup Pathbrite, the program is an opportunity to get advice from a group of financial services professionals that have her interests in mind, as well as get access to to potential debt capital.

“The truth of the matter is that every venture capital firm — and we also have a strategic investor — but investors are always looking through the lens of what’s beneficial to them,”says Hiles. “It’s not impartial information one gets from shareholder board members, so to have at my disposal some of the best and brightest in investment banking and other kinds of expertise, and that it’s impartial? That is important. If they make a debt level loan to us, their only interest is that we pay the debt back.”

On another level, Hiles sees value in the overall outreach that Credit Suisse is making to the African-American community. “We’re further behind the starting line than majority folks,” Hiles says. “Over 90 percent of venture capitalists are white men. So we don’t necessarily live next door to our investors.”

Furthermore, there’s not the same access to large pools of experienced capital through angel investment in the African-American community, Hiles says. “We don’t have a network as broad or as deep of African-American entrepreneurs who have been there and can see around the corner. It’s sad, but it’s just true.”


Here’s a list of the entrepreneurs:

Phil Bronner — Chief executive and co-founder of Quad Learning, which works with community colleges to develop honors curricula for students who want to complete their bachelor’s degrees at a top-tier college or university.

Troy Carter — Founder, chairman and chief executive of Atom Factory, an entertainment and music management company based in Los Angeles. In addition to launching the career of Lady Gaga, Carter is a fairly prolific angel investor in his own right. He’s also a serial entrepreneur who founded The Backplane, which connects fans with their favorite celebrities and brands; launched POPWater, a soft drink brand he’s building out internationally, and created A \ IDEA a branding and product development agency.

 Jonathan Cropper — Founder of Futurlogic, a company that specializes in “educational” branding. Cropper previously served as the director of Project Development of Quincy Jones Entertainment / Time Warner, and later worked as the chief marketing officer for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ collection of companies.

Sheldon Gilbert — Founder and chief executive of Proclivity Media, a cloud-based predictive analytics company.

William Heard — Chief executive and chief information officer of Heard Capital, LLC, a global long/short hedge fund.

Heather Hiles — Founder and chief executive of Pathbrite, a developer of education technology focused on collaborative learning.

John Legend — Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, musician, producer, philanthropist and entrepreneur. Legend heads the Show Me Campaign and sits on several boards, including Management Leadership for Tomorrow, Stand for Children, Teach for America, the Harlem Village Academies and PopTech, a unique innovation network dedicated to accelerating the positive impact of world-changing people, projects and ideas.

Tonya Lewis Lee — Award-winning producer and Chief Creator of ToniK Productions, a film production company, and the e-health startup HealthYouNow.

Karl Simmons and E. David Ellington — The chief executive and president (respectively) ofGridSpeak Corporation, a quantitative analytics provider for North American energy markets.

Collin Wallace Founder of FanGo Software Systems, a mobile food-ordering platform for iPhone and Android operating systems, which was acquired by GrubHub in 2011.

Hussein Warmack — President of Hantz Group Accounting, which has developed a financial tool utilized for high net worth individuals. Warmack previously launched Nu South Lemonade for United Beverage Group and had worked for Coca Cola.

Hank Williams — Founder and CEO of Kloudco, a startup developing information management and communication services.

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