Exclusive: Google’s Black Founders Fund Boosts AI Innovators, EdVisorly CEO Manny Smith Among The Cohort

Google recently revealed the 20 recipients of its 2024 Google for Startups Founders Funds for Black and Latino entrepreneurs. This year, the focus is entirely on AI-centric startups, emphasizing Google’s dedication to promoting diversity in AI and aiding underrepresented founders in securing necessary funding. 

Each selected entrepreneur received $150,000 in non-dilutive cash awards and $100,000 in Google Cloud credits to support their ventures. In addition to financial assistance, the recipients will have access to mental health resources and mentorship from Google experts in AI and sales.

The 2024 Founders Fund recipients are harnessing AI to tackle significant business and societal challenges, ranging from wildfire prevention to reducing fast fashion waste and aiding millions of community college students in transferring to four-year institutions.

“AI can enable startups to build transformative products and solve complex challenges, but founders need access to capital to realize this potential,” Maya Kulycky, Vice President of Strategy and Operations at Google Research said. 

Kulycky added: “Through the Google for Startups Founders Funds, we are proud to invest in promising Black and Latino founders who are leveraging AI technology to help address some of today’s most pressing issues. We are inspired by the groundbreaking work of these founders and their potential to shape the future of AI.”

Among the recipients is Manny Smith, founder and CEO of EdVisorly, a platform dedicated to enhancing the transfer success of community college students to universities. Smith’s journey into AI and education is both inspiring and illustrative of the transformative power of higher education and technology.

Smith grew up in Atlanta, the son of parents who valued education despite not having attended college themselves. His path to higher education was not straightforward. “For me navigating the concept of higher education was not even an afterthought. It wasn’t something that I considered when really going through primary education. I was a few months from graduating from high school. Didn’t really know what I was going to do in life and I had applied to a couple of colleges that I probably most likely couldn’t afford,” Smith said. 

His trajectory changed when he received a scholarship to the United States Air Force Academy, where he not only excelled in academics and athletics but also embarked on a career in technology, developing satellite systems and software for national defense.

After serving in the Air Force, Smith pursued an MBA at Berkeley, where he founded EdVisorly. Reflecting on his motivation, Smith said, “I learned that 13 out of 100 community college students will ever attain a bachelor’s degree. For me, the pathway through education was really transformative and life-changing. I thought the best way I could serve the country, especially the communities I came from, was to start a company like EdVisorly to systematically solve a lot of the challenges of folks getting access to higher education and completing.”

EdVisorly uses AI to simplify and improve the transfer process for students, a notoriously complex and challenging task. Smith explained, “What AI allows us to do is to realize those efficiencies faster and at scale. We use AI to take data from student transcripts and extract that data much faster than a human can, helping with credit transfer evaluations and course audits.” 

Smith also shared, “As a Black founder, building a company, especially a venture backed tech company, is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of hard things,” Smith continued, “I have built EdVisorly with our founding team from a position of faith, and I think it’s really really important to follow your faith and to solve problems for those that you love or communities that you love because that will lead to a world where you never quit.” 

Receiving funding from the Google Founders Fund has significantly impacted EdVisorly. “The $150,000 that we received immediately went into the company and went into a lot of the research and development we were doing around artificial intelligence. The experts at Google have been phenomenal, and being able to collaborate with the people who are actually building the AI technology has been an absolute game changer,” Smith stated. This support has enabled EdVisorly to accelerate its research, bring enterprise design into its platform, and roll out new AI features to improve the transfer process for students. 

Google’s commitment to racial equity through economic opportunity is evident in the Founders Funds initiative. Since its inception in 2020, Google has deployed over $50 million to Black and Latino founders worldwide, who have collectively raised more than $590 million in follow-on funding. 

This year’s cohort continues this legacy, focusing on AI-driven solutions that promise to address some of the most pressing issues of our time.

“It’s extremely motivating to know that we’re backed by Google and our approach to bringing AI to the enrollment landscape. We’re committed to making sure that all of our partner institutions, not just have AI but truly understand and feel comfortable leveraging AI in their day to day operations,” Smith said. 

As Smith and his fellow recipients work to harness the power of AI, their stories and innovations are set to shape the future of technology and society. “We believe that students should be able to achieve anything as big as their dreams,” Smith said, highlighting the mission driving EdVisorly and the broader impact of the Google Founders Fund.

 

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