Three of the top five metro areas in the country for distressed properties are in my home state of Florida, according to RealtyTrac. But while rehabilitating and reselling homes can result in a lift to neighborhood property values and provide local investors with wealth-building opportunities, the cost of doing so is often prohibitive even for experienced real estate developers. The average person has very limited access to the information and resources they need to safely pursue these types of investments, which is why I started VestMunity – I wanted to create a platform that connects everyday people to accessible investment opportunities.
I began building my business the same way that many tech startup founders do -- on my own, spending hundreds of hours blueprinting, coding, testing and debugging the VestMunity platform on a single laptop in my home. While at first I was flying solo, I luckily had enough savings to engage contractors to assist with the technical build-out phase. There were more than a few challenges along the way, however, and as costs mounted, I found it increasingly difficult to both finish building the platform and engage the important non-technical aspects of building a business.
At that point it became clear that my biggest challenge was access to business development resources. As a minority entrepreneur, even in a city as culturally diverse as Miami, raising capital and establishing connections within the larger investing and funding community was extremely difficult. I simply didn't have access to the kinds of resources and networks I knew I would need to grow my business beyond a successful product launch.
That is what led me to apply for the Miami Fintech Forum, the first event in the Inclusive Enterprise Series – a nationwide collaboration between Citi Community Development and Village Capital to bridge the opportunity gap for minority and women tech entrepreneurs whose businesses are taking on challenges in financial inclusion, health and education. The one-day Forum event, which was co-hosted with Florida International University's Small Business Development Center and Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, provided attendees with training, networking and mentorship opportunities with potential clients and investors, and concluded with an investor-facing pitch competition for the opportunity to win a total of $20,000 in seed funding.
The event was an amazing learning experience, providing me with the kinds of opportunities to tap into the valuable expertise of investors and established entrepreneurs that previously felt far outside my reach. The Forum also helped generate considerable attention and validation for VestMunity among exactly the target audiences I needed to reach in the Miami tech community. And last but not least, I was fortunate enough to be one of the two participants to win $10,000 in seed funding – which will be indispensable as we launch the VestMunity platform and continue developing the business.
I've been a proud Citi client for more than five years now; but it wasn't until I experienced first-hand what Citi Community Development is doing in the community that I realized just how much Citi really "gets it." Through programs like the Inclusive Enterprise Series, Citi is expanding opportunities for minority entrepreneurs like me to build and grow our businesses.
About the Author
Yemani Mason is the Founder and CEO of VestMunity.com and winner of the Citi-supported Miami Fintech Forum pitch competition. A serial entrepreneur, web developer, online marketing expert and real estate investor, he received his bachelor's degree from Florida International University's International Business program.
About the Inclusive Cities Series
Citi Community Development collaborates with America's most prominent local public officials, civil rights leaders and community organizations to expand financial access and build more inclusive cities. Through these innovative collaborations, we harness Citi's expertise, products, services and investments to ensure all residents and families have access to opportunity. Inclusive Cities is a new guest blog series where Citi's leading community partners bring to life, through stories of leadership and ingenuity, how their partnership with Citi is driving real urban progress in communities around the U.S.