Source: Silicon Canals
Author: Dennis de Vries
Google selected startup Lalaland.ai from Amsterdam for its European ‘Google for Startups Black Founders Fund’. With the fund, the global company aims to increase diversity in the startup and tech world. 800 Startups applied, but only 30 made the cut. Lalaland.ai is the only Dutch company selected.
Lalaland.ai operates from the World Fashion Center in the Dutch capital city. It was founded in 2018 by Zimbabwe-born Michael Musandu together with Ugnius Rimsa. The company uses a neural network to generate images of artificial humans.
These images allow fashion or eyewear retailers to showcase their wares on a range of artificial models, all with different age, skin colour or body shape. The result is more equal representation in the fashion world, as well as a lower environmental impact as purchased clothing is less likely to be returned.
Startups selected for the Google fund receive €350.000, from which €100.000 in equity-free cash. Furthermore, founders receive guidance and training from experts at Google. This way the ad-giant wants to contribute to solving the disproportional lack of access to networks and capital for black founders. With hundreds of startups aiming for a top spot, the selection process was rigorous.
Musandu: “I feel Lalaland performed well by showing how much we genuinely care about our customers and backing it up with metrics of the impact and value we continue to create for them. One of the main foundations of our business is inclusivity which leads to profitability, so showing proven validation and the progress we continue to make over time was helpful.”
Getting recognition from Google and getting selected for the fund is a big deal for co-founder Musandu. “I want to increase the chances of future generations of black founders. I want to start a community to share knowledge and develop connections needed to make board rooms as diverse as the markets they serve.”
“People feel more comfortable going for a goal if they see someone who looks like them who has accomplished it. I see myself setting up mentorship for other young entrepreneurs of colour in the near or far away future. 95 Per cent of people I reach out to are happy to give me time, share their experiences and learnings. I think it’s super important to do the same to accelerate the process by which black founders can grow their companies.”
Diversity and inclusivity are ingrained in the DNA of the Amsterdam-based startup. Not only in their product, just as well within their own organisation. Musandu’s team consists of 40 per cent women and has 11 different nationalities. The company explicitly mentions they welcome ‘womxn+, BIPoc, LGBTQI+, people with disabilities and other underrepresented groups in the world.’
“Recruiting a diverse team is an absolute priority to us”, says Musandu. “Our product is inherently linked to building a more inclusive e-commerce fashion industry so we need people with diverse genders, nationalities, ethnicities, body sizes and experiences to co-create. Intrinsically our product is built off social empowerment and sustainable impact, so this resonates a lot with diverse talent. If companies want to hire diverse teams, they need to look at what they are building and for whom. They need to look at their company culture and the role they give to diversity. If it’s a genuine priority it’s not that hard.”
Getting selected for the Google fund can be added to a growing list of successes for the Amsterdam-based startup. After completing the ACE Incubator, it received pre-seed funding from ASIF Ventures. Last year it won the Philips Innovation Award and received additional funding from the innovation fund North-Holland.