Entrepreneurs are often born when they discover a problem that needs to be solved.
In the case of Marcus Cooksey, it was his frustration with available bookkeeping and accounting software that became the launch pad for the Dallas-based company. Duc.ai.
Cooksey, 49, invested his own money in 2019 to build a software platform needed for a trucking business he started. Today, the software has 7,000 users across 10 trucking companies and topped $1 million in revenue last year.
Adding to Duke.ai’s accomplishments is a vote of confidence and $100,000 from tech giant Google. Cooksey joined Deposits’ Joseph Akintolayo as Google-selected North Texas Founders for Startups’ Black Founders Fund this month.
“I was overwhelmed,” Cooksey said of the honor. “Often, most of the hard work goes unnoticed. It’s not just the amount of funding; it’s the support that helps accelerate growth and connects you with the right people.
Cooksey previously worked as a UPS charger and sorter to help pay for his education. Then, in 2015, he founded the trucking company LUI Transport, which grew from one truck to five trucks in 2019.
While working on accounting for HIM, he became frustrated with the accounting software options.
“I was running a trucking business and found a lot of inaccuracies,” said Cooksey, who also spent 13 years working at Dallas-based Texas Instruments.
Duke.ai has grown to 25 employees and expects to top $2 million in revenue this year, he said.
Cooksey has two tips for entrepreneurs.
“Start earlier than me,” he said. “And you always underestimate the amount of work and money needed to succeed. Whatever you think it is, multiply that by three.
Cooksey and Akintolayo are the latest in a line of North Texas companies recognized by Google for the Startups Black Founders Fund. Here’s where the past winners are now:
- Festively, a Dallas-based digital wedding planning platform founded in 2016, announced in June that it had closed a seed funding round worth $1.3 million. The cash injection makes founder and former wedding planner GiGi McDowell one of 98 black founders to raise more than $1 million in venture capital. McDowell said being part of the 2021 Google cohort “was huge and really gave us validation. It allowed us to build the momentum we needed to take a big lap. The funding came “at the perfect time” because the company had graduated from Techstars Austin’s 2021 Accelerator Program and was completing the Google for Startups Accelerator for Black Founders program, she said. Since being recognized by Google, she has grown her team from three to 11 members. October is a big month for the company as it will launch its fully automated wedding planning tool. The couples will answer an integration quiz this will determine how they like to plan and assign them the right AI personality type to guide them through the process. McDowell said the idea behind his business is to offer wedding planning at a more reasonable price and give couples access to wedding planners outside of their geographic area.
- Safer Management Inc. is a software company that sells AI attendance tracking software to schools. The Dallas-based company was founded in 2020 by Frederick Burns, a software developer and dad who noticed inefficiencies in his twins’ school sign-in process. Burns said the Google award “added a layer of trust” for the company by reaching out to new schools and partners. Prior to recognition, the company had three team members and has now grown to an eight-person team, he said. The software is used by 84 schools in four school districts. Next, the company is launching a product with individualized learning plans to help students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools moved to remote learning. The company was also accepted into an Apple entrepreneurship camp in October.
- XR Sport Package is a Frisco-based company that enables content creators to create fan engagement hubs powered by social competitions and mobile games. It was founded in 2019 by Navy veteran Kedreon Cole, who has been in the software business for 10 years. In 2021, XR Sports Group partnered with the Southwestern Athletic Conference as the official esports technology provider.
- ClientX.i is a Dallas-based consumer insights platform founded in 2019 by Hakeem James to help restaurants and retailers accelerate their digital transformation. In July, the company announced a partnership with restaurant information company Qu POS. Qu gives all restaurants that use its platform free access to the CustomerX.i platform.
- ShearShare allows hair salons to rent out their space and equipment when not in use so that independent hairdressers can reserve it. It was founded in McKinney in 2015 by industry veterans Tye and Courtney Caldwell, who released an app in 2017. In late 2021, the pair competed against 19 other startups in Buffalo, NY, for a slice of a $5 million fund from 43North. ShearShare won and received an investment of $500,000. It has attracted $6.2 million in support since 2018, according to Crunchbase tracking site. Since ShearShare moved its headquarters to Buffalo in 2021, the company has released the second version of its app and has expanded to over 900 cities.
- Kanarys is a Dallas-based diversity, equity and inclusion technology company founded by Mandy Price and Star Carter. The company was launched in 2018 and raised around $5 million and built a team of 23 people. Price said the funding and recognition from Google was “huge” and “really important” to the company’s growth and success. He has built an impressive list of clients that include 7-Eleven, Silicon Labs, Neiman Marcus, and Yum! Trademarks. Price said it took around 18 months to create the software and platform, so they didn’t start selling the product until 2020. She said growth was slow at first but accelerated at the end of 2021. While Price declined to give revenue figures, she said sales increased fivefold in 2021 from the previous year. This year, Kanarys and the Dallas Regional Chamber partnered to assess the diversity, equity and inclusion practices of 101 North Texas companies. Also this year, the HubSpot CRM platform invested in Kanarys. Through a partnership, HubSpot’s 135,000 customers now have access to a quiz created by Kanarys to help companies determine where they are on their DEI journey.