Courtney Culmer likes to tell the story of her having had two babies in 2020: Her daughter Callie and her Atlanta-based company Uplevel. Both have resulted in major impacts in her life. An online marketplace that connects businesses with communications professionals, Uplevel keeps Culmer as busy, if not more so, than raising little Callie does. “There’s never a dull moment,” she said with a laugh.
Culmer readily admits that there has been a lot of help on both journeys. Callie’s aunt, a professional childcare provider, babysits her during the day and a certain global technology giant has provided a bit of capital to go towards the business.
Uplevel was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Google For Startups Black Founders Fund. Culmer and Uplevel are one of 50 Black startups that received the money in addition to $100,000 in Cloud credits. Maybe even more valuable than money, which has helped Culmer expand the staff at Uplevel to six employees, is the access she gets to the coaching and training Google’s staff can provide.
On being among the grantees Culmer said, “It was an honor to be selected. It’s hard to describe, you really feel a lot of emotion and there’s a pride you feel when you’re one of the selected few.”
Black startups and their founders are typically left out or lowballed when it comes to investments and the Google For Startups Black Founders Fund has done something about righting what has been a consistent wring in the tech space. The three-year-old program has provided millions in funding to Black startups and venture capital firms in the United States, Africa, Europe and South America.
After having worked in corporate America for years, Culmer wanted to work for herself. She started her journey first as a freelancer utilizing the many professional relationships she formed in the corporate space, and then later as the founder of Uplevel. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way,” said Culmer.
Among those lessons has been how to run and sustain a business. “I have been able to adjust from the mindset that you always had to have everything perfect before you reveal it to people,” admitted Culmer, who early in her career as a business owner was stuck in the corporate mindset.
As the face of Uplevel she was no longer presenting to a board or to corporate partners, she was the boss. It was her show now. “I’m able to operate with a bit more agility,” she said.
Thus far there has been growth and the Google grant is proof of that progress. “The growth we will be able to achieve and the resources the association with Google gives us access to will help the company continue to grow,” she said.
Culmer has always had dreams of being a communicator while growing up and studying at Florida A&Am University School of Journalism & Graphic Communications. She would go on to earn an internship at ESPN and quickly found out working in television wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to work in communications, not necessarily journalism.
“People trust me today and trust Uplevel because I have a unique perspective,” Culmer said of having been on all sides of the communications business. That experience has led her company to help serve large clients and small clients alike.
“How you show up everyday matters, how you form relationships matters,” Culmer said. “Respect people’s time and respect the opportunities that they give you. All of those shaped me and brought me to 2020.”
Asked what advice she would give college-aged Courtney if she had the chance to go back in time, Culmer said,”I would say always be learning and listening so that every experience and job opportune becomes a piece to a puzzle.”