Delane Parnell PlayVS CEO E-League Startup Raises $96 Million, Makes Black Tech History

Atlanta – Santa Monica, California-based PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell just showed us all that, finally, hard work will result in a giant pay off for an African American tech entrepreneur. Delane Parnell raised $96 Million (to date) for his PlayVS e-league startup, and did so in just 13 months. PlayVS, in itself, is an exciting platform that will turn high school gamers into e-sports stars.

Playvs Logo Horizontal Orange

The market for e-sports is large and getting larger: global revenues are expected to top $1.1 billion. But Delane’s play is in the recognition that while e-sports stars exist only at the “pro” level, there are millions of high schoolers who’s necks are bent toward their smartphones playing e-sports. They are the untapped market.

Who Is Delane Parnell?

26-year-old Delane Parnell moved from Detroit, where he was a Senior Associate at IncWell Venture Capital (where he became the youngest black venture capitalist), and an Early Employee at Rocket Fiber. But that’s not to imply that his road to where he is now was easy. He told the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt his story of coming from Detroit’s Jeffries Projects. Delane’s mother was able to move with him to a better part of Detroit. But then a tragedy happened that would forever impact him. Mr. Parnell came home to an FBI raid that ended with his stepfather going to jail for several years. “For not snitching,” Parnell said. “I think that experience really fueled my hustle,” he adds. “Entrepreneurs love to joke about eating ramen. I don’t eat fuckin’ ramen today—and don’t plan to ever again.”

Disrupt Playvs Delane Parnell (photo courtesy ANITH)
TechCrunch Disrupt Playvs CEO Delane Parnell (photo courtesy ANITH)

At the time Delane Parnell made that statement last year, PlayVS closed its $15.5 million Series A, then the company announced a $30.5 million round from investors that include Adidas, Samsung, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and the venture capital arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After his TechCrunch Disrupt appearance, Parnell’s then new CrunchBase entry was borne. CrunchBase is the directory for anyone who’s truly involved in tech. This blogger has been on CrunchBase since its inception under the listing for Zenophon Abraham, when it was founded by in 2007 by Michael Arrington, who’s a friend. But this is what Parnell’s CrunchBase entry looked like and looks like, right now:

Delane Parnell is currently the Founder and CEO of PlayVS, the venture-backed startup building the infrastructure for high school esports. Prior to starting PlayVS, Delane worked at IncWell Venture Capital where he became the youngest black venture capitalist in The United States. Delane was then part of the early team at Rocket Fiber that raised $31M and focused on retail strategy directly with the CEO. While at Rocket Fiber, Delane founded Rush Esports, an esports team that was acquired by Team Solomid. A lifelong entrepreneur, Delane started his first job at 13, working 40 plus hours a week during the school year. At 17, Delane used the money he saved to purchase three cell phone stores and joined the founding team of Executive Car Rental that now has 16 locations across Michigan. In 2017, Delane was introduced to Science founders Peter Pham and Mike Jones, where they discovered a common interest in esports. After a few months of speaking with Science, Delane founded PlayVS. In April 2018, PlayVS announced their exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to collaborate on the national rollout of esports in high schools. In June of 2018, the company announced a $15M Series A led by NEA, the largest ever for a black founder in the consumer internet industry. PlayVS’ inaugural esports season will commence in October 2018.

Now, his high school sports e-league startup has went way beyond that point.

18-hours ago on Instagram, Delane announced this:

@PlayVS update:
I’m proud to announce our $50 million Series C which brings our total funding to $96 million in the past 13 months — a historical milestone.

He’s not kidding. The news prompted social media reaction from all over. This blogger happened to see the news because I follow Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaum on Instagram (check out Blavity). On Twitter, Marlon C. Nichols, Managing Partner of MaC Venture Capital, tweeted this message:

Congratulations to delane and the playvs team. $96M raised in 15 months is an accomplishment. delane has made it look easy, but I’ve never met a more focused, disciplined, and driven 20 something year old founder.

Delane Parnell’s Success Has A Message And A Lesson For Blacks In Tech And America In General

Here’s the message in Delane Parnell’s story. Delane Parnell got to where he is in much the same way that Barack Obama became America’s first black POTUS: he discovered, just by doing, what could be called a “funnel” that pushed him to where he is. That “funnel” consists of parents, family, and mentors and allies in the same field. Together, that funnel, or to borrow a term from legendary Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, “value chain” of relationships were key in forming the business-building path that Parnell set on.

For America as a whole, and including African Americans but beyond just the black story, the news is one of major progress. Those funnels consist of relations and alliances that are more interracial today than ever before. While these value chains have always existed in general, they have been at a much lower level for blacks in America. Whereever it was possible for “value chain” parings to be formed, people who are household names today emerged from them: Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, and Muhammed Ali, for example.

But where the “value chain” parings became more interracial, the monetary value increased with them, and as racial discrimination lessened, even more so. That fact brought us chief executive officers like now former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, and now former CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns. The list goes on, and now Delane Parnell’s on it.

Elihu Harris Former Oakland Mayor
Elihu Harris Former Oakland Mayor

For this blogger, that observation came from something then Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris told me when I worked for him as his economic advisor between 1995 and 1999: “I got into politics because, as a black person, the only two ways you could make an entry (in the 1960s) were politics and the law.” Elihu established his own “value chain” parings within those fields to become California Assemblyman and then Mayor of Oakland.

So, for those blacks in tech who are older than 26 and maybe did not “hit it big”, or like me have been listed in “failures in the startup world,” don’t despair. Take inspiration and direction from Delane Parnell, and most of all, build your business. After all, let’s not forget that, in PlayVS, Delane Parnell has a good idea.

The Road To The National Football League For Delane Parnell?

This is just my forecast, but in PlayVS, Delane Parnell provides the keys to the kingdom of high school level e-sports for the National Football League. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, in particular, would be keenly interested in what Delane Parnell’s doing, and how the league can play a role. Watch for this to develop.

Stay tuned.

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