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Google invests in Nashville Latina-led tech startup
Vodium co-founder Camille Padilla was one of fifty founders to receive $100,000 from Google's Latino Founders Fund
60-years ago, Amelia Lopez and her husband Rafael immigrated to the United States from Pascuales, Mexico seeking a better life for their family of five. Amelia began selling tacos on Chicago's bustling street corners for just a few cents to help make ends meet. Police harassed her, but she continued to sell her tacos. Years later she opened Las Minas, a family-run restaurant, but like many immigrants she lacked the resources to run a sustainable business and ultimately had to close her doors.
Camille Padilla is following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of her Abuela (grandmother), but her story includes opportunities that her Abuela “could never have dreamed possible”. The 30-year-old businesswoman recently received funding from one of the largest tech companies in the world.
Padilla was one of fifty founders selected in Google’s Inaugural Latino Founders Fund which seeks to address the disparities amongst Latino-owned businesses and invest in the underrepresented group.
Latino-led businesses are the fastest growing segment of small businesses in the United States, but as a category they only receive 2% of total venture funding in this country.
“When I received the call, I immediately cried,” Padilla says. “The only reason I am one of the first 50 founders chosen to be Google-backed is because of my parents and my grandparents. I am a proud second-generation Latina who comes from a long line of entrepreneurs.”
Google awarded each of the founders $100,000 in funding and $100,000 in Google Cloud Credits. Padilla says she and Vodium co-founder Mary Mellor will use the money to mature their software and accelerate Google Ads.
“These funds will help us further promote VODIUM and assert ourselves as the only research-backed virtual teleprompter that professionals choose to help them be more confident and in-control on video,” Padilla says.
Longtime friends and former media & marketing consultants, Padilla and Mellor founded Vodium — a virtual teleprompter — in the height of the pandemic.
In April 2020, a month after COVID-19 made landfall in the United States, Padilla, then a political consultant, was producing a commercial for a Senate campaign. She, like many, was struggling to find a way for her clients and candidates to effectively connect over video meetings.
“I needed to create ‘E-charisma’” Padilla says. “In face-to-face meetings, physical charisma goes a long way, but physical charisma is nearly impossible to replicate online. ”
She adds, in-person, charismatic people can get away with saying less because of all the other visual stimuli their audience is taking in, such as the way they stand (confidently) or move (gracefully) or dress (with flair). Online, with fewer physical cues, what people are saying or writing takes on more weight.
She reached out to her friend Mellor — who at the time was running her own marketing agency in Memphis — about the problem. She too was experiencing the same headaches.
“Eye contact is everything,” Mellor explains. “In order to connect and engage in this virtual world, you have to look at the camera. When delivering prepared remarks, my clients were staring at their notes beside them instead of looking at the camera or were distracted opening new tabs.”
Padilla and Mellor searched everywhere for a virtual teleprompter that could sit on top of video conferencing platforms, but nothing existed. The two began calling their contacts to recruit software developers and technical professionals to take their idea from a possibility to a real product.
Four months after that first phone call, in August 2020, the pair rolled out Vodium — a virtual teleprompter that sits on top of video conferencing platforms and allows users to read scripts and refer to notes without taking their eyes off the camera.
Despite her newfound success, Padilla, once the “chip girl” at her Abuela’s restaurant, says she will never forget where she came from or the stories of those who “made sure their children’s lives were better than theirs.”
“I am their hard work,” Padilla says. “I am their legacy, and I am damn proud to be a part of their story.”
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