VCs systematically overlooked African-American and Latinx founders when Plug In South LA started six years ago. In response, we launched a unique intensive accelerator program last fall that supports promising entrepreneurs from underserved communities with guidance from successful mentors and advisors.
A diverse group of five bright founders recently emerged from our six-month Plug In South LA Accelerator Program. This first cohort forged new connections and gained smart strategies to scale up their businesses. They’re primed to disrupt categories such as e-commerce, wellness, and digital media. But they still need support to get there.
Rewriting the Rules of Startup Success
The 2019–2020 Accelerator Program grew out of our successful Lunch & Learn series. We carefully selected five founders who had already launched and were in the process of raising funds.
Last fall we welcomed the Accelerator Program’s first cohort: Hyve founder Jibril Jackson, Esqapes Immersive Relaxation founder Micah Jackson, Spooler, Inc. founder Benjamen Janey, Gro Lens founder Ron Johnson, and Me Tyme Network founder Remy Meraz.
Numerous experts participated in highly curated mentoring sessions that shaped the five founders’ progress. These mentors and advisors represent the best of LA’s tech ecosystem. They included OPV partner Austin Clements, Disney SVP Sonya Joo, Silicon Valley Bank director DeMarcus Williams, Joymode co-founder and CEO Joe Fernandez, DNABlock CEO Anthony Kelani, HopSkipDrive VP of strategic development Qiana Patterson, WhatThe FAQ founder Reagan Sirengo, and Wolverine Angels founder and managing director Shane Kelly.
Verizon, the Nike Foundation, and Silicon Valley Bank served as program partners.
Pioneering Founders Rise to the Challenge
Customized sessions designed to help the founders grow their businesses met them where they were in their development. During the program, all five founders made enormous strides despite the Covid-19 crisis and economic downturn.
Jibril Jackson secured seed funding and plans to launch his Hyve platform this fall. Micah Jackson, whose Esqapes Immersive Relaxation pairs carefully crafted virtual environments with soothing massage, signed his first paid members and a license deal in Washington State.
Benjamen Janey saw a 129% increase in online conversions for his tech-driven socially conscious apparel company Spooler due to marketing, UX updates, and sales initiatives geared toward artists that lead to new funding opportunities. Ron Johnson closed a seed round, hired a customer success manager, and increased his software-as-a-service company’s customer base.
Remy Meraz raised capital and rethought user experience for her behavioral health platform Me Tyme Network. She established a partner to build UX and front-end development, and launched a pilot for 100,000 users.
“I truly feel that the Plug In South LA team is 100% vested in our success beyond the program,” she said.
Boosting Tech Innovation in South LA
Although these founders made remarkable progress, the odds are still stacked against them. Less than 2% of the venture funding available makes it to Black and Latinx founders, according to research cited by Crunchbase.
The wealth gap also means that founders of color rarely have an opportunity to devote all of their time to scaling up. Jibril, Micah, Ben, Ron, and Remy demonstrated expertise in their respective areas of business. They are coming out of the Accelerator Program with new focus, but many of the persistent hurdles to accessing capital remain.
We can do something. For the next three months, Plug In South LA is challenging venture capitalists and corporate executives in our community to help these fantastic entrepreneurs focus on disrupting their categories.
Here’s how to participate:
- Check out the founder’s platform and technology.
- Review the founder’s pitch deck and provide feedback.
- Introduce the founder to a potential customer.
- Connect the founder with an angel investor.
- Put the founder in touch with an entrepreneur who raised Series A funding.
- Speak with the founder about a specific challenge or opportunity.
Our 90-day Challenge begins now. Let’s shine a light on innovation in South LA and give these business leaders the boost that they deserve.
To join us, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.