The program, led by Devin Collins, the director of Ventureprise, and by Henry Rock, the founder and executive director of City Startup Labs, is funded by an NC IDEA Ecosystem grant, and as Ventureprise was one of 10 organizations nationally to receive the SBA Lab-to-Market Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem $25,000 Visionary Prize, that money will also support the program. Additional funding in the form of training for mentors is being provided by the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, said Collins.
“The data on gender and racial disparities in innovation whether that be STEM technology commercialization or broader entrepreneurship endeavors exist,” said Rock. “This is a national issue that significantly holds back our economy.”
A recent study led by UNC Charlotte in partnership with Bank of America, Duke Energy, Honeywell, and Charlotte Center City Partners examined the challenges and the landscape of minority-owned small businesses in Charlotte.
One key finding is that though minority-owned small businesses face multiple challenges, access to information and networks is lacking.
“The Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy focuses on improving access to information and networks,” said Collins. “This initiative allows both Ventureprise and City Startup Labs to develop and deploy an ever-important resource into the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Charlotte.”
Collins noted that the program is actively recruiting participants, and is seeking experts in their field who may not yet have thought about raising their hand. In total, 20 people will join the cohort, and will complete four workshops provided by Ventureprise, City Startup Labs, Georgia Tech Venture Labs, and NC IDEA.
Afterwards, cohort members will serve as venture reviewers for startups applying to the fall 2021 NC IDEA Seed grant program, and afterwards, they’ll participate in a ‘Match Day,’ organized by Ventureprise and City Startup Labs.
“The mission of the current program is the cultivation of a new crop of diverse mentors for a growing pool of area entrepreneurs,” said Rock.