Brown University Prof. Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, who is also director of the Venture Capital Inclusion Lab, has for years studied the underfunding of women- and minority-led startups, trying to pinpoint the problems driving the disparity and figure out solutions.
So, when a mutual friend introduced her to Shila Nieves Burney, managing partner of the Atlanta-based Zane Venture Fund, which is dedicated to supporting the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs, the two had a lot to discuss.
Their conversations ultimately sparked a new partnership between Brown University and Zane’s new virtual education program aimed at university entrepreneurs, AccessU.
Brown is the first organization to partner with AccessU. The partnership will include a conference hosted by Brown called the FounderU Roadmap Forum, with the goal of better positioning diverse student entrepreneurs for success.
“It’s an entrepreneurial support program intended to supplement any existing university entrepreneur program,” Ozkazanc-Pan told Rhode Island Inno, adding that she hopes the conference will become an annual event. “But the design of it is to provide access to information and capital to diverse student founders, so there is a real intentionality around focal student founders that would be benefiting from it.”
The goal of Zane’s AccessU program is to eventually help university entrepreneurs from all over the country build and grow impactful ventures by providing access to experts that can guide them, as well as events that provide education.
Zane will also put the best teams it finds with an interesting idea or proof of concept through a 12-week pre-capital program to prepare them for fundraising. Ozkazanc-Pan said there could also be a university business plan competition.
A Virtual Forum for Student Entrepreneurs, hosted by Brown, will be held virtually in late November.
Ozkazanc-Pan said it will include industry leaders and university partners, and it will be targeted at helping university students build their investor network and learn about different trends in the entrepreneurial community. The forum will feature a panel of student entrepreneurs and a panel discussion with student-led venture funds.
Ozkazanc-Pan said she hopes the new partnership with Zane and AccessU can serve as one potential way to combat multiple problems that have built up and gone unsolved, leading to the underfunding of women- and minority-led entrepreneurs.
These problems, according to Ozkazanc-Pan, include a lack of identity. Women and minorities need to see more successful entrepreneurs that look like them. Identifying as an entrepreneur and seeing role models can be influential in whether that group of entrepreneurs feels a sense of belonging, she said.
The second problem Ozkazanc-Pan has encountered centers around interactions and networks, making sure women and minority entrepreneurs have access to the people and information that can steer them in the right direction.
The last factor is institutional. It’s driven by the ways in which economic policies, political systems and cultural norms support entrepreneurship for particular kinds of people.
“Those three factors in tandem come together and create a terrible perfect storm where fixing one without addressing the other two doesn’t really help,” said Ozkazanc-Pan. “So you have to look at all three and figure out which ones you have an opportunity to intervene.”