A BIPOC tech accelerator grows in Brooklyn

A new program founded by Clara Wu Tsai’s Social Justice Fund, with support from Visible Hands and Blue Pool Capital, will provide capital and mentoring to underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Ensuring that greater racial equity is built into Brooklyn’s ongoing economic recovery from the covid pandemic is one of the top aims of a new tech accelerator program that will start taking applications on December 5 from entrepreneurs who are Black, indigenous or people of color. Applications will be accepted through January 20, 2023.

The BK-XL accelerator launched earlier this month, as previously reported by Venture Capital Journal. Since its debut, the Social Justice Fund and other founding partners have received expressions of interest, including applications, from more than 1,000 candidates from across the US, said Daniel Acheampong, general partner at Visible Hands, a Boston-based VC firm that is among the partners.

Daniel Acheampong of Visible Hands

“It shows the strength of the pipeline,” Acheampong told VCJ. “The talent base is there, but we need to make sure we’re creating opportunities to support the talent base.”

In addition to Visible Hands, the Social Justice Fund has teamed up with Blue Pool Capital, founded by Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai, and BSE Global, the parent company of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty basketball teams and Barclays Center, where the Nets play, to support BK-XL.

Visible Hands, which accepted 51 underrepresented entrepreneurs into its own accelerator earlier this year, focuses on early-stage and pre-seed investments. Before co-founding Visible Hands in 2021, Acheampong was entrepreneur-in-residence in MIT’s designX program.

“We’re really excited about the partnership with BK-XL because it’s seeing the opportunity to bring an incredible group of entrepreneurs building strong and scalable companies to Brooklyn,” he said.

The 12 entrepreneurs who get accepted into the inaugural cohort will receive $125,000 in exchange for a 7 percent equity stake in their start-ups. Those are among the most favorable terms currently on offer by tech accelerators, said Acheampong.

If a start-up performs well enough – by growing its number of customers or increasing its revenue, for example – it will be eligible for an additional $375,000, bringing total funding from BK-XL to $500,000. To qualify, founders must commit to remain in Brooklyn for at least another year.

“Giving the capital is critical, but there’s some really important perspective for company-building that it has to come with,” Acheampong noted. That will be shared through mentoring by entrepreneurs who have built companies from zero to 10 or 100 times their initial valuations and can provide advice “on how to avoid mistakes, how to recruit the right people.”

He added that the work that Clara Wu Tsai and the Social Justice Fund have done “shows a deep commitment to make sure that capital goes further, touches organizations and communities.”

Proximity matters

Being in Brooklyn will place founders in close proximity to BSE Global’s offices, where they’ll be able to have in-person conversations with more experienced and other meaningful forms of support that will further accelerate their companies’ growth, Acheampong said.

Physical proximity also includes access to all the talent living or working in Brooklyn through networking events and other resources that can facilitate recruiting and hiring team members.

The immersive program will run for 10 weeks and come with office space for founders and their teams. While there will be a common curriculum, the partners “want to understand a company’s individual needs because we can’t put them in boxes,” Acheampong said. The partners want to spend time with each founder to hear what their priorities and concerns are in order to support them toward their next stage of building.

“We’re looking for companies that are at a place where they’re building and want to grow in scale,” he said. Some of the candidates accepted will have already refined their idea, acquired customers and be ready to take it to the next level. Others will be at earlier stages of an idea, “but we want to see the potential of what they can build.”

Technology is one of the primary areas where BK-XL’s partners see the most potential for growth and scaling, but Acheampong said they “want folks from all industries to apply,” while also focusing on particular interests such as sports media and entertainment, e-commerce, fintech and web3, where the partners’ deepest expertise resides.

Although the Black community accounts for about 22 percent of New York City’s population, only 3.5 percent of the city’s businesses are owned by Blacks, according to research by the Center for an Urban Future.

“A lot more needs to be happening in New York City [to support entrepreneurs of color],” Acheampong said. “Brooklyn specifically is a hub of economic activity, of culture. We see this as place we want to bring talent to change some of these stats and to create jobs and opportunities.”

Research that has found diverse teams tend to produce more outsized returns than teams that aren’t diverse highlights “a missed economic opportunity” in not providing greater support to BIPOC entrepreneurs, he added. “We have to make sure we’re bringing our efforts and these commitments to change these percentages.”