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A groundbreaking NYC-based technology accelerator is targeting under-tapped communities in a bid to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem.
Startup52, the brainchild of Nigerian-born tech entrepreneur Chike Ukaegbu, is one of only a handful of diversity-driven incubators focused on identifying and developing high potential founders from underrepresented groups. The Harlem-based early-stage accelerator provides access to capital, resources, and a safe haven for entrepreneurs from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the technology sector.
“The way we define diversity is different from how other people may define it,” Startup52 founder Ukaegbu said in an interview with UrbanGeekz. “Our focus extends to people of color, women, LGBTQ, veterans, immigrants, and people with disabilities. So basically if you feel like you don’t belong, you actually belong with us.”
Launched as a pilot accelerator last year, the Startup52X Acceleration program gives vetted entrepreneurs access to a select community of mentors, advisers, experts, and serial entrepreneurs. During the pilot program in the summer of 2015, Startup52 established over 30 partnerships with some of the world’s most renowned tech-focused companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Hubspot, Indiegogo, and Accelerate with Google. All the community partners provided much-needed free and subsidized resources relevant to helping startups thrive.
“I believe we don’t give ourselves enough room to make mistakes and the huge mistake with that is that a lot of innovation comes from trial and error,” he said. “So being able to give brilliant people the opportunity to pursue the things they want to do without the fear of not getting funded is the premise on which Startup52 was born.”
At the end of the intense two-month program, teams pitch their startups to a group of selected guests and investors at Demo Day. Post-Acceleration, founders and teams automatically join and benefit from being a part of a growing network of alumni and resources.
Applications are currently open for the Startup52 Summer 2016 Acceleration program.
Ukaegbu says he was inspired to launch the accelerator after spearheading URBN Youth Start-UP (UYS), an intensive project-based 15-week entrepreneurship program in Harlem. The program exposes its participants to entrepreneurship, research and development, problem solving, life skills, and community service. Its goal is to introduce students to the rigor and benefits of entrepreneurship while allowing them to give back to their communities.
When UYS launched in 2013, it took on youth from difficult and challenging backgrounds. Many students accepted into the program were victims of domestic violence, formerly incarcerated, high school dropouts, homeless, and more. Yet, by the end of the scheme, graduates were presenting innovative tech ideas to a panel of judges.
During the first 8 weeks, the students came up with ideas based on their interest, skillsets, and passion. They then worked through the process of developing ideas into a tech startup for the final duration of the program.
“Only about one percent of venture funding goes to black founders,” Startup52 founder Ukaegbu said. “And many of these young people get frustrated after the program because they don’t have the network or capital to pursue what they want to do.”
With this in mind, Ukaegbu was determined to see the talented young entrepreneurs go beyond the program and develop their ideas. What emerged was Startup52. “The idea of creating something that would create better access to resources and capital to help these students [and other entrepreneurs] see that their ideas and small ventures were important is how Startup52 came to being,” Ukaegbu said.
He envisions his accelerator going global and is passionate about the emerging and developing markets.
“I am excited about the opportunity to empower more people that would normally not be empowered at all,” Ukaegbu said. “I know that this program will change the face of tech because I have very big goals for Startup52 and what it can become in the future.”
Photo: Startup52 founder Chike Ukaegbu
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