Ascend2020 has debuted its second pre-accelerator cohort at Morehouse College. Thirty startups took to the stage for Demo Day, a culmination of an extensive six-month program that covers everything from customer discovery, access to capital, and strategic partnerships.
Ventures in the program are either at scale, ideation, or the early-stage phase. Throughout the program, founders participate in a host of workshops and training. They also receive mentorship and feedback from industry leaders like Dr. Paul, Judge, serial entrepreneur and Techsquare Labs founding partner.
The program, which partners with the Techsquare Labs, JP Morgan Chase, and Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center, graduated the largest number of minority-owned businesses from any accelerator in the country.
“The second time around was twice as exciting,” said Dr. Tiffany R. Bussey, Director of Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center. “We were able to implement some of the lessons learned from the first cohort, such as more intentional programming, that allowed the participants to come away with tools they can use as they grow after the program.”
Dr. Bussey said that over the course of the two cohorts, Ascend2020 Atlanta has supported 60 tech founders of color, who combined created 31 new jobs, increased revenues by 80 percent, and raised over $3.7 million in capital. Meaning that others can count the city’s initiative as one of many contributing to Atlanta’s spotlight as a tech hub for minority entrepreneurs.
She added that she was blown away by the number of applicants they received for Cohort 2, demonstrating that there’s still a need in the Atlanta tech ecosystem for programs like Ascend. When Morehouse, Techsquare, and JP Morgan started this partnership three years ago, there were few programs focused on tech founders of color in the city, said Dr. Bussey.
“We still believe there is a need for programs like these to purposely support diversity and inclusion in the Atlanta tech ecosystem,” she said. “We have to keep the conversation going, always pushing the needle for awareness, nurturing and funding for entrepreneurs of color as long as there exists an inequity gap, particularly in Atlanta where according to Brookings Institute, one in four tech workers are African-American compared to Silicon Valley where it’s only 6.4 percent. What better place to grow the companies of color than in Atlanta.”
In Atlanta, there’s a number of successful tech founders to look to, including Ascend’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Candace Mitchell. Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Myavana and Techturized LLC. As a black woman in tech with a Computer Science degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, she is an unhidden figure in the industry. And she’s playing a significant role in coaching the next generation of disruptors through Ascend.
“It was exciting to see all the different industries we had represented,” Mitchell said. “Everything from cryptocurrency, location-based advertising, healthcare technology, real estate, entertainment, and more. It honestly felt a lot like déjà vu having been in their shoes before at the beginning of my startup journey and the amazing thing was being able to see the gaps so clearly and help them learn the ropes faster with better guidance.”
Mitchell also said she was surprised by the number of founders that want to bootstrap and are using their existing businesses to fund their product development. And something that she found refreshing and inspiring was seeing how they’re already thinking about reinvesting their profits into the community through a social enterprise component to their business model.
“Being able to take my unique insight in the challenges and pitfalls of early stage startups, we were able to bring a sharp focus on just the basics of business that have been lost in the hype and fanfare of tech startups that often makes the founder chase rounds and press instead of traction and revenue,” said Mitchell.
“We’ve set them up for success by bringing to the forefront what really matters – the customer. We’ve been able to emphasize that it doesn’t matter how amazing you think your product is. At the end of the day, it has to solve a problem or meet a need for a customer, then be viable and scalable enough to build a good business. Emphasizing core metrics to track has set them up to have the right focus for their daily key activities.”
Cesar Flores said that he fell in love with the grind and exploration of building something new, innovative, and purposeful while working in the tech industry for five years. Through Ascend, he founded and built Hearthmates, a mobile platform that gives customers the tools they need to pick compatible roommates and make housing arrangements together.
“When I started I had an idea of what I was going to build but I didn’t really have a roadmap for how to get to the next step,” he said. “And going through this program, I was able to be given a map of the steps I needed to take to pitch, take my business to the next level, and stick with it. So now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I’ve been able to be more confident in my business strategy and look forward to even bigger growth.”
Flores said all the information that goes into the roommate finding process – like affordability, personality, and living habits- is scattered. But Hearthmates is the only technology that simplifies the process for consumers.
Ascend 2020 Atlanta will continue to build a more inclusive ecosystem in Atlanta as they work to close the economic wealth gap in Georgia, says Dr. Bussey. The team and program partners are well on their way to building on impact. Furthermore, Morehouse College, which has historically always been at the center of the conversation for social progress and equity for people of color, will continue to do its part.