Startup Accelerator Impact Ventures is gearing up to host its first-ever virtual Demo Day and Startup Showcase over the weekend.
Saturday’s event is the culmination of its 12-week rigorous accelerator program that kicked off in late-October through January. Focused on women, minority, and LGBTQ-led tech startups, the multi-track cohort splits participants into a Startup Track or Growth Track to tailor support.
During the upcoming half-day virtual event Fellows from the Growth program will compete in a Shark-Tank style pitch contest for $50,000. Attendees of this free event will learn from thought leaders, network with attendees, and interact with vendor and sponsor booths.
“This event allows founders to showcase what they’ve learned and how they have progressed with their business over the 12 weeks they’ve been with us,” CEO and Founder of Dallas-based Impact Ventures, Benjamin J. Vann said. “The event creates an opportunity for the community to celebrate and learn more about the impact that they [founders] are making in their community through their business.”
“Bank of America is committed to connecting entrepreneurs to the resources needed to succeed,” said Emily Ledet, Dallas market executive for Bank of America, presenting sponsor for the upcoming Startup Showcase. “Our partnership with Impact Ventures will help courageous, hard-working diverse business owners make a meaningful impact in North Texas by creating jobs that support economic mobility in their communities.”
Last Spring, Impact Venture’s inaugural accelerator cohort featured 25 startups from the North Texas areas that collectively raised $458,000, created 46 new jobs and participated in over 500 hours of education, 1-1 mentor support, startup resources, and connections.
The pitch competition draws inspiration from the popular ABC reality show, Shark Tank. Startups represent a variety of industries from across Texas and the U.S., in line with the funds investment beliefs.
“What I love about our [Impact Venture’s] portfolio is that we don’t focus on a particular industry,” The 33-year-old entrepreneur explained. “We aren’t picky in terms of our industry focus, we have companies that span from e-sports, entertainment, health, beauty, education, fintech, the future of work/skill development and more.”
The competition marks the beginning of the fund’s $10 million dollar investments initiative, the Inclusive Capital Fund, which aims to utilize integrated capital to close the racial wealth gap. Closing this gap will help give Black and Brown founders the same opportunities as their white counterparts, especially those on the south side of Dallas. Break-out sessions will cover various topics surrounding money, business, and diversity.
Participants were selected from Impact Ventures’ accelerator program and include Kedreon Cole, Mehmet Günal, Darrell Frater, Alexander Deeb, Fiona Fayher, Eric Adolphe, MaryAlice Turletes, Miguel Zavala, Gary Lewis, Alec Fischer, Bryon Pierson, Jacob Makuvire, and Ronnie Green.
Both founders and Impact Ventures personnel have been tracking all of participants’ progress throughout the accelerators with assessments of each company. There are 8 categories that they evaluate the startups with and everyone from peers to mentors to Impact Ventures personnel provides feed-back to the founders.
“Oftentimes under-represented founders hear, you’re too early, but very rarely do investors give them quality, effective feedback as to why they are too early,” Vann said. “We want to provide founders with the resources to measure and assess where they are [with their business] and articulate that value to investors, in addition to creating a roadmap for moving forward.”
The Club, founded by Darrell Frater, is one of the startups being presented. This is one of the several start-ups Vann is excited to see grow. The Club app is a streaming service for DJs and entertainment venues to build an online community while playing songs that would have their videos muted due to copyright infringement on traditional online video sites.
The judges of the competition are still being selected at the time of this writing, but Impact Ventures has a particular vision of whom they want to help guide the founders.
“We looked for both POC and women investors that also align with the belief of investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs,” Vann said. “Judges include local and national investors and people in the start-up community with significant entrepreneurial experience. We wanted them to have the opportunity to create a diverse pipeline of entrepreneurs.”
Participants will be competing for 50K in equity, loans, and other capital investments. This prize money was awarded to Impact Ventures from the Dallas Foundation’s social innovation award, The Pegasus Prize.
This pitch competition is another step in Impact Ventures’ plan to create real social change in North Texas both above and below the I-30 highway.
“Launching something like this [Impact Ventures] in a city that is rooted in discriminatory practices and is foundational in its oppression of Black and Brown people is important,” Vann said. “For us, this is activism and social change by way of business, we are addressing the racial wealth gap and north/south divide of our city through business and asset ownership.”
This desire to see a change began when Vann left school and entered the workforce, at Fidelity Investments and Charitable. Van was disheartened to see most people receiving this capital did not look like him. Correspondingly, the margins were slimmer on the check-writing side of the deal.
Impact Ventures is not Vann’s only venture into the world of finance and funding. However, one experience earlier in his career has helped shape both his and Impact Ventures ambitions.
After sharing these observations with a mentor, he advised him to ‘get on a plane and find out what was going on,’ and that’s exactly what Vann did.
“I started to explore different models around the country, like the Runway Project in Oakland, and different initiatives that use flexible financing to fund entrepreneurs,” Vann explained. “These experiences brought me to this nexus of launching Impact Ventures in Dallas, which is a historically segregated and racist place in this country.”
With only 7.1% of Texas business owners being Black, this quest for more capital investment in minority communities was needed in Vann’s chosen home of Dallas.
“One particular trip was through an organization called Common Future Now, formally called Balle,” Vann described. “I went to a conference in California known as Shift Capital, it was the first time I experienced a financial conference that’s had a social impact and racial equity focus. The language was geared more toward community activists and social change-makers.”
This knowledge from Vann’s more youthful endeavors has helped shape Impact Venture’s decision making with both its business and this competition. The fund wants to help show under-represented people that they too can succeed in the technology and business worlds.
“Recently, the pandemic actually allowed us to scale-up our impact to other cities where it’s the same story,” Vann said. “Many cities across the US mirror Dallas in that they are built on oppression and a lot of the minorities don’t have the same economic opportunities. Through this initiative, and us migrating it to a virtual setting, we have been able to get startups from California, San Antonio, New Jersey, and other parts of the country to participate in this accelerator.”
With the Dallas community watching, Impact Ventures hopes to use this competition as a platform to inspire others to pursue their business aspirations and show the power of Black business.
“This is the power of what Black people can do, of what minorities and women can do, if you just give them the opportunities, resources, network and surround them with a community that wants them to succeed,” Vann said. “That’s the most powerful thing we’ve done for Dallas is giving visibility for a group of people who have typically not been seen.”
Vann wants to help tip the economic scale and enfranchise the underrepresented to reach their potentials. This idea fuels both Impact Venture’s accelerator programs and the pitch competition, as they both play a role in changing the dynamics of investing in this country.
“That’s one of the powerful things about our program is that it is a wealth-generating vehicle, and we are able to bring new Black and Brown investors to the table,” Vann said. “These are the Black and Brown founders building the future. Now, how do we get more Black and Brown angel investors on their cap table so the founders don’t always have to go to traditional institutions to get capital.”