What we learned from launching the first student led accelerator focused on diverse foundersFeatured
Hi! My name is Eliana, and I’m a current student at Northeastern. I’m passionate about building authentic communities and increasing diversity in the entrepreneurship and venture space. A few months ago, myself and a bunch of really passionate students came together to launch Envision (https://www.envisionaccelerator.com/), the first virtual student-led accelerator focused on supporting womxn and/or POC founders. Why Envision?More and more student-run startups have been popping up than ever before, yet not all founders have the resources to help them succeed. With only 2% of VC funding going to women, and less than 1% to Black and Latinx founders, there is a lot to be done to diversify where capital is going. Envision aims to support founders early in their journey, with a focus on founders in university (grad or undergrad), or up to a few years out of school. We do this by supporting our companies with a world-class curriculum (speakers such as Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt and Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital), hands-on mentorship from top entrepreneurs, access to up to $10k of non-dilutive capital in the form of grants, and a thriving community. What did we learn?Running a fully remote team + acceleratorNone of the Envision team members have ever met in real life! When we came up with this idea in June, we knew we only had 3 weeks to pull it off because we wanted our first cohort to kick off in July. So, we got to work and had no time to waste. By having extremely clear communication and lines of ownership, we were able to juggle a lot at once. In the span of 3 weeks, we developed our curriculum, launched our application and received over 200 responses, fundraised over $150,000 from sponsors, and recruited over 90 mentors. Everyone on the Envision team had a full-time job or was enrolled in summer classes, but we made it work. We had deep trust for every individual on the team, and worked hard to pull this off. We all envisioned a future that had a more diverse and equitable entrepreneurship ecosystem, and would do anything we could to make it happen. We were also concerned about what it would be like actually running a virtual accelerator, but it ended up being incredible! Running our program online meant that there was virtually no barrier for participation. No one had to relocate to a city they couldn’t afford, which really leveled the playing field. This also meant we could have participation from mentors and speakers all across the country. Community BuildingCommunity is one thing we know is important, but still underestimated. We took 17 companies for our first cohort, which amounted to 39 founders. Since everything was virtual, connecting everyone was tough. We utilized tools like Icebreaker Video, Zoom, and the Donut Slack extension to unify founders through different community events and initiatives, but attendance and participation was low. However, one of the biggest value-adds of an accelerator is the ability to be around others working on similar things. Being a founder is lonely, and it’s important to make community a centerpiece of any accelerator - virtual or not. For our second-ever cohort (that starts in October), we are going to incorporate more bonding events such as founder roundtables, group office hours, and more intentional community events instead of just throwing people into a virtual room and hoping for the best. We also want to focus more on authenticity and vulnerability, along with strongly emphasizing founder wellbeing. Additionally, Envision is taking a smaller number of companies which should make fostering connections even easier. Working with Student VenturesThere are definitely pros and cons to starting a venture when one is in college, but that’s where Envision likes to take its bets. By supporting founders early in their startup journey, we can partner with them for life and empower the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs. As students ourselves, we can appreciate what it’s like to juggle multiple things, including managing school and a business simultaneously. However, we’ve seen our companies go on to do AMAZING things, including being admitted to 500 Startups, setting up meetings with Sequoia, and doubling their revenue in the span of a few weeks. We encourage you to take a bet on young founders too, or start something of your own even if you don’t think you’re ready :)How can I get involved?Envision welcomes support from everyone! It truly takes a village, and we’d love to work with you as we continue to support underrepresented founders. If you’re interested in mentoring our companies, partnering with us through your company, sponsoring a founder’s non-dilutive grant, or are interested in applying, email me at [email protected]! I’d love to meet you.