Hillman Accelerator Helps Minority and Women-Led Startups Succeed

This is a two-part story on a new business accelerator founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Part One provides background on the program designed to assist minority and women-led startup companies. Part Two, released following the completion of the program in October 2017, will highlight the experiences of the companies in the inaugural class.

Taking a concept from an idea to a full-fledged, profitable company requires hard work, dedication and help along the way. Convincing others to invest time, effort and money into your endeavor is a challenge all founders face, but for some groups, the challenge is greater than others. Today, less than one percent of venture-capital-backed company founders are African American, and 12 percent are Asian. Female founders receive only seven percent of venture capital funding despite evidence that diverse, women-led businesses are more financially successful. Diversity and inclusion are critical in startups, which is why Hillman Accelerator in Cincinnati, Ohio, has set out to put ethnic minority and women-led startups in positions to succeed.

“We don’t think there’s a pipeline problem. There’s no shortage of teams being formed by minority or women founders with great ideas. We think the problem lies in these teams’ accessing a community or support system to move their ideas forward,” said Candice Matthews, Executive Director of Hillman Accelerator. “We want to be a home for them and provide them with resources that help them accelerate their businesses and attract the funding they need to grow and succeed. The ultimate hope is that in the future, a specific accelerator like this won’t be necessary. Right now, it is.”

Hillman Accelerator is the first and only full-time accelerator of its kind in the Midwest. The application process drew interest from startups across the nation, but five companies were chosen to move to Cincinnati, fill the inaugural class and receive a $100,000 investment from Hillman. During the four-month program, they’ll have access to business mentors, attorneys, a brand marketing agency, and the support of Cincinnati’s vast entrepreneurial community and its many startup institutions. Companies will be able to maintain office space at the accelerator for up to a year after completion of the program, and are encouraged to contribute to the thriving community that helped them grow.

Hillman was founded as a public-private venture supported by Ohio Third Frontier, the University of Cincinnati and Qey Capital, as well as by Cintrifuse, CincyTech and The Brandery, all southwest regional partners of Ohio Third Frontier. The idea came out of the Black Founders Network, a monthly meetup of founders from Cincinnati companies such as LISNR, ConnXus, QEY Capital (founded by former NFL Linebacker Dhani Jones) and Matthews’ Hello Parent. It was made possible in part due to Ohio’s continued commitment to lead the charge in diversity and inclusion in tech startups. Hillman’s located at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the Ohio River riverfront.

“We’re excited to play such an important role in promoting diversity in the Cincinnati startup community, the state of Ohio and the nation. The groups we’re focusing on are simply underrepresented in entrepreneurship,” said Matthews. “Their access to such tremendous resources here in Cincinnati will show them that there are really great advantages to starting a business in Ohio. Through their growth, they’ll be enriching the community that helped them. It’s a win-win for minority and women-led businesses, as well as Ohio, which continues to prioritize inclusion in entrepreneurship.”

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