Arlan Hamilton Is Launching Backstage Accelerator For Underrepresented Founders. Microsoft Is In

Written by Dana Sanchez

Arlan Hamilton, the founder and managing partner of Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Backstage Capital, is launching a new startup accelerator for underrepresented founders with Microsoft and MailChimp as launch partners.

Starting in the spring of 2019, the accelerator will be available in four cities including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London, with a fourth city to be determined by a vote.

“It’s not a requirement to be in Silicon Valley in order to be successful,” Backstage Capital General Partner Christie Pitts wrote Wednesday in a Medium post. “We’ve visited (and invested in!) cities all over the U.S. and the U.K., and found that there are passionate and committed people founding, funding, and supporting companies all over the world. With Backstage Accelerator, we aim to be part of a movement that galvanizes successful entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world.”

Hamilton built Backstage Capital from the ground up starting when she was homeless in 2015. The fund is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders of color, women and LGBTQ.

“Most of what I do is not about personal gain or personal wealth. It’s about setting examples so that it can be replicated by others over and over again so that in just a few years, the word ‘underrepresented’ won’t include Black people.” — Arlan Hamilton, Black Tech Week Miami.

Backstage Accelerator will accept applications through Oct. 15. Six companies will be chosen per cohort. The accelerator will invest $100,000 in each company in exchange for 5 percent equity. You can apply here.

Earlier this year, Hamilton launched a fund to invest $36 million in Black female founders.

“They’re calling it a ‘diversity fund,’” Hamilton tweeted. “I’m calling it an IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME fund.”

Backstage Capital has reached 100 companies and put from $25,000 to $100,000 in those companies, Hamilton said onstage at Disrupt SF, a TechCrunch event underway in San Francisco.

Microsoft said it will give $6 million over the next 18 months in sponsorship dollars, cloud technology, and support to empower underrepresented founders identified by Backstage Captial and Black & Brown Founders:

“We fundamentally believe great ideas come from anywhere and have repeatedly found that diversity fuels innovation,” Jeana Jorgensen wrote Wednesday in a Microsoft blog. “We share Arlan’s view of the opportunity in front of us, which is also backed by research showing how diverse founding teams outperform the market average.”

Los Angeles was chosen as one of the four cities for Backstage Accelerator because “the ecosystem is really prime for it,” Hamilton said onstage at Disrupt SF. “There is just the most diverse group of founders and types of companies they’re building. There is a lot there to pull from.”

Hamilton chose London because she has visited the city a few times and said she “was blown away by the founders and the interesting challenges they face there,” TechCrunch reported:

“It’s a melting pot of a city and we can pull from different parts of Europe as a launching pad. And there are several groups of African founders who found their way in the ecosystem in London who are doing great things with great resources but are being overlooked.”

Philadelphia served as location inspiration, TechCrunch reported. Aniyia Williams of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders will spearhead the Philadelphia chapter of the accelerator to provide more resources for founders there.

When Philadelphia is thinking about what it means to become a tech city, it’s not about “how do we retrofit this Silicon Valley model, but more so how do we use technology to do what Philadelphia does best,” Williams said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF event, where she shared the stage with Hamilton.

“Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates of American cities and one of the highest populations of poor black and Latinx people. So for us it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said.