Black-owned businesses account for nearly one-third of all businesses in Cincinnati, Ohio. What most consider a small town in the heart of flyover country found itself in the lineup of Inc. magazine’s list of top 50 cities to start a business.
But despite the earned clout, the local startup and business ecosystem hasn’t always felt very inclusive. At least not to the local entrepreneurs who didn’t feel they had access to resources, funding, and connections in the same way their counterparts had.
Enter Candice Matthews Brackeen, a leader in Cincinnati’s startup community who was one of the first to wave her hand to say, yes, Black Ohioans are at a disadvantage when it comes to being empowered to create and launch tech-based enterprises.
Matthews Brackeen launched the Hillman Accelerator in 2017, adopting the name from the fictional college in the television show A Different World. The multi-hyphenate serial entrepreneur turned her prior failed startup experience into a national campaign to support the country’s most promising tech-enabled Black-founded startups. And it appears her team is finally getting its just due.
Nearly three years later, after an uphill climb to configuring a program that would effectively build up venture-backable companies and teams from underrepresented groups, the Hillman Accelerator, and its subsequent NewME Bootcamp, picked up a confirmed $1.2 million for its 2020 programming—a near triple increase in funding since Hillman first opened its doors for business.
Support has come from an impressive list of foundations and corporate partners alike, including the Surdna Foundation, Ohio Third Frontier, City of Cincinnati, JPMorgan Chase, Garage Group, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Kroger, and Procter & Gamble, with more partners in the pipeline.
The funds will enable at least 100 Black founders across the globe to participate in Hillman’s signature NewME Bootcamp series to be held in Philadelphia; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Cincinnati.
Purchased from Angela Benton earlier this year, the NewME Bootcamp program offers a one-week intensive business strategy and mentorship retreat taught by Brian Brackeen, founder and former CEO of facial recognition technology company Kairos, as well as hosts of attorneys, creative strategists, and successful entrepreneurs.
Each bootcamp serves a cohort of 10 founders building companies in a variety of fields. They live together in a house, share meals, and have their business strategies brutally dissected and reshaped to help them reach the next level in their businesses.
Tuition for the program is typically $2,600 (travel not included) for each city cohort. With the new funding in hand, 100 entrepreneurs will be able to apply and participate in the program for free.
“For us, it’s our pipeline into Hillman,” explains Matthews Brackeen, who says there’s already a waitlist of 100 applications for 2020.
Past participants of the program have included companies like Vernand Morency’s AI-powered real estate services platform PrestoIntelligence, and Cincinnati-based BlaCk OWned clothing, a lifestyle company built by Means Cameron and business partner Marcus Ervin.
“Hillman’s position in the Midwest ecosystem creates a greater opportunity for entrepreneurs of color with tech-based and tech-enabled businesses outside of the U.S. coasts to grow and excel,” said Patrice Green, program officer of Surdna Foundation’s Inclusive Economies Initiative, which made a $600,000 commitment to support the NewME bootcamp through 2021.
The dates for the NewME 2020 bootcamps have yet to be set, but Hillman’s programming will include theme-based programming in partnership with corporate companies. There will be a planned food business accelerator in partnership with Kroger; one focused on health and beauty businesses with Procter & Gamble; a fintech-based program with JP Morgan Chase; and others that will be industry agnostic.