Austin’s DivInc Accelerator Focuses On Minority Startup Founders

Austin—Preston James left his position as chief of Dell Computer’s Global Center for Entrepreneurs two years ago, and decided to mentor and invest in startup founders full-time, most notably through an affiliation with Austin’s Capital Factory and the Central Texas Angel Network. He quickly noticed that, as an African-American, the faces he saw rarely resembled his own.

“I found there was a tremendous lack of [diversity among the founders] in the startups that were participating in the startup ecosystem,” he says. “And those that were seemed to be missing a lot of the access to resources, education, and network that is really required to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in the tech community.”

To help change that, James founded DivInc, a startup accelerator for founders who are women and/or are underrepresented minorities. The first class of 10 entrepreneurs began the 12-week program this week; their startups run the spectrum in health IT, retail tech, fintech, edtech, and other industries. James says the accelerator doesn’t take equity in the startups because that “could be a barrier to entry” that keeps these entrepreneurs from participating in such programs.

As James explains, programs for women or minority entrepreneurs have typically come in the form of one-day workshops or weekend seminars that don’t provide the sort of sustained mentorship that founders need. “In terms of building a business, they were not making as much progress in comparison to if [one] were to participate in a very focused accelerator program,” he says, where “companies look a lot different from when they enter and they exit.”

DivInc’s programming will mimic those that are found in other accelerators, with workshops and mentor hours dedicated to market research and product fit, financial modeling and projections, and other early-stage company advice. “Successful founders will come in and share insights about dos and don’ts about founding a successful business,” James says. DivInc’s startup “founders have no exposure to this,” he adds.

A key difference from other accelerators, James says, is that DivInc will focus on creating a more collaborative environment among the individual founders. “We want them to be collaborating to help each other to be successful,” he says.

James says in practice DivInc will act as a pre-accelerator, giving these entrepreneurs an opportunity to, in essence, catch up with peers who may have had a head start in terms of cultivating mentors and getting experience and support crucial to supporting an early-stage business.

Going through DivInc should position these entrepreneurs to get accepted into a nationally recognized accelerator like Techstars, 500 Startups, or Tech Wildcatters, he says, “something that can take them to the next level of their business growth.”

James says the accelerator is currently being funded through corporate sponsorships and foundation grants, but that he is developing more long-term revenue streams as well as raising a fund that could invest in the startups. The key is to not create even more hurdles for DivInc’s potential entrepreneurs. “We want to open these doors much wider,” he says.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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