When venture firm Backstage Capital announced last fall that it would be launching a four-city accelerator program for underrepresented founders, more than 1,800 applications poured in. Today, after six months of vetting, Backstage is naming the 25 startups selected to participate in the accelerator’s inaugural cohort. In keeping with Backstage’s mission, each one is led by at least one woman, person of color, or LGBTQ entrepreneur.
Women and minority representation in other accelerator programs tends to be much lower. In the most recent batch of Y Combinator, for example, only 28% of teams include a woman founder and 12% include a black or Latinx founder.
For Backstage, introducing an accelerator program represents a chance to build on the momentum created by the Backstage 100, the firm’s foundational portfolio of 100 early-stage companies. In assembling the Backstage 100, firm founder and managing partner Arlan Hamilton set out to prove that there are ample opportunities for venture capitalists to write checks to women and minorities. By the end of 2018, companies in the Backstage 100 had raised over $50 million in follow-on capital.
“We exist to help eliminate the concept of underrepresentation in tech,” says Backstage Capital partner Christie Pitts, who is running the accelerator. “So for us, it’s really important that we provide an on-ramp into investing for underrepresented founders.”
In Los Angeles, where Backstage is headquartered, the first cohort of accelerator companies includes Lacquerbar, which bills itself as a feminist nail salon, and Unomi, an automation platform for animators and video game developers.
In Philadelphia, participants include Hale, a vaping pen with customizable nicotine settings, and WashLB, a car-washing service.
In London, Backstage’s first international outpost, the cohort includes mobile barbershop Trim-It and smartphone-based medical technology company Tambua Health.
And in Detroit—which won a popular vote in order to serve as the accelerator’s fourth location—Backstage has selected startups including Alerje, a solution for food allergies, and pre-launch Bippy, which promises to be an “eco-friendly, personal wellness brand for your booty” (in other words: a toilet paper subscription offering).
Companies participating in the Backstage Accelerator will receive $100,000 checks in exchange for 5% equity stakes. In addition to the funding, Backstage is providing mentorship, introductions to investors, and a curriculum focused on the needs of underrepresented, early-stage founders. In addition, corporate partners Microsoft and Mailchimp are providing access to Azure credits and other resources.
“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,” Microsoft general manager Jeana Jorgensen said in a statement. “The founders who have been chosen to be a part of Backstage Capital Accelerator’s inaugural cohorts embody that enormous opportunity.”
Backstage intends to grow the “it’s about damn time” fund that will enable it to write larger checks while operating the accelerator. The full list of Backstage Accelerator participants is available here.