When you hear “startup company” and picture the team behind it, what do they look like? Probably something like the original Facebook group: white, young, and male. That’s what the vast majority of startup teams look like these days. The tech industry is only 25% female and 1.5% African-American. When you think about the fact that a little more than half of the population in the United States is compromised of women and around 13% is African-American, you start wondering just how much we’re missing out with this disparity in numbers.
Angela Benton of Black Web Media wants to change that with her latest project, NewME Accelerator. Based in San Francisco, this 12-week immersion program focuses on helping women and minorities break through the multitude of barriers they face when trying to enter the tech world.
Twice a year—in spring and in the fall—around 8 nascent companies congregate at NewMe headquarters and buckle down for an intensive immersion in everything startup related. They learn skills for future success, work through their ideas, share stories of previous successes and failures, and brainstorm solutions.
The participants are also exposed to leaders in the industry, who give talks and provide mentorship throughout the duration of the program. These leaders are often drawn from a network that Benton herself has built through her own professional experience and through hosting conferences.
One such conference was the 2010 NewME Washington D.C. Conference which, according to the NewME website, included “some of the brightest minority led start-ups, seasoned business leaders, venture capitalist stakeholders and key government officials from the SBA, FCC, and NTIA (DOCO).”
The accelerator grew from the 2010 conference, launching in the spring of 2011. Since that time, they have gone through two cycles, graduating companies with a wide range of focuses. These include AgLocal, which connects farmers and producers with local businesses and consumers and Butlr, an online shopping game.
NewMe provides the ultimate co-working environment and Benton and her team believe that the intense focus fosters creativity and, ultimately, creates a network for alumni to tap into at the end of their session. That network is especially crucial, considering the dramatically low number of women and minorities in the tech world.
So who are they looking for? While Benton herself is both African-American and a woman, you don’t have to be both to participate in NewME. However, they do require that your Founder/CEO is either a minority or a woman in order for your company to qualify for their program.
They’re also looking for product-focused companies and companies looking to solve data problems through cloud computing. They specify that content-based companies (like digital publishing) are not really in their current field of interest but encourage companies in that field to apply anyway, just in case the idea is super awesome and they can’t resist.
While NewME isn’t currently offering funding, they’re providing something that is potentially even more valuable: a chance for people that traditionally haven’t had as much access to the tech world to break through. It’s a new accelerator but I’d be willing to bet that the money will follow soon as what they’re doing can only produce results.