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Venture Investor to Back Underserved Tech Entrepreneurs

Smartphones in business meeting

(Rawpixel, Pixabay)

17 Mar. 2021. An investment company is offering training and seed funds to budding women technology entrepreneurs, and those in LGBTQ, racial, and ethnic minority communities. Applications open on 29 Mar. for 14-week fellowships and up to $200,000 in financing from Visible Hands, a venture capital company in Boston.

Visible Hands aims to break down racial, ethnic, and gender obstacles faced by people with ideas for start-up businesses. In a manifesto published in July 2020, the company noted …

High-growth entrepreneurship should not be reserved for the privileged few. We need to shine a light inwards on our collective blindspots, and cast out a wider and more inclusive net to find and support existing talent. Instead of relying on unseen market forces, we’re taking matters into our own hands. No one should have to look a certain way to be deemed deserving; great entrepreneurs are all around us but we must choose to see them. By sharing our privileges with those not born into it and manufacturing fairness where it doesn’t yet exist, we can fundamentally change access to wealth and opportunity in this generation.

To achieve this goal, Visible Hands offers a fellowship program that combines training in entrepreneurship, management, and finance to build a new enterprise. Fellowship participants receive an initial $25,000 pre-seed investment during the 14-week training period. Most of the fellowship is conducted virtually, although some in-person meetings are also planned. The fellowship period likewise provides participants with opportunities to build and test technical prototypes, as well as find business partners and mentors.

“Women and people of color make up 70 percent of the population, but received less than 10 percent of funding,” says Visible Hands co-founder and general partner Yasmin Cruz Ferrine in an emailed statement to Science & Enterprise. “We have set out to offer a fellowship program that is working to close the Grand Canyon-sized funding gap within the tech community.”

Seeking early-stage tech entrepreneurs

Visible Hands seeks participants aiming to be founders of high-growth technology businesses, although not usually in biotechnology or life sciences that require extended research and development. Fellowships are reserved for people with gender or racial identities underrepresented today in the technology world: women, non-binary and trans people, and Black, Latinx, and Indigenous American people.

While founders of existing companies may apply, the program favors individuals in the early stages of company development. The fellowships require a full commitment from participants, thus full-time students and others not able to devote their full attention to the program are discouraged.

Fellowship applicants need to complete a series of steps for acceptance. After written applications that open on 29 Mar., candidates are asked to submit recorded responses to interview questions. Candidates then take part in a virtual skills review with Visible Hands partners, followed by a group interview with other candidates to pitch and discuss their ideas. Visible Hands plans to send out offers to fellowship participants in July. The company’s first fellowship program runs 13 Sept. to 17 Dec. 2021.

After the fellowship, participants will have a chance to pitch their ideas to a Visible Hands investment committee for additional $175,000 in seed funds. As with the initial $25,000, these investments are made as convertible notes, short-term loans paid back in equity shares, of up to a 10 percent stake.

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