Spelman receives $750K grant to boost local Black entrepreneurs

The three-year grant will help give dozens of founders access to mentorship, training and investors
Views of Spelman College in Atlanta shown on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Views of Spelman College in Atlanta shown on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Spelman College has received a nearly $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce for a new incubator program for local entrepreneurs, which will be housed at the school’s Center for Black Entrepreneurship.

Over the next three years, the Launch Incubator For Traction (LIFT) will give 48 early-stage Black tech founders in the metro area (16 per year) access to mentorship, investors, education and other local resources.

The Center for Black Entrepreneurship (CBE) will use the grant to hire a program manager, instructors, coaches and mentors for the program, according to Grant Warner, executive director of the CBE.

The grant, announced last week, comes from the Commerce Department’s “Build to Scale” program, which aims to increase access to support and capital for tech entrepreneurs. Out of the 60 organizations across the country that received “Build to Scale” grants in this cohort, Spelman is the only one in Georgia.

The CBE launched in February 2021 as a partnership between Spelman, Morehouse College and the Black Economic Alliance Foundation.

“The mission is to unlock Black entrepreneurial talent and connect it to capital and commercial markets to build Black wealth,” Warner said about the CBE.

The center was started with $10 million in seed funding from Bank of America and has since received millions more from corporations like Mastercard and Cisco. It has also expanded its programming to include graduate education at Clark Atlanta University.

LIFT will have virtual and in-person programming and is aimed at STEM companies, particularly in industries like biotech, artificial intelligence and financial technology. Warner said they are looking for founders who are past the ideation stage but are still in the early to mid-stages of building the business.

Alongside the Commerce Department grant, the CBE has also received a nearly $780,000 local match. The Daraja Collective, Georgia Tech, TiE Atlanta, Invest Atlanta and the mayor’s office are all supporting the effort in different ways.

“When we think about the program, part of it was focused on bringing in resources and assets from across Atlanta to support Black tech entrepreneurs,” Warner said.

Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, is providing $320,000 in in-kind support, making up nearly half of the local match. The agency is offering technical assistance to a portion – 32 – of the LIFT entrepreneurs through its ATLinBusiness program, which includes a network of business consultants who specialize in marketing and finance, according to Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta.

“The in-kind support is funded through Invest Atlanta’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation, which concludes at the end of 2024. We are looking into another funding source to extend this into the third year of the LIFT program,” according to Klementich.

Warner said the Daraja Collective is helping develop curriculum and Georgia Tech will be contributing expertise, particularly through its Center for MedTech Excellence. TiE Atlanta will be providing mentors.

Applications for the program are slated to open sometime in the first three months of next year and Warner hopes to pick the first 16 participants in the spring.

The entrepreneurs will be in the LIFT program for a total of six months. The first three months will include a variety of programming, mentorship and coach-facilitated small groups. Then, they will pitch at a demo day. After that, the founders will get three more months of dedicated mentor support to develop their product roadmaps.

After those six months, they will then enter Invest Atlanta’s program. The CBE is also paying for the founders to be part of the nonprofit Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, which will give them additional support.

Warner also sees the LIFT program and the Center for Black Entrepreneurship as a way to help a burgeoning effort to create planning districts around Georgia HBCUs that can help promote innovation and economic prosperity in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We hope that [the CBE] provides an example of how HBCUs can transform the communities around them,” Warner said. “Really promote economic transformation without gentrification.”

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