Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy Graduates Inaugural Cohort

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Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy

Diverse representation in mainstream culture and professional spaces has seen a positive trend in our society today, but marginalized groups are still in need of inclusion in the entrepreneurial sector. With this in mind, Ventureprise and City Startup Labs have designed a collaborative learning program that educates, empowers and inspires women and people from underrepresented communities.

Ventureprise is UNC Charlotte’s innovation and entrepreneurship center serving the University and the Charlotte region. It provides resources and expertise to advance university innovations and community-based startups. City Startup Labs’ mission is to close the entrepreneurial divide, where under-represented populations of African American millennials, as well as returning citizens (the formerly incarcerated), are not adequately participating in startup activity and business building. CSL creates this new class of entrepreneurs by providing a robust, accelerated, progressive, culturally relevant and disciplined approach to developing entrepreneurial talent, new venture creation and deployment.

The Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy’s mission is to help all graduating participants serve as leaders, mentors and decision makers in the North Carolina entrepreneurship ecosystem. Read more in Charlotte Inno’s recent coverage.

“The Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy was established to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem,” Ventureprise Director Devin Collins said. “The immediate objective of the program is to bring a diversity of perspectives to leadership and decision-making roles in the ecosystem. The long-term objective of the program is to impact the gender and racial disparities that exist within the innovation process.”

The program is part of an initiative funded by the SBA and NC IDEA Foundation. Ventureprise was one of ten national recipients for the U.S. Small Business Administration and National Science and Technology Council’s Lab-to-Market Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem Prize. This award recognizes organizations that address inclusivity, innovation and sustainable growth within its programming. Read about it here.

Ventureprise was also awarded with a 2020 NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant, given to 17 organizations across the state that demonstrated a focus on supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs. The NC IDEA foundation has a mission to help North Carolinians achieve their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies with competitive grants and funding.

“Once we had the funding, it was just a matter of designing the curriculum and then finding out if we could recruit anyone to participate,” Collins said. “The good news, of course, is that our first cohort was oversubscribed and now we are off running.”

For the inaugural cohort of the Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy, participants attended four workshops over the course of two weeks, which were provided by Ventureprise, City Startup Labs, Georgia Tech Venture Labs and the NC IDEA Foundation. The programming covered entrepreneurial thinking, mentoring startups, Lean LaunchPad methodology, customer discovery practice and venture readiness and review. One of the biggest lessons learned from many leaders, coaching versus consulting. Ashley Love, CFO and COO at Defiance Ventures, stated, “I am more conscious now of leading people to a thought via questions versus feeding them potential answers to get them going.”

Upon completing these workshops, the participants served as NC IDEA Micro Grant reviewers for startups seeking funding through the NC IDEA Fall 2021 cycle grant program. The Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy culminated in a Match Day event, a session where eight North Carolina entrepreneurial organizations pitched opportunities for academy graduates to serve in leadership, mentorship and decision-making roles in their respective groups.

“We hope that the immediate impact will be a greater number of women and minorities serving as mentors, advisors, and ecosystem decision-makers,” Collins said. “We think if this is successful, the downstream outcomes will greatly benefit the innovators and entrepreneurs in the Charlotte community by improving education and training programs, access to capital, and expanding networks that are essential in gathering resources to launch a new business. Certainly, the model we are building, if successful, could be expanded across North Carolina and beyond.” From a participant perspective, JJ Consulting’s Founder and Chief Innovation Consultant Jenny Jackson emphasized, “Hearing that decision-makers are aware that a gap exists AND needs to be addressed between the startup landscape and women innovators/innovators of color [was a big surprise].”

This year’s inaugural cohort had 18 participants, (13 females and 5 males) who came from various backgrounds and business fields. 29% of the class represented the technology industry, with another 29% identifying as entrepreneurs. The rest of the participants identified multiple backgrounds, including product design (24%), non-profit (18%), business development (18%), marketing (12%), energy (12%) and education (6%).

Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy at a glance: