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Cincinnati Business Courier: Helping Greater Cincinnati Minority Entrepreneurs Succeed

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Washington, December 4, 2017 | comments

A decade ago, Ohio was considered a fly-over state. But today, the state is gaining ground on big startup regions. Cincinnati in particular has seen a number of changes in the past few years, including more capital, mentors, incubators and accelerators ready to guide the next generation of innovators.  

With a goal of pitching ideas to investors during a demo day – think “Shark Tank” – accelerators put entrepreneurs through a fixed-term, group-based program that focuses on mentorships. 

Though the accelerator model is not new, women and minorities still only make up a small share of accelerator participants. Fortunately, minority and women-focused accelerators have increasingly opened their doors over the last few years, many of which are right here in Cincinnati. 

The Hillman Accelerator was launched this year by former Cincinnati Bengals star Dhani Jones, Candice Matthews and Ebow Vroom with the intent of increasing diversity in tech startups, particularly among minority and women entrepreneurs. 

On July 10, 2017, Hillman welcomed its pilot cohort for a four-month program for tech companies led by underrepresented – African-American, Hispanic, Asian and/or woman – founders. Hillman invested $100,000 per founding team and delivered invaluable services such as business modeling, fundraising leadership, strategy development and legal consultations that helped position the teams for growth. 

According to the Minority Entrepreneur Connectivity Assessment, a study released earlier this year by Sean Rugless at the Katalyst Group, ethnic minority firms make up only 3 to 4 percent of the total clients served by state-supported pre-seed funds in Ohio.

On May 3, the House Committee on Small Business heard from entrepreneurs who are using their resources and knowledge to help other entrepreneurs succeed. 

One witness, Ms. Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Circular Board in Houston, told the committee, “If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion. Yet in spite of this, less than 5 percent of venture capital goes to female founders, and when we start to look at minorities, the numbers are significantly lower.”

Hillman is tearing down these walls as it seeks to empower underrepresented communities in tech by investing in their ideas, developing their talent and creating a runway for their future. 

In their first 12 weeks, Hillman’s pilot cohort created 11 new full-time jobs and four part-time jobs, helped a company secure a paid contract with a large hospital system, engaged business and community mentors throughout the region for more than 400 volunteer hours and attracted over $2 million in venture capital from outside the state of Ohio.

As the Small Business Committee continues to fight for small businesses, accelerators like Hillman will make Ohio a leader in technology and innovation for entrepreneurs.

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