VCJ Report: NewMe Accelerator, MC Hammer and Magic Johnson Helping Drive Black Innovation: UPDATED

African Americans have long been under-represented in Silicon Valley and most other tech communities. But thanks to several new programs and fresh attitudes, that’s finally starting to change.

One promising program is the NewMe Accelerator, which recently wrapped up its inaugural nine-week program. A group of mostly black entrepreneurs from eight startups lived and worked in a rented house in Mountain View, Calif., sharing ideas, sharpening their technology and honing their pitch to investors.

Over the nine weeks, NewMe invited various members of the tech universe—including Tristan Walker of Foursquare; Greg Tseng, co-founder and CEO of Tagged; and MC Hammer, the onetime rapper-turned businessman—to visit the house and mentor the startups.

The whole idea behind NewMe is to act as entry point for black entrepreneurs into the Silicon Valley ecosystem, says NewMe founder Angela Benton.

“Black entrepreneurs feel disconnected from Silicon Valley and that has hindered their ability to grow and to even gain mentorship,” Benton (pictured) told VCJ contributor Tom Stein. “Another big impediment is that minority founders don’t even have access to that first round from friends and family to get off the ground.”

There is no venture fund currently attached to the NewMe Accelerator, but Benton says such a vehicle is in the works. NewMe is currently in talks with supporters to create a “pre-seed” fund that can invest anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 in participating startups.

One new fund that is already at work making sure that black entrepreneurs have access to capital is the 1-year-old Detroit Venture Partners (DVP). Although the fund was founded by three rich Jewish guys—including Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers—the idea is to DVP was started by Josh Linkner, founder and chairman of ePrize; Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers; and Brian Hermelin, founder and chairman of Rockbridge Growth Equity. DVP aims to fund digital technology businesses that are based in Detroit and that can bring jobs back to the ravaged city. (UPDATE: In the preceding paragraph, we deleted a remark that made reference to religious affiliation, which isn’t relevant to the story. We apologize to anyone offended by the remark. –Ed.)

The firm recently added NBA legend Ervin “Magic” Johnson as a partner.

“We saw an opportunity here in Detroit to rebuild our troubled region through high-tech entrepreneurship,” says Josh Linkner, DVP partner. “If we can help early stage companies scale dramatically, then we could really make an impact on our region and our city.”

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If you want to talk more about VCs investing in black entrepreneurs or other investment trends, send an email to VCJ editor Alastair Goldfisher at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter at @agoldfisher.

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