Are Affinity Group Accelerators Helping or Hurting Minority and Female Entrepreneurs?

Recently, an interesting report from ICIC and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation about high tech incubator and accelerator programs revives the question of whether historically oppressed and/or underrepresented groups benefit from programs that segregate them from their white male counterparts. 

While today we still have all women’s colleges and HBCUs (from which I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively; full disclosure), which have consistently shown impressive outcomes for their graduates, we also believe strongly in the power of the¬†landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that made racial segregation in schools illegal in the United States when it threw out the idea of separate but equal ruling that separate was inherently unequal.

When discussing disparities in business performance between white male entrepreneurs and minority and/or female entrepreneurs, the disparities are attributable to 3 key barriers to success that disproportionately affect minorities and women: 1) a lack of business knowledge/education, 2) a lack of access networks, and 3) a lack of access to capital. Additionally, at least part of the lack of business knowledge and lack of access to capital is attributable to a lack of access to networks, so those networks are incredibly important in connecting business owners to the resources necessary for success.

It’s no surprise then that, while the ICIC report did find that mixed accelerators can often leave minority and female entrepreneurs feeling excluded and unwilling or unable to take full advantage of everything the programs offer, it also found that programs specific to certain groups are lacking because they do not provide the deep relationship building across groups that would be necessary to address the lack of access to networks problem.

As we continue to think about how we can change our entrepreneurship support models for minorities and women so that they begin to have some impact, which hasn’t occurred over the past 30 years, we need to be cognizant of the positives and negatives of continuing to segregate groups of entrepreneurs who need our help precisely because of some of the lingering effects of de jure and de facto segregation.

What do you think?



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