There are dozens of start-up accelerators — places where entrepreneurs can access shared services, advice, education and potential financing — around the country and especially in the San Francisco Bay area. But only one of them has a very special requirement: you have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender if you want to be a member.
The StartOut Growth Lab in San Francisco is jumping on a trend. The accelerator, which doesn’t invest in its participating companies, is joining other accelerators in the region and around the country that are devoting their resources toward minority groups such as Hispanics, African Americans, women and members of the LGBTQ community in an effort to address the lack of diversity found in many similar organizations.
To be accepted into the six-month program–which began back in April–a company must have at least one LGBTQ founder. Participants can enjoy access to office space, free legal advice and educational meetings and seminars from entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, investors and potential customers.
“Access is the name of the game,” the organization’s executive director Andres Wydler told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It’s access to capital, it’s access to business development opportunities — access is what we need to provide. And what we really need to do is mimic the unfair access that the typical groups have.”
Is this perhaps discriminatory? Not according to the data.
A study conducted by the group last year found that less than half of the 87 investors it surveyed could name just one openly gay LGBTQ founder in its portfolio and more than a third of the LGBTQ founders chose to remain in the closet while raising funds. The accelerator aims to change this dynamic by offering an environment where its entrepreneurs can be open about their lifestyle. Wydler believes that tailored programs like these can be a resource for both venture capitalists and investors and can attract capital and specialized talent for its like-minded individuals.
The accelerator’s freshman class–which includes a video marketing start-up, a social networking company run by a wife-and-wife team and a speed dating software firm — will graduate at the end of the year and applications are being accepted shortly for 2018.