Welcome to The Hub, your spot for venture capital, accelerator and incubator news. In this news roundup, we’ll provide you with the latest on organizations working to support, educate and fund innovators and their ideas. We’ll highlight cohort applications, people to know in the incubator world and programs working to give resources to those who typically don’t have access elsewhere. As always, we’re focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs — such as women, people of color, and those geographically outside power centers — and organizations supporting these demographics.
Have a piece of news or a job listing you think will fit into this roundup? Email it to Skyler Rossi at [email protected].
How Polsky Center Helped A Chicago Entrepreneur Expand A CBD Shop
When Tiffany Joi first created her CBD oil, the Chicago founder wasn’t planning on starting a business. Instead, she was trying to help her mom cope with her constant body pain. It wasn’t long before relatives and friends were messaging her to get their hands on the ache-relieving oil, and Joi realized the demand. So she opened Hemp Heals Body Shop.
She took to selling her CBD creams and balms at farmers markets. But as her business expanded over the last three years, she soon hit a major roadblock: because CBD is not legal at the federal level, she couldn’t run advertisement campaigns on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook. So she turned to the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and its Small Business Growth Program, which connects students with small business owners to consult on barriers and roadblocks they’re facing.
Students worked with Joi last summer to identify marketing strategies, areas to improve her website and several businesses in Chicago she could potentially partner with to get her products on store shelves. At the end, she walked away with a 50 page document, which she said she still refers back to.
“Everything that they did for me was just above and beyond what I thought I was getting myself into,” she said. “To this day, I’m still implementing pretty much everything that they’ve given me.”
Amidst the pandemic, the free program expanded to reach more business owners in more parts of Illinois, Isra Omar, its director, said. Typically, the program, which is mostly funded by JP Morgan Chase, aids companies based in West and South Chicago, but in a partnership with the University of Illinois, its students also reached businesses in the Urbana-Champaign area, southwest of the city, Omar said. Plus, because it was a summer program, the cohort’s typical 30 or so students could work full time and were able to take on 21 businesses, double the number when classes are in session.
The expanded program will run again this summer, Omar said. The center is accepting applications for this cohort of the program, which are due April 12.
Currently, Joi is part of another University of Chicago program — the L1 Accelerator, which is sponsoring a storefront for its three fellows under the Chicago Transport Authority Green Line, located in Washington Park along the 300 E Block of historic Garfield Boulevard, according to its website. Next month, the brick and mortar location will open, Joi said.
Omar is part of a 60-person team at the Polsky Center.
$1M Initiative For Black Entrepreneurs in Detroit, Backed By TCF Bank
Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance, a group that aims to amplify and support Black entrepreneurs and business owners in the city, launched last week, the Detroit Free Press reports. The group is backed by $1 million from Wayzata, Minnesota-based TCF Bank, according to the article. It plans to advocate for Black entrepreneurs and develop programs to provide them with more resources. One project its president Charity Dean has in mind is a business resource center with a coworking space and internet access, she told reporter Adrienne Roberts.
Coworking Space and Lab Opens In Buffalo, New York
The University of Buffalo launched a new incubator to support and grow entrepreneurship in Buffalo, according to a university news release. The incubator, called Incubator @CBLS, is part of a $32 million initiative funded by New York State through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The initiative, called Innovation Hub, is a partnership between the university, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Jacobs Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and Kaleida Health, according to the release. Its 42,000 square foot space was designed to facilitate collaboration, and includes a wet and dry lab for life sciences research. It’s $150 per month for the co-working membership and $900 per month for a lab pay, according to a price pamphlet. Spaces are open for students, faculty or anyone in the Buffalo community. To apply for a spot, fill out this inquiry form on the university’s website and Rachel Boruszewski, the finance and operations assistant at the university’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnership, will reach out, she said.
Twin Cities Plan To Support Growing Food and Agriculture Startups
The Twin Cities’ economic development organization, Greater MSP, has launched a food and agriculture program called “Bold Growth,” which its directors are describing as a “post-accelerator,” Minnie Inno reports. It’s for companies that have either already completed an accelerator program or who have shown significant growth. The program’s goal is to create the next big food companies in the area, according to the article. It’s part of a partnership of over a dozen food companies, such as Cargill Inc. and Target Corp., and is co-led by Grow North, an organization that supports food and agriculture entrepreneurship in the state, and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. There are five companies in its first cohort, including Minneapolis-based agriculture-analytics software company Sentera and Minneapolis-based juice-shot company So Good So You, according to the website.
Incubator For Travel Companies
The Travel and Meetings Society is launching a free incubator for early to mid-stage startups in the travel industry, Business Travel News reports. The planned six-month program will accept five or six companies, the program’s co-founder Hansini Sharma told BTN. Those selected will be paired up with mentors, with the goal to position each company to be able to raise their first rounds of funding, according to the article. The program will start in July and applications will launch in May, according to the article
Names to Know
Justin Urso is the new director of the McMillion Innovation Studio at the University of Arkansas, according to a University of Arkansas news release. He co-founded several companies, such as custom website design company Concord Adams, which he served as a strategy consultant on, too, retail technology company Skosay, where he had Tyson Foods and Kellogg’s as clients, and Big Box Karaoke, a popular bar and restaurant in Fayetteville, according to the release. He’ll be working part time as the director for now, but plans to transition to the position full time this year.
Sophan Smith has been chosen to be the new executive director at Lowell, Massachusetts- based Entrepreneurship for All, the Lowell Sun reports. She was previously a development officer at Junior Achievement of Northern New England, an organization working to help young people learn how to succeed in the global economy. The position brings her back to her hometown, according to the Sun. The accelerator supports entrepreneurs in ten mid-sized cities across the country, mainly in Massachusetts. Since its launch in 2010, its alumni have launched more than 500 businesses and created more than 700 local jobs, according to E for all.
Black Media Companies Partner with Warner Bros for Screenwriting Competition
MACRO, The Black List and Warner Bros have teamed up to create an incubator for people of color to develop a film idea to pitch to Warner Bros, Deadline reports. The incubator, called The MACRO x The Black List Feature Screenwriter Incubator, is searching for one screenwriter, who will receive $10,000 to further develop their idea and the chance to pitch and receive a deal. However, more than one person will have the chance to pitch their idea in front of MACRO and The Black List before a winner is selected. Applications are due August 1, but apply before April 19 to be considered for the 500 fee waivers the group is offering.
Shared Storefront for Designers Opens in Georgetown
A storefront for designers opened in Georgetown in Washington D.C. this week, and it’s looking for more tenants. The program, called Concept 31/M offers 22,000 square feet of shared brick and mortar location for startup designers or established ones testing out the Georgetown market, WTOP news reports. Currently, the store is hosting jewelry designers Kicheko Goods, and Isabel Alexander, as well as sandal maker Laiik, frame and art store Ubioubi and athleisure apparel producer Flex All Day, according to the article. Designers in the Georgetown area can apply on the storefront’s website.