UMSL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator provides capital, mentorship to underrepresented entrepreneurs

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator

A participant in the inaugural EQ Accelerator pitches her business idea to a panel of judges. The newly launched Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator will provide six startup founders from underrepresented populations with $50,000 in funding, access to an eight-week business development program, mentorship, interns, incubator space and more. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Startup founders from underrepresented populations could earn $50,000 in funding through the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator.

The program, announced Tuesday, is funded through sponsorships from Ameren, Edward Jones, Express Scripts and private donors. It’s designed to boost early stage, scalable for-profit startups and companies that directly and positively impact underserved communities. The DEI Accelerator includes an eight-week business development program focused on supporting entrepreneurs from marginalized communities.

“This accelerator was born out of a shared vision for a regional startup ecosystem where all entrepreneurs have equal access to growing their businesses,” said Monique Bynum, the program’s managing director. “The founders’ success will have a lasting impact on their communities for decades to come.”

Applications are open through Oct. 26, and a public information session is scheduled for Oct. 13. Six founders will be accepted in the first round of funding and will receive $50,000 in non-dilutive capital to support their businesses. They will also be given access to a business development course, mentors, paid UMSL student interns, assistance with grant applications, technology support and incubator space.

The program will conclude in March 2021 with a demo day, allowing founders to showcase their businesses to community members, UMSL students and faculty and potential investors.

“St. Louis is home to an abundance of entrepreneurial talent with good ideas, but not everyone has the same access to opportunity,” said Dan Lauer, executive director of UMSL Accelerate. “We are doing our part in moving the needle through significant capital injection. UMSL students will have an opportunity to be paid interns. We will engage the entire Alumni Association to be mentors and connectors and we will invite our brilliant faculty to, once we know who the winning founders are, socialize to see if amplification through further research, consulting and grant applications might be possible.”

The DEI Accelerator is expected to attract early stage entrepreneurs throughout the St. Louis region. Diverse founders are encouraged to apply regardless of socioeconomic background, education level, race, ethnicity, age, gender, immigration status or lived experience.

UMSL has long been a national leader in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion to promote social mobility through education and a regional advocate for entrepreneurship and economic development. The DEI Accelerator, UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said, represents an innovative way to meld those strengths to support the community.

“We are excited to join three outstanding like-minded corporate partners in launching this first-of-its-kind effort to support the growth of minority-owned businesses,” she said. “This demonstrates – that to us – inclusive prosperity should be and must be the foundation upon which St. Louis rests its economic future.”

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