Techstars Equitech Accelerator is a collaboration between Techstars—the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed—and UpSurge Baltimore, an organization that envisions building the country’s first Equitech city while cultivating a tech-for-all ecosystem in Baltimore. Harnessing the creative ingenuity of local Baltimore residents and beyond, leaders throughout the city are aligning to build an inclusive innovation economy led by this alliance.
“The future belongs to creative builders and smart risk-takers, so we’re excited to announce the Techstars Equitech Accelerator’s second class of ten early-stage companies,” Managing Director Adam Phillip states. “This was an extremely competitive application process that has produced an impressive group of high-growth, tech and tech-enabled companies that we have the privilege of working with for the next thirteen weeks.”
We spoke with Phillips to learn more about Techstars Equitech Accelerator program, the importance of supporting Black women in tech, and more.
EBONY: Talk about the significance of the Techstars Equitech Accelerator program.
Adam Phillips: A city that doesn't understand that it needs a whole gamut of businesses available to the people who live there is going to lose opportunities. A tech accelerator aims at a specific part of the economy, the tech and high-growth economy. That tends to be the most interesting to some when they think of growing the economy, but it’s not the only one. It's inspirational. If a city wants to have an innovative economy at all, it needs to have some big wins. It needs to have big solutions it can point to and say, "hey, look what we did." Everybody can take pride in that.
How will the innovative ideas from the founders directly impact Baltimore's economy?
Techstars is a global investment company with accelerators from Lagos to Denmark and Oakland to Boston. Baltimore is one of the more recent accelerators in the U.S. Equitech is a concept birthed here in Baltimore by our partner UpSurge Baltimore. We love the vision, and it fits perfectly with what Techstars does and how we approach investing in general. With Equitech, the point is to build an innovation economy that works for everybody. Knowing that UpSurge is doing that throughout the value chain of the city from small business to high growth, we think that a place like Baltimore really benefits from that multipronged approach.
We have some ideas that are high-growth, tech-enabled businesses that have innovation that benefits everyone when they win, such as a health tech business that benefits the mental health of Black and Brown young folks. We also have a community-minded gig platform that essentially does climate-benefit work that makes gig work fair and upscaled so that gig workers get brought along in the economy. So, we use the Equitech lens here when looking at the founders and/or the ideas to really build something. In a place like Baltimore, you're going to want to have people who win, and we think we've done that. It's particularly appropriate in a place like Baltimore, but we think there's benefits all over the country and world.
Can you speak to the importance of tech accelerators being grounded in diversity?
Diversity is not a charity case. It's a strategy. It's really about offering different opportunities than typically tried, and that's what investors are looking for all the time. They're looking for an edge, and diversity is that edge. You're hobbling yourself if you don't take advantage of all the kinds of people that a city has available to excel and benefit everyone.
Since it's Women's History Month, why is it important to empower Black women tech entrepreneurs?
There are so many reasons it makes sense to empower Black women tech entrepreneurs, but I will speak to two of mine. First, I invested in 4 Black women (out of the 10 companies) here because I was impressed with them as founders AND loved their business ideas. Flat out. I didn't need any other reason but that. Secondly, though, it also just makes sense to invest in places where other investors are failing to notice opportunity. Historically, Black women tech entrepreneurs have been underfunded, so as an investor who is looking to find alpha, I see that as an invitation to look for investments among Black women tech entrepreneurs. No surprise that when I looked, I found great options.
What has been a proud moment for you as you've mentored these rising tech stars, and what do you look forward to in the coming weeks/months?
I'm most proud of the "family dinner" nights we do once a week when one of the founders tells their "origin-story" to the others, and we all sit around a meal and just enjoy being together. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road, so knowing that these founders have built genuine community with one another makes me very proud and incredibly optimistic about their chances of weathering the coming ups-and-downs of building their businesses.