Oct. 16, 2023
Ebony JJ Curry
On Monday, Michigan Central, in partnership with Newlab, announced the initiation of a groundbreaking fellowship program specifically tailored to aid startups led by minority and female founders. This program is an embodiment of a broader effort to make strides in the realms of diversity and inclusion within the tech sector.
The initiative draws its foundation from the Michigan Central Equitable Ecosystem Fund, a half-a-million-dollar endeavor aiming to sculpt an environment where every founder, regardless of their background, stands on an equal platform, poised to make their mark on the future of technology. This significant effort is made possible through a collaborative public-private partnership, amalgamating efforts from Michigan Central, the City of Detroit, and the State of Michigan via the Michigan Strategic Fund.
Accepted fellows of this program will not only be ushered into a one-year membership with Newlab at Michigan Central but will also receive an award of $30,000. What’s especially notable is that the program’s outreach extends to encompass founders from a broad spectrum of underrepresented backgrounds, encompassing various ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and even economic experiences.
Reflecting on the composition of Newlab at Michigan Central, the data reveals that almost half of their 47 startups are spearheaded by at least one founder who identifies as a woman, African American, or Latinx. This data was shared by the nonprofit and wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Co.
Katie Soven, the head of membership for Newlab at Michigan Central, articulated the pressing need for such an initiative in a press release: “The statistics speak volumes: Women, Black and Latinx founders receive only a fraction of the venture capital funding compared to their white male counterparts. These underrepresented communities are confronted with systemic challenges that have not been adequately addressed by the traditional tech startup space. Though 50% is a good start, more must be done to help shrink the gap by helping more founders not only enter the ecosystem but thrive in it. At Newlab, we are committed to dismantling these barriers and fostering an inclusive community that empowers all entrepreneurs to succeed.”
To be a part of this transformative journey, startups must focus on addressing pressing issues in domains like mobility, energy, or materials. The fellows will also be endowed with access to state-of-the-art facilities at Newlab at Michigan Central located in Corktown. Here, they will plunge into a series of entrepreneurial workshops, including those that fine-tune pitching skills and commercial deal structuring, all designed keeping in mind the unique challenges underrepresented founders grapple with.
Joshua Sirefman, the Chief Executive Officer of Michigan Central, echoed the sentiment of unity and inclusivity: “At Michigan Central, startups, the community and industry are coming together to solve some of the world’s biggest mobility challenges, and not just physical mobility but social, as well. A key pillar of our vision is ensuring our community is diverse and inclusive — both crucial elements for fostering innovation and driving real change in the tech ecosystem. We know the startup journey is challenging and that there are distinct hurdles along the way, especially for founders from underrepresented communities. This program is a key step in removing some of those barriers to help innovation thrive.”
In addition to the Fellowship Program, the Michigan Central Equitable Ecosystem Fund also backs the Community Builders in Residence Program and the Builders & Backers Fall Idea Accelerator. The former program has seen Newlab at Michigan Central onboarding two community builders in residence. Their mission? To guarantee a diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem, ensuring underrepresented founders get the support they rightly deserve. On the other hand, the Builders & Backers bootcamp equips founders with an opportunity to breathe life into their ideas, backed by a $5,000 pebble grant. After this stage, Michigan Central steps in, connecting these visionaries with the resources they need. Historically, 53% of their founders have been women, while 57% identify as Black, indigenous, or people of color.
With initiatives like these, the future looks brighter, with promise and potential brimming at every corner for every founder, regardless of their background.