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Venture capitalist Wheat to lead startup accelerator program focused on equity in tech

7/6/21

Crain’s Detroit Business

By Nick Manes

Monica Wheat, a longtime veteran of the Detroit-area venture capital and startup community, is exporting some of her talents to a new accelerator in Charm City.

Wheat has been named the managing director of Techstars Equitech Accelerator, a Baltimore-based program “for startups from any sector that are grounded in the values of diversity, led by founders from underestimated communities, or developing technologies that increase access and equity across society.”

Wheat plans to continue her work as executive director, co-founder and partner with Detroit-based Venture Catalysts, a startup and ecosystem development consulting nonprofit. Wheat also has ample experience working with other Techstars programs in the past, including the now-defunct Detroit program.

Wheat told Crain’s the Equitech program will have three main thesis points as it seeks to recruit companies from around the country to participate:

  • looking at under-represented founders, by race, gender, sexual orientation, ability status
  • looking for companies that have diversity and inclusion at the core of their strategy
  • focusing on tech companies that are building products that increase equity and access for the broader society

“We’re looking to figure out ways to amplify companies who are using diversity as a force multiplier,” Wheat told Crain’s in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. “When we do that, there’s a strong bet from the Equitech accelerator and the folks backing it that will them allow them to prove the thesis of how it works and that there’s opportunity in the investment.”

The accelerator is backed by Upsurge Baltimore and companies that wind up participating will be eligible for investment of up to $120,000.

Wheat, who will spend considerable time in Baltimore later this year, said much of the next several months will be spent focused on recruiting companies for the accelerator, which is scheduled to begin in November. From there, she said the focus will turn toward getting companies through the onboarding process with Techstars, which operates upward of 40 accelerator programs around the globe for startup companies.

The nascent Equitech accelerator, while based in Baltimore, fits in with much of the work that Wheat has been in Detroit and other “emerging markets” for over a decade.

“So Baltimore, even though it is closer to the East Coast, it’s definitely an emerging market that is rebranding itself,” said Wheat. “So I think there’s a lot of similarities between Baltimore and Detroit in that they are putting a stake in the sand by saying this is what we are and this is what we do. They’re looking to attract companies that might find this attractive for this accelerator.”

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