Entrepreneurs selling skin-care products, gourmet popcorn and baby food are among the participants in the second edition of UMSL Accelerate's diversity, equity and inclusion accelerator.
The program, which began a year ago with six companies, selected five more entrepreneurs Wednesday. Each winner, chosen from among 189 applicants, will receive a $50,000 grant and participate in an eight-week mentoring and business development program. They also will receive in-kind resources that the University of Missouri St. Louis values at $200,000 apiece.
The accelerator is sponsored by Ameren, Edward Jones and some anonymous donors. Ameren and Edward Jones have committed to funding the program through 2025.
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The program was created to narrow an entrepreneurship gap that's especially wide in St. Louis. Nationally, Blacks and Latinos represent 28% of the population but just 8% of business owners. A Lending Tree analysis in 2019 ranked St. Louis last among 50 large metro areas for the success of Black-owned businesses.
“We are so pleased with the traction our inaugural cohort has seen since completing the program and can’t wait to see what this year’s founders will accomplish," Dan Lauer, executive director of UMSL Accelerate, said in a statement.
The companies that will participate in the DEI Accelerator this spring are:
- Butter Love, a skin-care products company founded by La’Crassia Wilderness.
- Nebula Media Group, a builder of websites accessible to people with disabilities, founded by Will Bubenik.
- Picky Eaterz, a fresh baby food company founded by Paris Rollins.
- Pop Pop Hooray! Gourmet Popcorn, founded by Tony Davis.
- VR Creative, a brand strategy firm founded by Valeria Rodriguez.