Funding the Future: Nex Cubed's HBCU Founders Fund Accelerator Prioritizes Black and Diverse Startups

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Funding the Future: Nex Cubed's HBCU Founders Fund Accelerator Prioritizes Black and Diverse Startups
Photographed by Alexis Jacobs, ButterbeanShots

Black founders have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing funding. Only 2% of VC dollars each year reach the hands of black founders and in 2022, they saw even less with a 45% decrease in funding.

Nex Cubed, a San Diego-based early stage accelerator is looking to change those percentages by prioritizing Black and diverse founders with its HBCU Founders Fund accelerator program.

“We've been investing since 2017,” Managing Director Mike Ma said, “primarily in fintech and digital health and we have always prided ourselves on looking at diverse and minority founders. 60% of our founders of that portfolio at a time have been women and underrepresented founders.”


Earlier this week, the venture firm announced the eight startups that will be participating in the accelerator program. They include: white-label social network solution AllPeep, patented mobile technology BE$TOW, e-learning and gaming platform Enrichly, online network GRADIFY, mobile cost estimator Guilde, insurtech company SoleSafe, loan management platform Spendebt and healthcare staff solutions Transition.

The talent pool among HBCUs have historically been undervalued, but this program shows that they are starting to take notice.

Enrichly founder Margo Jordan

Enrichly founder Margo Jordan is one of the entrepreneurs selected into the program and “as a Black woman founder who graduated from an HBCU, I've long known that traditional Silicon Valley investors often underestimate us,” she said.

“So imagine my astonishment when I discovered a fund created specifically for people like me,” Jordan continued. “Finally, the world is beginning to recognize the vast talent pool that HBCUs produce. We're not just creating tech startups, we're building unicorns and it's high time we received the support, resources, and tools to accelerate our growth. This fund makes me feel seen, valued, and respected. I'm thrilled to be part of a community that celebrates diversity and champions underrepresented voices in the tech industry.”

Nex Cubed is providing resources and capital to help level the playing field.

SoleSafe founder Phil Terrill

Ma said they received an overwhelming interest with a grand total of 275 applicants for this cohort. Another entrepreneur that solidified a spot in the Spring 2023 cohort is SoleSafe founder and Tuskegee University Alumnus Phil Terrill who is humbled and energized for the opportunity.

“As a founder, every day is a new opportunity to tell your story and make an impact in your space,” Terrill said. “A critical element is having investor partners that you want to join the journey. The cherry on top was knowing I would be alongside other incredible founders that come from great HBCUs like me.”

Terrill understands that being a founder is hard, but “being a diverse or HBCU (likely meaning the founders are black, brown, or from the African Diaspora) is even more difficult when it comes to raising capital,” he said. “When you see a fund "walk the walk" by investing dollars and resources into this community of founders is a clear example of impact while investing done right.”

The HBCU Founders Fund program lasts longer and each startup is paired up with two industry advisors.

Unlike other accelerators that last 10 or 12 weeks, HBCU Founders Fund accelerator is a sixteen week program that is customized for each startup. Each company will receive up to $400,000 in funding and the program culminates in an in-person showcase pitch event that will take place in Silicon Valley.

“We painstakingly handcraft the programming for each one of our companies,” Ma told dot.LA. “I handpick the advisors, and by the way our advisors are paid and compensated. They bring industry expertise. So if you're a health care company, I'm not going to assign you a fintech advisor.”

The advisors that were hired to guide the eight startups through the duration of the program include Rocket Lab director Merline Saintil, Juvo Ventures co-founder Maia Sharpley, Raydiant head of AI and innovation Trevor Sumner, Baypine operating partner Farhan Siddiqi and former Airbnb and Google business executive Nathalie Walton among many others.

Ma added, “Secondly, they've had to have been a founder themselves, or some CXO to understand the empathy that this group is going through and then either through exit or another fortune 500 job to know what it feels like to work in a large enterprise or a large government so that they can bring a broad swath of experience and functional expertise.”

Nex Cubed believes in the hybrid model and is confident it will provide its founders with the resources they need to succeed.

Nex will continue to run its programming in a hybrid fashion.

“We’ve been doing hybrid since 2017,” he said. “That's just how we operate and is one of our centers of excellence. One of our core beliefs is that virtual is great, but in person really helps sustain some of those relationships and amplifies them more vibrantly.”

In addition to the Founders Fund, Nex Cubed is also offering a free pre-accelerator program for HBCU students who are at the idea stage, but who are not quite ‘venture-ready’ through its HBCU Founders Initiative (HBCUFI) nonprofit. Ma said their nonprofit arm launched in 2020 and has continued to provide valuable resources to support and help aspiring founders reach their goals. In the last three years, over 600 students and alumni from over 75 HBCUs have participated in HBCUFI.

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LA Tech Week: Technology and Storytelling for Social Good

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech Week: Technology and Storytelling for Social Good
Photo taken by Decerry Donato

On Monday, Los Angeles-based philanthropic organization Goldhirsh Foundation hosted the Technology and Storytelling For Social Good panel at Creative Visions studio to kick off LA Tech week.

Tara Roth, president of the foundation, moderated the panel and gathered nonprofit and tech leaders including Paul Lanctot, web developer of The Debt Collective; Alexis Cabrera, executive director of 9 Dots; Sabra Williams, co-founder of Creative Acts; and Laura Gonzalez, senior program manager of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).

Each of the panelists are grantees of Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA2050, an initiative launched in 2011 that is continuously trying to drive and track progress toward a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles. Goldhirsh’s vision is to make Los Angeles better for all and in order to achieve their goal, the foundation makes investments into organizations, creates partnerships and utilizes social capital through community events.

The panelists shared how the work they are doing in each of their respective sectors uses technology to solve some of society's most pressing challenges and highlight the importance of tech literacy across every community.

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LA Tech Week Is Back! Here Are the Events We're Watching

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

LA Tech Week Is Back! Here Are the Events We're Watching
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.


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SUPERCHARGE LA: Access to Capital & Cocktails (LA TECH WEEK)

Are you excited for LA Tech Week's most anticipated event: SUPERCHARGE LA: Access to Capital & Cocktails? We can't wait to see you at 1212 Santa Monica on Wednesday, June 7th, from 6-10 p.m.

Get ready for an evening filled with networking, inspiration, and fun with special guests Grammy-winning singer and entrepreneur Miguel, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and more!

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