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.

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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