Accenture's Kathryn Ross on cultivating VC funding for Black entrepreneurs

Accenture's Black Founders Development Program includes strategic investment in North America and expansion globally as well as community engagement and thought leadership.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Accenture's venture capital unit has launched the Accenture Black Founders Development Program with the aim of funding, mentoring and supporting Black entrepreneurs.

Kathryn Ross, lead for the Accenture Black Founders Development Program, is looking to bolster networks of entrepreneurs shut out from funding. Accenture's Black Founders Development Program includes strategic investment in North America and expansion globally as well as community engagement and thought leadership.

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We caught up with Ross to talk about the effort. Here's a recap of our conversation with Ross and key takeaways.

The less than 1% problem. Ross noted that venture funding to companies founded by Black founders represents less than 1% of the funding. Women founded companies, Latinx and other underrepresented groups are less than 3% total. Ross said:

It was a huge eyeopener looking into the VC community and understanding the billions of dollars that are delivered to startup and founders on a yearly basis, and of that number, less than 1% was going to Black founders. Anything that comes up a less than 1% is a rounding error, at the end of the day.

There's money being left on the table. Ross said the Accenture effort isn't about all about altruism. She said:

There's money being left on the table, right? There's innovation that's coming out of this community that we, from a corporate or a technology perspective, are not taking advantage of. And then there are Black founders who are not able to expand and grow their business, because they're not getting the funding necessary to help them evolve it.

More than capital. Ross said Accenture's Black Founders effort includes capital, but also connections, global expertise and platforms. Ross explained:

It's not about capital per se. Obviously we're a VC. We don't disclose how we fund. It really is about Accenture as a corporate venture capital, and our depth, breadth, and global expertise. We're able to, and we're going to be able to actually drive time to market. So absolutely, we're a VC and we will be investing in funding these startups, but even more so, we're going to be able to bring our clients', we're going to be able to bring our technology partners', as well as our own expertise to the table, so that these founders very quickly and earlier in their timeframe can validate that their solution is market relevant. That allows them to get funding from Accenture, but also from other VCs, because we're able to incubate. We've got labs globally, right? We're able to actually put them in place so they can be in front of a client, pitch their idea and evolve it with our assistance, and help, and support.

The returns. Ross said:

Obviously, we'd be very happy for any IPOs and any exits. We also have a part of our organization, which is all about delivering value to our clients. And so we can help these founders get business, actually drive solutions that we're able to help, and sell, and deliver to clients or introduce them to. I think that's a success as well. For me personally, one of the things that I want to make sure that I do is, we find that as an entrepreneur, you send out emails, you send requests, whether it's to VC or otherwise. And that can just go into a vacuum that you never hear anything back, right? Or if you do, you get the random no. I want to make sure that for everyone who reaches out to me, who touches me, that if I'm able to get them a step or two ahead. In many cases, Accenture may not be the answer. We may not be the solution for them, but if I can do warm introduction to someone who's able to get them a step or two ahead, that for me is personal success. Because then at least I've done my best to make sure that I'm educating, and I'm helping, and I'm using my network to help others.

Entrepreneurs start early. Ross explained:

I think that education as a whole has a huge role to play in this. Whether it's universities all the way down to K through 12. We need to make sure that we are actually teaching entrepreneurship, right? As an opportunity, and as a way forward. We know that for our children, it's what they see in the surroundings that can guide where they go, or they have a fantastic teacher, or a guidance counselor, or someone who educates them on the opportunities in the marketplace, and that entrepreneurship and creating your own business is absolutely an opportunity. For universities very specifically, and HBCUs, they haven't necessarily been a part of the technology stack. We obviously go to recruit, but actually go to actually inspire the creation of new companies, new businesses.

The next generation of ideas that we could use to create innovation for our clients going forward. I see universities, I see schools, I think I see this going down to STEM courses in K through 12 as well.

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