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Minding the Gap: Re:Generate funds grants for Black, Hispanic founders
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VOLUNTEERS rallying under the "Re:Generate" banner and closely allied with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC) are redoubling their efforts to recruit timely philanthropic contributions to help Black and Hispanic business founders overcome critical early-stage funding gaps that often thwart the efforts of founders of color to gain business traction.

While access to investment capital and other financing is critical in starting and scaling a business, it remains true that "structural disparities in wealth and income put [minority] founders on an uneven footing with their non-minority peers," according to the NEC's website today.

Interviewed for this story, Re:Generate team members displayed a clear sense of both resolve and urgency as they discussed the capital gap, and their determination to advance and expand the award of non-dilutive grants to promising entrepreneurs during Winter 2024 and beyond.

For a deeper dive on the minority funding gap, see the Re:Generate pitchdeck here; a brief overview by Re:Generate here; plus, this quite penetrating Kauffman Foundation report.

'Round the clock, donors will find Re:Generate in the pulldown menu on the NEC site here.

Shani Dowell

Re:Generate Co-leaders Shani Dowell MBA (the entrepreneurial founder of edtech startup Possip) and Emily Barton Freitag (cofounder of nonprofit Instruction Partners) began pursuing their pro bono mission in 2021, working from the start alongside staff of the NEC's Twende program for founders of color.

Notably, Co-leader Dowell was recently named a 2023 Market Mover winner in NEC's NEXT Awards.

As part of Re:Generate's expanding outreach efforts, in mid-November the team gathered a small, coffee-infused batch of local entrepreneurship advocates in a huddle at the coffee bar adjoining NEC offices.

That morning, the team explained it sought donors, advocates and suggestions for advancing Re:Generate efforts.

Those efforts had in the preceding two years resulted in disbursement of a total $175K in grants of up to $10K each to qualified minority-owned startup founders. A report on Re:Generate's 2022 cohort of grantees is here.

As of Nov. 28, the Re:Generate push was viewed as on-pace to raise at least $100K in fresh donations in CY2023 (not counting recent donor commitments that are likely to be executed early in early 2024), according to a Re:Generate advisor.

Emily Freitag

More recently, Co-leader Freitag seemed to sum-up the not-for-profit group's motivation, telling Venture Nashville, "We know Nashville will be a stronger and more vibrant city for everyone if we support early-stage Black and Brown entrepreneurs."

Under a services arrangement, the NEC provides some administrative support for the otherwise independent Re:Generate effort.

The NEC bolsters Re:Generation's efforts with time allocated to the cause by NEC Program Manager Em Wilder and by contractor Ben Schumacher MBA, both of whom have substantial experience in education community engagement, student development and related functions.

Program Manager Wilder's responsibilities including recruiting and convening members of a committee that vets Re:Generate grant candidates. The vetting committee's members are not disclosed.

VNC understands that grants from funds produced via Re:Generate are administratively disbursed via the NEC, directly to founder-recipients, and not via the Twende program.

Given the complementary roles of NEC-Twende and Re:Generate, it's worth noting that Twende's operating budget has been partly funded by the State of Tennessee via its Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) for state fiscal years from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2024.

Yesterday, a TNECD spokesperson told VNC, "The Twende program was a non-recurring, 3-year commitment put into the ECD budget as a direct appropriation starting in FY22. The FY24 appropriation is the final of those 3 years and, to our knowledge, there is no FY25 request for this purpose."

As VNC previously reported, that 3-year commitment was a result of a proposal placed before Gov. Bill Lee by then-NEC CEO Jane Allen, which resulted in Gov. Bill Lee's direct request for the funding.

Sam Davidson

Asked today about State funding for Twende, current NEC CEO Sam Davidson told VNC, "We are planning to make key asks to ensure continued funding. I'd rather not go into detail about that at the moment, but we're confident in our ability to keep growing Twende."

The NEC board of directors and ex officio members are listed here. The NEC board is chaired by Robert A. "Bobby" Frist Jr., who is founder and CEO of HealthStream.

The "gap" challenge in Tennessee doesn't exist in a vacuum: See the latest forward-looking report on the Tennessee economy here.

Other startup diversity coverage by VNC here. VNC

.last edited 1607 20 December 2023


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Tags: Ben Schumacher, Bill Lee, Black founders, Blacks, Bobby Frist, capital, diversity, economic development, Em Wilder, Emily Freitag, equity, HealthStream, Hispanic, Instruction Partners, Jane Allen, Kauffman Foundation, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Possip, ReGenerate, Robert Frist Jr, Sam Davidson, Shani Dowell


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