StartOut, the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. supporting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and J.P. Morgan have partnered for this year’s StartOut Growth Lab Accelerator. The lab, which welcomes its 12th cohort this year, includes 10 LGBTQ+-owned businesses from around North America.
According to the announcement by StartOut and J.P. Morgan, “the incoming cohort of companies encompasses a wide range of industries from sustainability to tech and healthcare and spans across the United States, Canada and Mexico. As the co-lead sponsor of Growth Lab, J.P. Morgan provides the cohort with access to the firm’s network of global experts and resources.”
News is Out spoke with the head of StartOut’s GrowthLab, Chris Davidson and David Barbee, Head of LGBTQ+ Initiatives, J.P. Morgan Commercial Banking about the lab, what these participants will gain from their involvement and the importance of supporting LGBTQ+-owned businesses.
The Birth of Growth Lab
The idea for Growth Lab was conceived in 2017, a collaborative effort between StartOut’s then-executive director and a board member. Over a couple of cocktails, they considered how they could best support queer entrepreneurs. The brainchild of this meeting was the GrowthLab, which offers education, mentorship and access to capital. Twelve cohorts later, the lab is making a real difference for LGBTQ+ business owners and their communities.
J.P. Morgan initially teamed up with StartOut in 2019 and recently became their partner in the lab. J.P. Morgan’s David Barbee highlighted the company’s commitment to serving diverse businesses, especially those from the LGBTQ+ community.
“We’re very focused at J.P. Morgan Chase on serving diverse owned businesses, including LGBTQ+, very intentionally,” said Barbee. “When we looked at partnerships out in the market it just made a ton of sense for us to partner up with StartOut, and in particular with the Growth Lab, because it enables us to bring resources to the table to help those entrepreneurs. Things like access to financial resources, including capital, mentorship, business development opportunities, supplier diversity, and other efforts like that. It just made a ton of sense for us to partner up with them on it.”
A Comprehensive Program
According to Davidson, the Growth Lab’s accelerator program spans five months, with a bespoke curriculum tailored to the needs of the entrepreneurs and includes an 18-month plan. During the lab, members will learn more about sales and marketing, search engine optimization, technology, how to raise capital and more.
“Our main deliverable is this growth plan really to help them understand their business better,” said Davison.
The lab also brings in past graduates to act as peer mentors who “come in specifically to help them more with the day-to-day operations and thought processes of their business,” said Davidson. “And then they’re supported by JP Morgan as well.”
A Track Record of Success
With an astounding $700 million raised in funding and the creation of 3,600 jobs, the success of Growth Lab is undeniable. While providing structural support, like access to crucial capital, the emotional support offered is equally impactful.
“There’s not another time in these entrepreneurs’ lives that they are in a cohort of 10 to 12 to 15 other people that are all LGBTQ+ that they can be themselves,” said Davidson. “That they can be authentic, talk about a breakup with their wife or partner, talk about a transition, talk about discrimination so freely, so openly. And we believe that having that ability to be both authentic and seen allows them to take more appropriate risks in their business.”
Barbee agrees with Davidson and adds, “I think being intentional about developing these relationships with the entrepreneurs, bringing the resources that we talked about like mentorship and developing those one-on-one relationships, that’s a very important element from our perspective of being able to help these founders. We have a dedicated team of bankers across the country who are focused on serving diverse-owned businesses. We’ve also invested a lot in our startup banking business, which is very relevant for the Start Out community as well.”
At its core, the lab is about much more than running a business.
“I think along with all the other structural support that we have created with access to capital and better banking opportunities, there’s emotional support as well as helping them with their business acumen,” said Davidson.
Beyond Pride Month
While many corporations offer support during Pride Month, it’s essential to show up for the community throughout the year. J.P. Morgan is a year-round supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and one of Human Rights Campaign’s “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ equality.”
Barbee emphasized the significant contribution of LGBTQ+ businesses to the U.S. economy, to the tune of $1.7 trillion and that while it makes sense from a business perspective to invest in LGBTQ+ businesses, “it’s also the right thing to do.”
Spotlight on cohort members
What makes a business ideal for the cohort?
“We have 10 amazing companies, said Davison. “There are many things that we look for, but two key things: first, the humanity. We want to make sure that everybody is a great cultural fit. And then the second is business acumen. And the great thing about all these 10 companies is that they’re very diverse businesses, but they all really understand what they do successful as entrepreneurs in this cohort.”
According to StartOut’s press release, this year’s cohort includes:
Applied Bioplastics (Austin, TX): Supplies economically sustainable plant-based plastic alternatives for a variety of items across household, automotive, appliance, electronic and outdoor equipment industries.
Hadley (West Hollywood, CA): Allows individuals to contribute to others’ 529 education savings accounts via an all-in-one app.
INSID3RS (Los Angeles, CA): Offers an all-access decentralized ticketing platform for immersive audience engagement.
JOBGRAZE (Tampa, FL): Provides a healthcare staffing marketplace and hiring platform for nurses and physicians in the U.S. and overseas.
Mazzy Health (Dallas, TX): Provides a mental health platform for teens and young adults, including teletherapy, academic coaching, parent updates, and live and on-demand events and resources.
Moss Amigos (San Jose, CA): Cultivates uniquely designed moss plants, accessible to any consumer, with or without a green thumb.
Motivo Scar Care (Long Branch, NJ): Creates inclusive, performance proof and water-resistant scar tape and topicals to heal and fade scars.
Orgmatch (Vancouver, Canada): Matches funders and nonprofits with the goal of increasing the speed and equity of accessing and deploying funding in the nonprofit sector.
SARELLY SARELLY (Mexico City, Mexico): Provides an environment to help Hispanic Gen Z shoppers and trendsetters access luxury products and services.
WRKiiT (Oakland, CA): Aims to empower fitness instructors by providing a supportive platform for self-development, business growth and community building.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
For LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs considering applying for a future cohort, the message is clear:
“We would love to hear from you and see your business,” says Davidson. “We believe there’s power in numbers, so we encourage every business to apply. If you go to StartOut.org, there will be some criteria for you to look at to see if you fall within the spectrum of being a proper candidate.” However, Davidson says that even if your business doesn’t fit the lab criteria, StartOut still has much to offer.
“If the growth lab isn’t the right fit based off your stage, StartOut has many, many other resources, other access to capital programs, other mentorship programs and other matching programs that could be very useful for you. So we highly encourage you to look at StartUp for general services and then also the StartOut growth file.”
Learn more about the StartOut Growth Lab Accelerator here.