Andre Fowlkes, Start Co. president. Start Co.
As efforts grow city-wide to invest in minority-owned businesses, Start Co. responded by launching its first accelerator aimed to serve existing minority-owned businesses.
The Propel program graduated its first cohort in January. The companies launched include Casey Custom Upholstery, Durham Housing, Fifer & Associates, Fitnexx, The Healthcare Institute, Reflections and West Wing Events.
The 12-week program, run in partnership with The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance, was designed to build capacity and enhance the business models of existing by offering hands-on programming, mentor opportunities and technical resources.
To participate in Propel, business owners had to be operating for at least three years, have at least two full-tie employees and earn at least $200,000 in annual revenue. The accelerator participants were paired with more established business leaders as mentors.
Start Co. president Andrew Fowlkes hopes that the entrepreneur service organization can expand Propel to foster a more inclusive business environment and polish businesses that might be eligible for public contracts.
“The program was great, and I think we really helped change (the participants’) mindset for future growth and building capacity,” Fowlkes said.
“But it really just begins now. And we have to also be very deliberate on being more inclusive in the greater ecosystem.”
Start Co. also offers a B2B tach accelerator, Seed Hatchery; an accelerator for women-owned businesses called Upstart; and Sky High, an accelerator for tech companies offering education solutions.
Unlike the other accelerators, however, Propel was created specifically for local businesses to create a relationship between the city and minority small business talent. They hope the pilot program can continue and grow after a successful first class of graduates.
“It’s exciting,” Fowlkes said. “We hope it can become an ongoing resource for minority-owned businesses.”