In September, Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge announced that it was expanding to Texas, its second U.S. location.
It makes sense, looking at the growing startup communities in Austin, Houston, Dallas and everywhere in between. The idea was to bring much-needed mentorship, funding and other resources to Central Texas’ founders, and MassChallenge enlisted the help of Austin-based mentor and founder Mike Millard as managing director of MassChallenge Texas.
But the focus on Texas didn’t stop two D.C. area startups from being selected for the first cohort of 84 startups. Both Janice Omadeke of The Mentor Method and Stacie Whisonant of PYT Funds are settling into Austin this week as the first MassChallenge Texas program gets underway.
“I am very excited to hit the ground running with the MassChallenge Texas network,” Whisonant said in an email. “It’s Day 1 and we have already connected with a high-level bank partner relevant to our space.”
The duo were selected out of a pool of 520 startups from around the world. MassChallenge is an accelerator where, after weeks of programming, founders vie for $500,000 in equity-free cash prizes in a final pitch competition. And with MassChallenge’s global presence in Mexico, Israel, Switzerland and the U.K., being a part of the expansive network of nearly 1,500 alumni is a major plus for any startup founder.
MassChallenge Texas kicked off this week, and the accelerator runs through August. Participants receive complimentary WeWork memberships in Austin, along with mentorship and programming offerings.
But what can’t be overstated enough is the presence D.C. brings to MassChallenge Texas.
In a pool of 84 participants, only two of the founders are black women, Omadeke and Whisonant. Despite the fact that MassChallenge Texas represents five continents, five industries, 11 countries, 12 states, five major Texas metro areas and is 32 percent women, the only two black female founders hail from the D.C. metro area.
A lot of that can be attributed to D.C.’s commitment to being an inclusive innovation hub. Things aren’t perfect, by any means. But, for four years running, D.C. has been seen as a top place for women founders, and the metro area has long been a diverse community. Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, in 2010, 51 percent of the District was African American (a number that has been quickly falling since the 1980s).
In the past year, The Mentor Method has been building and expanding its business-facing offerings. What started as a mentor-matching company is now a consultancy, of sorts, for larger companies on how to recruit and retain women and minority candidates. The Mentor Method counts Deloitte as one of their customers.
Before MassChallenge, Omadeke was a part of MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in 2014, where she met a few MassChallenge alumni. That’s what inspired her to go for the Texas program.
“I’m excited to see how the Austin tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem compares to D.C.’s while we keep focusing on building our customer base and connecting with advisors,” Omadeke said in an email.
Over at PYT Funds, Whisonant is creating a more accessible way for students to pay their tuition bills, from “Student FICO scores” to facilitating crowdfunding sites.
So far, Whisonant has only taken in funds from a few angel investors and awards, and she is a Halcyon Incubator alumna. Being a part of MassChallenge Texas just feels like a natural next step.
“So far it seems that the ecosystem is very friendly and eager to find ways to be helpful,” Whisonant said. “The Pay Your Tuition team is very excited to be a part of the MassChallenge family and look forward to seeing great results and benefits to come out of the next four months.”