The founders of the Jackson Ward Collective are launching a new business accelerator

From left, JWC Foundation founders Melody Short, Rasheeda Creighton and Kelli Lemon. The foundation, which provides resources for black entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, plans to launch a new accelerator program in September. (Photo courtesy of the JWC Foundation)

Shortly after bringing their incubator program under the umbrella of a new nonprofit organization, the founders of the Jackson Ward Collective are launching another new support program for black-owned small businesses.

The collective’s Community Business Academy accelerator program is slated to launch its first course in September. The program is designed to provide black business owners or aspiring black business owners with the fundamentals of running their own show with training on topics such as marketing, finance and accounting.

“It’s a 12-week program that bridges the programming gap to help people understand what it really takes to run a business. That’s something that ecosystem programming doesn’t cover in detail,” said co-founder Rasheeda Creighton.

The Business Accelerator is a new offering from the JWC Foundation, a local nonprofit founded in April by Creighton, Melody Short and Kelli Lemon to connect black business owners with professional resources. The nonprofit’s acronym stands for “Jackson Ward Collective,” which is also the name of the incubator the trio founded in 2020, which now operates as a branch of the newly formed nonprofit.

Creighton said the Community Business Academy caters to black owners of so-called “high street businesses,” which it defined as retail businesses, hospitality businesses, professional services and personal services, but black entrepreneurs in any industry can participate in the program.

Program fees are collected on a tiered scale that cannot exceed $250 per participant, which the JWC Foundation is able to provide through sponsorships from Altira, Capital One and Dominion Energy, according to a foundation press release. It is planned to have no more than 20 participants in the annual program at the same time.

The program’s curriculum is licensed through the JWC Foundation by Rising Tide Capital, a New Jersey-based non-profit business development organization. The program consists of weekly in-person sessions held at the 1717 Innovation Center in Shockoe Bottom.

Creighton said they were willing to develop an in-house program after identifying the need, but were drawn to the idea of ​​licensing an existing curriculum in part because it fit the JWC Foundation’s ethos.

“For the joint part of our program, we see ourselves as a hub. If there’s something that’s proven, that works, that’s effective, we’d rather partner than reinvent the wheel,” Creighton said.

Short said her group was connected to Rising Tide in her network through a North Carolina nonprofit. Discussions took place for about two years before the curriculum was approved.

“We saw the gap early on,” Short said. “They have partners across the country and they have a track record.”

The foundation declined to share how much it costs to license the Rising Tide playbook.

Short said the foundation is the only organization in the Richmond area that has licensed the Rising Tide curriculum. The foundation plans to run the program twice a year, with cohorts that would start in September and then again in March.

The JWC Foundation plans to hold a series of informational events about the Accelerator program on June 28th, June 30th and July 14th.

The creation of the Foundation came in response to feedback from potential donors and opens the door to an expanded pool of donors to support the Foundation’s growing list of activities.

“Many funders in the region wanted to provide capital support, but to do so, some organizations were unable to push support through our original model where we had a fiscal agent. Their respective organizations required us to be 501(c)3 compliant,” said Short, the foundation’s program director.

Creighton is the executive director of the nonprofit organization. Lemon is on the board of directors of the nonprofit organization. The Foundation is based at the Gather Coworking Office in the Arts District.

Alongside the incubator Jackson Ward Collective and the upcoming Accelerator program, the Foundation recently unveiled Blck Street, the brand name for the JWC Foundation’s public-facing events program aimed at Black entrepreneurs.

The foundation plans to hold the first Black Street Conference at the Collaboratory of Virginia in early August. The conference features panel discussions and breakout sessions designed to help entrepreneurs learn how to find investors, how to plan for succession, and other topics.

The upcoming JWC Foundation accelerator program comes amid a recent spate of new business development programs in Richmond.

Activation Capital recently completed its pilot startup development program aimed at minority entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship Development Group announced earlier this month that it and pilot partner Opportunity Hub invested $50,000 in local shoe reconditioning market Sudsy Soles, which won a pitch competition that ended the program.

Bon Secours has extended its decades-old Supporting East End Entrepreneurship Development program to Manchester-based companies.

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