UMSL Accelerate announces second Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator cohort

by | Dec 10, 2021

The UMSL DEI Accelerator will provide $50,000, mentorship, a business course, paid UMSL student interns and more to the five selected founders.

Paris Rollins, founder of healthy children’s catering company Picky Eaterz, speaks about her business during the Pitch Day. Rollins was one of five entrepreneurs to be named to the second cohort of the UMSL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Companies producing skincare, healthy food for children and babies, accessible digital spaces, branding for entrepreneurs of color and premium popcorn seem like they could have little in common.

But the founders gathered at the University of Missouri–St. Louis for Wednesday’s announcement of the second Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator cohort had more in common than just the possibility of a $50,000 nondilutive capital injection.

They all hope to create positive change – whether that comes from locating their business in traditionally underutilized neighborhoods or getting kids hooked on healthy foods – and the funding from UMSL will help get them to that goal quickly.

“Being able to be supported by amazing leaders has changed the game for me and my views,” Valeria Rodriguez of VR Creative said. “Knowing that it’s OK to step out of your comfort zone and out of fear and just move into greatness. You know, these dreams are bigger than us, and we lead by example.”

UMSL Accelerate launched the DEI Accelerator last year with the goal of supporting diverse founders from underrepresented communities and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the St. Louis ecosystem.

In addition to the funding, UMSL Accelerate will provide each of the five selected founders with capital and $200,000 in in-kind resources, such as paid UMSL student interns, and the opportunity to participate in an eight-week, best-in-class business development program.

“Positive change happens with investment,” Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, said. “We’re able to fund this kind of pass-through philanthropy to serve our mission to be a beacon of hope and serve our mission for workforce development, economic development.”

The second iteration of the DEI Accelerator received 189 applications that were narrowed to a final 15 who gave brief pitches during Pitch Day in late November. Judges selected the final five-company cohort from among those.

The cohort will begin their work with the program in January and will present the results of their growth during Demo Day on May 5.

“This is a dream come true,” said La’Crassia Wilderness, founder of Butter Love Skin. “I sound like I’m crying a little bit because it was a moment of, ‘I’ve been doing this for seven years, and it’s just been really amazing, difficult and exhilarating and just a moment.’ Now I’m here, and I know this is just one part of the journey, but is such an important part.”

The second DEI Accelerator cohort includes:

  • La’Crassia Wilderness with Butter Love Skin, an intentional skincare brand rooted in self-love. Their products are all-natural and inspire daily rituals that help you recenter.
  • Will Bubenik with Nebula Media Group, which empowers organizations to create accessible and inclusive digital experiences.
  • Tony Davis with Pop Pop Hurray!, a premium gourmet popcorn company offering bold flavors, such as banana pudding and cookies n’ cream.
  • Valeria Rodriguez with VR Creative, which provides top-tier creative branding and marketing services for entrepreneurs of color while developing assets, strategies and resources to support the growth of their budding businesses.
  • Paris Rollins with Picky Eaterz, a catering company which gives children and babies access to a variety of nutritious meals every day.

Media coverage
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Business Journal

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

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