Founder Institute is Encouraging Early Stage Philly Innovators to Join Its Network

Key Insights:

  • Founder Institute held its first accelerator program in Philadelphia for early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • There are more than 60 Philly mentors who support program participants throughout the four-month program.
  • The organization is recruiting for its second cohort which will be held in the fall.

The Founder Institute, a business incubator, entrepreneur training and startup launch program, is looking for underrepresented founders to support in Philadelphia after concluding its first pre-seed accelerator program in the area this August.

Based in Silicon Valley, Founder Institute (FI) has chapters in over 180 cities and 95 countries, and now more recently, Philadelphia.

Don Samoil, leader of the Philly chapter, learned about the organization after meeting Deka Dike, the founder of Omatochi, a home healthcare company. Dike participated in the Silicon Valley program.

“One day I said ‘How is it that you are so much further along than most of the startups that I’ve mentored over the years?’ And she laughed and said ‘You know my story. I came here from Nigeria 20 years ago. I had no money, no contacts and didn’t speak the language. It’s not that I had any kind advantages that I could pull from,’” Samoil told The Plug.

Samoil went on to find out that of the 1,200 people who applied for the Silicon Valley program, 450 were accepted and Dike was one of only 27 participants to graduate. She attributed part of her success to her experience with FI.

Samoil was impressed with the impact the program had and after reaching out to FI headquarters in 2021, the Philly chapter was born. 

“We’ve got a lot of wonderful people doing great stuff in the Philly ecosystem, but not enough. We need more,” Samoil said.

Participation rates in the first Philadelphia program, which ran virtually from April to August, were not as high as Samoil had hoped. The accelerator started with 14 participants and concluded with seven graduates, four of whom are Black founders. Roger Yomba, the founder of Dhaxle, an impact investment company, is one of these individuals. 

“Over the course of the session we watched Dhaxle continually improve their pitch and their plan based on their willingness to listen to feedback, which is hard for founders,” Samoil said.

During the FI program, Yomba decided to change his entire business model. His co-founder, Andrew Wanjala, who Yomba met while getting his MBA at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, also participated in the program.

Dhaxle started in 2020 with the mission to address the difficulty of tracking remittance, a transfer of money to one’s home country, and managing one’s business projects in the country.

Yomba, originally from Cameroon, immigrated to the United States from Côte d’Ivoire. Through his personal experience sending money to his sister for a family business as well as hearing from his community and researching this issue in Latin America and Asia, he began working on the company.

Three months into the FI program he realized his business would not scale, so he pivoted. Now Dhaxle has 14 global companies in its portfolio, two of which are in the process of signing contracts with Dhaxle. 

Now Dhaxle’s focus is on working with companies to match impact investment projects with global investors interested in “a project that will give social, economic and environmental impact within a community and country,” Yomba told The Plug.

Unlike some other accelerators, FI does not provide any grants or investments, which Yomba noted can cause a financial burden on participants. He said he lost about 50 percent of his income due to the time commitment in the program, so people who have daytime jobs should be prepared for finding a balance. The entrance fee is $699, but Samoil said financial assistance can be provided.

Dhaxle has been bootstrapped, putting in over $100,000 of personal funds, and is now looking to find an angel investor through another FI program.   

“You can come into FI writing your idea on a napkin, but once you get there, you have to prove it, you have to gain some traction before they will introduce you to investors,” Esther Hiamang, the founder of Verbs Consulting, a cannabis consultation company, told The Plug.

Hiamang participated in the Silicon Valley and Dubai programs and has kept in touch with the FI network. She said she learned about product market fit and how to secure angel investors and VCs in the current investment climate. 

In addition to its curriculum, FI has over 60 Philly mentors to support the participants, many of whom are founders and CEOs themselves.

“Starting up a company can be lonely. You don’t have to do it that way when you can access Founder Institute because you can tap into this community,” Pam Knox, an FI Philly mentor, told The Plug.  

FI Philly is recruiting for its second cohort which will begin in October. 

“Startups change lives and change the world,” Samoil said. “A lot of our problems on every level can be solved by some smart people just doing something new and different and unique. It should be [people] from every walk of life, everybody should have that opportunity.”

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.