Visible Hands is Investing in Underrepresented Founders in Philly

Key Insights:

  • Visible hands launched its second accelerator cohort to support 51 underrepresented founders, three of whom are based in Philadelphia.
  • In addition to going through the 14-week program, founders receive an initial $25,000 investment and have an opportunity to earn additional investments from the VC firm.
  • There was a 56 percent increase in the number of applicants from the inaugural cohort in 2021.

Visible Hands, a pre-seed fund that supports underrepresented founders building tech startups, recently launched the second cohort of its accelerator program which will run until December.

Of the 51 entrepreneurs selected, over 70 percent identify as Black, African American and/or Latinx. The cohort includes Philadelphia-based founders Jeremiah De Leon, founder of Stroll; Nicodemus Reuben Madehdou, co-founder of JumpButton Studio; and Shannon Morales, founder of Tribaja.

“It’s not that there aren’t fantastic founders out there from this demographic, it’s just that we have to manufacture privilege around them,” Sumia Shaikh, marketing lead at Visible Hands, told The Plug.

“We knew that there were tons of programming out there that offered mentorship but lacked the actual wraparound services, company building and access to meaningful capital,” she said.

To reduce the barrier of entry, founders receive an initial investment of $25,000 for 2.5 percent equity. Founders also have a chance at earning additional investments up to $150,000 from the Visible Hands team during the 14-week program. Additional investments up to $150,000 can be made after the conclusion of the accelerator.

“I was lucky enough to interview hundreds of founders throughout the selection process, and I was constantly reminded that these aren’t just amazing underrepresented founders — they are amazing founders, period,” Tia Thomson, vice president and selection process lead at Visible Hands, said in a press release.

Finding a ‘tribe’ through the program

Shannon Morales is a Philadephia-based Afro-Latina and founder of Tribaja. Her company, named after a combination of the words tribe and trabaja (Spanish for work) is a DEI-focused tech talent recruitment platform. Morales built the tech for the platform and is using the $25,000 Visible Hands investment towards software development.

The Visible Hands program is not Morales’ first stint in an accelerator. She previously participated in an idea-stage accelerator, Philly Startup Leaders, and Lighthouse Labs, an accelerator focusing on early-stage tech startups from which she received $20,000 in capital.

“I utilize the accelerators to help bring me through different stages of my entrepreneurial journey because not many people like me are going through this. It’s hard to find that community, that tribe,” Morales told The Plug.

In addition to peer-to-peer support and mentorship, she is using the Visible Hands program to support her through Tribaja’s next phase of raising capital and meeting VCs, something that Morales does not have experience with. 

“They don’t have to be a social impact fund, but I do want them to understand that Tribaja can be a for-profit business that does good and not see that as a hindrance to giving them returns on their investment,” she said.

Tribaja’s latest initiative and a homage to Hispanic Heritage Month is a program to upskill 20 Latinas in Philadelphia through a scholarship for a tech certification program and placement in a workplace that Tribaja has partnered with.

Continued growth at Visible Hands

 Visible Hands’ second cohort had only about a three percent acceptance rate, according to Managing Partner Daniel Acheampong.

“We see this as an opportunity to do even more, to scale our work and raise more capital to ensure that we’re supporting these founders,” Acheampong told The Plug.

Interest in the Visible Hands accelerator has grown since its inaugural 2021 cohort. This year, 1,418 applications were submitted, a 56 percent increase from the previous cohort.

Four of the 2021 cohort participants were female founders based in Philadelphia. Isoken Igbinedion and Simon Kendle, co-founders of Parfait, a platform that uses AI to customize wigs, worked on the company during their Wharton MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the three co-founders of Visible Hands, Daniel Acheampong, also attended the University of Philadelphia before launching the venture capital firm in 2020. 

Visible Hands recently closed an oversubscribed Fund I at $10.5 million which it used to invest in entrepreneurs, including the Parfait team from its first accelerator program. Parfait has since secured a $5 million seed investment led by Upfront Ventures. Several other companies who have gone through the accelerator are fundraising or have closed their pre-seed round.

“We’re investing in the people, not just their ideas. At this stage, ideas will change. They’re supposed to change,” Shaikh said. “We believe that if you bet on the right founder and you give them the resources that they need to succeed, they will succeed.”

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.