Daniel Acheampong: Launching BIPOC and Women into Entrepreneurship
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by a character named Spiffy, with founders working on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For December, the focus is on SDG 5 – Gender Equality and SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities. There is so much at stake, so let’s see what’s being done!
Hello everyone. I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to improve gender equality and reduce inequalities! It’s my privilege to introduce you to Daniel Acheampong, who is busy making waves from his perch at Visible Hands.
Spiffy: Daniel, I’m so glad to be talking with you today. Tell me, what challenges are you addressing?
Daniel: It’s a pleasure to be here, Spiffy. I’m not sure if you are aware, but historic underrepresentation and a lack of access to opportunity have kept many women and people of color from starting technology companies. We want to change that.
Spiffy: That sounds like a great mission to be on!
Daniel: Exactly! So you know that there’s a sizable pipeline of overlooked groups who can become great founders in the technology sector. While we are seeing more support for diverse founders at the seed stage and following rounds, many diverse founders don’t even make it to those levels. It is not because they lack the skills to be great entrepreneurs, rather they lack financial, social, and inspirational capitals to support their ambition and vision.
Spiffy: That sounds like it’s more of a structural issue. What motivated you to tackle this? It sounds like a pretty major endeavor!
Daniel: It is, Spiffy. I started Visible Hands with my team because I saw — and continue to see — too many talented people being denied the opportunity to build something extraordinary. Just recently, I witnessed an investor dismiss a female entrepreneur because her company served mostly women. I was baffled and jumped in to challenge the investor’s assumption that women-focused businesses are not investable. This is not okay and it happens all too often.
Spiffy: So how are you tackling this problem?
Daniel: Visible Hands exist to disrupt such normalized perceptions. We believe that investing in women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups is a significant investment opportunity. It is the key to creating a more prosperous and equitable future for everyone.
Spiffy: Can you tell me more about how you are working to create an equitable future?
Daniel: Sure, Spiffy! You see, we’ve created Visible Hands, a pre-seed accelerator and fund, to invest in the most talented people of color and women across the U.S., to support them in building transformational technology companies. Starting on day zero, we take an annual cohort of 34 underrepresented leaders to work full-time over twelve months to build their startups. Each founder receives meaningful funding, support with finding a co-founder, and access to an expansive network of advisors, customers, and investors.
Spiffy: That’s incredible Daniel! What kind of impact are you aiming for?
Daniel: We are building the largest and most diverse network to source, select and manufacture privilege to underrepresented founders. In just a few months, we recruited over 400 entrepreneurs, investors, activists, operators, and others to join our national network to source and advise our founders. Our network is comprised of approximately 80% people of color and women.
Spiffy: How has it gone so far? Have there been any moments when you thought you would fail?
Daniel: Spiffy, 2020 has been a challenging year as COVID 19 has ravaged the world — many lives lost, unprecedented unemployment rates, economic downturn, and uncertainty of how the world will recover. Our timeline of starting Visible Hands coincided with the pandemic and caused financial constraints for us early in the process. But we remained adamant and focused on building an exceptional company, despite the uncertainty of the current environment. We persevered and are progressing towards our $10 million target for our first fund and $3 million for our accelerator.
Spiffy: Focus is so key! I’m curious if there are any lessons you’ve learned lately, something inspiring you can share with our audience.
Daniel: Actually, Spiffy, I was recently on a call with my 11-year old niece. In the middle of our usual catch-up, she stops me and says, “Uncle, I want to be a President of the United States in the future.” To see a little Black girl believe in her capacity to hold the highest office in the world moved me. My niece’s words are embedded in our ethos that greatness is all around us, but we must choose to see it. It also reinforced my commitment to build Visible Hands with my team as our goal is to inspire and empower talented women and people of color to believe in their ability to build enduring technology companies.
Spiffy: You’re right Daniel, greatness is all around us! It sounds like your work is to really uncover and highlight underrepresented voices and ideas.
Daniel: For sure, Spiffy. We believe that high-growth entrepreneurship should not be reserved for the privileged few, as it has historically been. We need to shine a light inwards on our collective blindspots, and cast out a wider and more inclusive net to find and support existing talent. This is our open call for anyone who feels stuck on the outside looking in: We see you. We value you. We need you. Your perspective is unique, your lived experience is invaluable, and your potential is limitless.
Spiffy: Daniel, I think your message — and call — is going to resound far and wide. It’s been an absolute honor to speak with you today!
Daniel Acheampong is co-founder and partner at Visible Hands. He is an entrepreneur-in-residence at MIT designX. He received a dual MBA from the Wharton School and MPA from Harvard Kennedy School. Previously, Daniel was an associate at Summit Partners and a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. (Nominated by Impellent Ventures)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.